Hank Nuwer


Once upon an evening dreary, while I pondered, eyes quite bleary,

Over many a quaint and curious press release —

Then, while I plodded toward my Jeep, I saw a heap so eerie,

Thai food takeout I dropped earlier in a stew of grease.

Thus begins my latest misadventure. It’s a Golden Heart Tale set in the parking lot of the News-Miner.

For atop my Jeep’s ski rack, suddenly there came a tapping. Lo and behold a raven of decent size was staring me down from the roof.

My eyes went to the pile of frozen carryout. On impulse I kicked at the red puddle of sauce, meat and rice. The raven launched itself at me, brushing the sleeve of my red winter coat as I threw up an arm to protect myself.

(I’m pretty sure it was just a raven warning and no real attack, but the bird definitely had my attention.)

The dark bird landed about six feet from the frozen Thai meal. He proceeded to harangue me in raven talk.

Now I didn’t think too much of this conversation with Mr. or Ms. Corvus until I read about an animal behavior specialist named Doug Wacker following ravens in Fairbanks to study their vocalizations. (See “Making sense of raven talk” by Ned Rozell on page D1).

This fascinated me. “Wacker is recording as much raven talk as he can in Alaska’s second-largest city,” I read. “He wants to find meaning, if any, in the squawks, rattles and water-droplet/computer sounds that so often come from those black birds.”

In the interest of scientific inquiry, I now will translate my conversation with the raven as additional grist for Professor Wacker’s dissertation on raven ravings.

RAVEN: Aw. Caw. Kee. Scree.

TRANSLATION: Keep away from my chow, fellow, if you know what’s good for you.

HANK: I paid $23.95 for that chow. It’s mine.

RAVEN: Scree. Kee. Caw. Awww.

TRANSLATION: You paid $23.95 for Thai food that’s half white rice? Was the waiter wearing a mask when he held you up?

HANK: I thought it was a bit pricey. That’s why I ate half the meal at the café and got the rest in a box to go.

RAVEN: Scree. Kee. Caw. Scree.

TRANSLATION: Tell you what. If you get in your car and drive away, I won’t dive-bomb you again. You get to keep your ear lobes.

HANK: Fair enough. Just let me slip into my Jeep.

RAVEN: Scree. Eep. Err. Scree.

TRANSLATION: Get going then. Live long and prosper.

HANK: Just tell me if this is true. They say ravens never forget a human face.

RAVEN: Agggghhhhh. Agggghhhhh. Agggghhhhh.

TRANSLATION: Oh, I’ll remember you. You so ugly a farmer could use you as a scarecrow.

HANK: But will I see you again?

RAVEN: Screech. Breee. Bwah.

TRANSLATION: Nevermore, unless you want to bring me more takeout. A sandwich, maybe?

HANK: What kinda sandwich?

RAVEN: Ed. Grr. Al. En. Poe.