The raven flies in its own corner of the sky in concert with the greater galactic gears that spin molten interstellar material and a few rocks the size of the Crazy Mountains towards us in the interstellar run of class 4+ rapids we call life. At the nucleus of the cosmos is the raven and his collection of gathered trinkets- a three sided penny, a few left foot flip flops and the hour I lost at the Bozeman airport waiting for my late plane to arrive from Chicago, the raven who by now has become stuck in the upper branches of a spindly birch tree in rural northern Maine, squawking for attention or perhaps because he is guarding a nest or is injured or sick and can’t fly away; its hard to say sometimes why we do what we do. Either way the raven had an image of how life was supposed to be and here all I can do is stand below his perch thinking how much I’d like a pet raven.
It’s a big bird, weighty on the limb, seemingly healthy save for a tuft of secondary remiges feathers that are sticking up on its left wing like our hair when we sleep all night on one side of our head, a hair explosion as we called it in my family. I watch pajaro negro for a half hour as it shimmies out to the end of a thin branch and back to the trunk wondering if there is really anything wrong up there or if the bird is just in need of some attention. As the day grows long in the tooth the grey shadows darken the black bird, a job non too small in itself, the sporadically comedic glossy outbursts dissolve into matte chirps and purrs. The purple sheen that glazes the ravens back folds into the bottom of a dark well, into the crannies of a worn stone, into the notion that we have any vision into the inner guts of the machine of existence, down the tubes, down the drain, down the hatch. I’m sure the raven had some other intention for the day, hell, I did too. We both had plans and both had plans that were bounced all day off the universe until what was echoed back from Pluto was a scratchy gramophone quality facsimile played off of an old analogue tape voice record message machine. “Paul cannot take your call right now, he is out in the dark woods figuring out how to get a reluctant raven out of a tree, please try your call again, later.”
Like the raven, it is easy to get an idea in your head of how things are supposed to be. My mind has a tendency to run wild, which is to say amok when there are other people or fish involved who may not be privy to my plans for life. We are pulled beings pulled in sync with the same energy than brings water from the mountains to the sea, full of stone fly nymphs and the ghosts of Bonneville trout still trying to find the rocky stream beds of their origin and the flowing green curtains of river grass now sequestered behind towers of concrete, money and dreams for an irrigated West. I used to think we had 3 choices in life-go with the flow, swim against it or get out and watch life from the banks, but now I see all as the same, not that life is a sterile pre-destined script but that no matter how we choose we’ll all eventually end up at the finish line with the same accumulations of wrinkles, bad jokes and stories about the one time we got stuck on a limb of a dying birch tree.
If you’ve ever flipped through the pictures in a fish identification book you’ve seen the examples given are always of a perfect specimen, probably taken in an aquarium or laboratory where life exists in plastic isolation and performs unadulterated, free from scars inflicted by heron beak, eagle claw and human hook. Outside of the test tube we are subject to the comedic influences that seem to be hell bent on bending, shaping and otherwise contorting our lives for the same reasons young kids microwave GI Joe action figures and slap shot hockey pucks at thin garage doors- just to see what will happen. Symmetry is the result of isolation, the pursuit of the pure and unadulterated but the raven doesn’t care about symmetry, all he needs is a branch to hop on.
I once saw a raven on the coast of Maine hopping rock to rock looking for periwinkles and other oceanic foodie bits. On occasion his ambitions would exceed his ability to stay dry and would squawk sharply shaking his feathers like a water logged Labrador retriever. Each time he seemed shocked as if be be thinking “That wasn’t supposed to happen.” His struggle was entertaining, but more so it was common and comforting.
Diving in deeper we leave the world of thin, jet liner filled air and we enter the viscous, the fluid where tree branches become home to fish instead of recalcitrant ravens. Under the water life goes on much the same as above where plans are foiled by dead drifted nymphs and gaudy foam salmon flies. I’m sure there are 100 fish out here in south western Montana who are licking their wounds and commiserating about how some Pabst swilling human interrupted their feeding, an interruption which I read recently results in a reduction in average fish size, oh well, we all have our parts to play.
The catch results in the same change of plans for both parties. That short moment when fish mouth and human hand meet is life changing, if not just for the moment. It seems often neither of us know how to properly react to that meeting- the fish jumps, runs, sulks, sinks, flops and shakes while the human pulls in line, lets line out, stumbles and slips over rocks, fumbles for a net, and again wonders whether to give line, when to ratchet down the drag and when to raise that rod tip high to end the moment. Guess wrong and you’ll loose that moment with nothing left to do than to verbally acknowledge the value of a a long distance release. I have been notorious for guessing wrong on account of an unrealistic mind, over caffeinated hand, and a spontaneous heart, especially with wild fish and women. We are only connected by a thin line, heart to heart and hand to mouth. Experience teaches us action, but light lines break under stain, heavy souls too can break under too much connection if it comes too quick. A heavy fish needs care, so does a heavy heart.
It is a mistake for us to imagine a correlation between perception, expectation and reality. Fish hold upstream of a rise just as the outcome of any situation in life becomes our reality before it happens. We see the whole river stretch out in front of us, the bends, the riffles and the rises. We see the perfect inside bend rock bar that will allow for a drag free drift through the corner bend pool. We know the hatch. The seemingly inevitable result of all this is obvious, so clean as to let through the light of the ages. Then one cast, two, three, four, ten, twenty. The failure of expectation to meet reality can be jarring.
I think what we are chasing is that perfect moment, when reality lines up with our expectations, when things click. Like hunger we crave that instant when the teeth of our cogs and the cogs of life interlock, whirring in synchronicity with our place, our actions and most importantly with each other. I think it would be wise for us to osmosisize a lesson from the fish and the raven, who by now I hope has figured things out in life as I have been away from his perch above my wall tent for the last few weeks. I will know tomorrow if his raucous outbursts were born out of joy or need, song or sorrow. We are all that raven, howling into the wilderness, looking down from our perch where we hop compulsively looking for attention and a way out. We are all that fish, looking up for a meal and sometimes getting nothing more than a mouth full of rabbit hair and chemically sharpened steel. Chaos abounds in this corner of the universe, which is good to remember next time we go looking to catch a salmon fly hatch, a flight our of Bozeman, or a beating heart- all who live with plans of their own.