(too-loo-gak): Inuktitut (the language of Inuit) word meaning raven

Stephen Rowan

Fort Simpson, NT

I was teaching in Ivujivik, Northern Quebec from 1968 to 1972. I think it was about 1969 or 1970 in the early spring when some boys came to my house in the evening and they had a big raven. They said, “Steve do you want a raven?” I just wasn’t absolutely certain I did, but I said, “Oh yes, okay sure, I’ll take it.” What I remember so distinctly is that it had very few feathers, much of it was pink, and stubby feathers coming out all over the place. I immediately went down to the beach and there were some dead seals there, and I just cut some seal meat off and went back, and to my amazement, it had nothing wrong with its appetite. It just gulped down small pieces of seal meat. I had a basement apartment and I let the raven live in the basement. It was quite bright, I could light it up with quite bright lights, and that night it ate ravenously. Thereafter, I just kept feeding it seal meat. That’s what it ate just about the whole time. It grew very, very rapidly. The bird never made a vocal sound after dark or in dim light. Despite knowing me well by daylight, it always opened its beak and hissed in a reptilian, dinosaurian, sort of way. I interpreted this as a threatening sound, but it never actually struck out. I found the display intimidating. Finally it reached the point where it was a nuisance in the basement. It was perfectly free to go wherever it wanted, and all the newspapers were put down to keep its droppings under control. Whenever it flapped its wings, those newspapers just blew away. I had a balcony and it lived very happily there. It could look at ravens flying over if it wanted to. But he had absolutely no interest in them at all. I was the kingpin. It was totally devoted to me. I found its first flight very interesting and fun to watch. I knew that it was contemplating flight, often flapping its wings and walking in an agitated way along the railing. Finally one time, when I was not in school, probably a weekend, I went downstairs and encouraged it with some seal meat. It made a clumsy three-point landing, feet and beak, at my feet and before eating, made a long an excited speech, sounding as always like a mix of human talk and laughter. This talk was very special to my bird and I wish I had recorded it. I called it, I regret to say, Nevermore, from the poem by Edgar Allen Poe. I should have called it something very simple it could pronounce. I would have recognized its voice is what I’m saying. It had a certain way of making noise which you don’t often hear from ravens in the wild. Sometimes it would have almost a humanlike laugh. It was imitating what it heard from me and I had a lot of children visiting me. It never attacked them, but I did warn them not to get close to it. I was always afraid it would peck at the shiny eyes of children, so I said no. It wouldn’t let them touch it, but I could do almost anything. It trusted me completely. It didn’t really become a nuisance other than flapping its wings and the newspapers flew everywhere. It had a sheltered box it could live in. I put some grass in there so it was semi-warm. He responded very much during daylight hours when I came in. He would walk and laugh and get very excited and turn around. This was what he did. Much of the time as a teacher I had to be away, so he was alone, but whenever I could, I made it an opportunity to feed him. I always presumed it was male, but it could have been a lady raven, a female. I don’t know. I can’t tell the difference. It would be interesting to find out how the ravens themselves distinguish between themselves – if there is a slight difference in the voice or something that tells them apart. Ivujivik is a tiny place and I loved to walk up in the hills. He would come with me, walking most of the time. It was always attracted to anything shiny or a white piece of moss and it would go and investigate and drop behind and then fly back to me. It could fly very nicely. Once it made that first flight from the balcony down, it didn’t have any hesitation. I think it was nervous. It must be nerve-wracking to be a bird and make your first flight. I got it in March. I took it up the fiord a fair distance from the village, that must have been May or June when we parted company because there was no ice or snow and the boat trip up the fiord was pleasantly mild. There was very little darkness. It had no experience with water. I had a Boston whaler and I put it into a great, big cardboard box. It was very upset by this. Its beak poked through the cardboard. If it had enough time, it would have found its way out. Luckily, I got it to where I presumed was close to where it had been hatched, not that it had any recollections. I made the decision to free the raven at the very beginning. I was not going to keep it indefinitely. It didn’t belong in my home. Had it returned from the fiord and stuck with me and not been willing to go off on its own, I think I would have said the other solution is to see if there is a zoo that would like him. I was delighted to save it from almost certain death. The other fledglings the children took did not survive. This was the only one of three. I beached the boat and the box was almost in tatters by that time. The bird hopped out onto the beach and walked up and down and looked at the various things that were there. I left it some food there. When I got back into the boat and pulled off, it walked in an agitated way up and down the beach. It didn’t seem to understand water. It had no experience. I had never taken it to the beach. We’d always walked up into the hills. Walking down to the beach meant passing a lot of dogs and I wanted to keep well clear of that. It didn’t want to fly out to me. I drove off trying to ignore it. I was very fond of it. At the same time, I think it would have been killed by local people, especially because people were thinking what’s this guy’s relationship with this raven? Some also questioned my special relationship with a bird around which there are so many ancient stories. I well understood their concerns over my special relationship with it. Indeed, that relationship surprised and concerned me, too. It was never put into words. My assistant at that time, said, “Look, Steve, it would be a good thing if you got rid of the raven.” I said, “I agree with you.” It’s what I did. I did it very willingly, very gladly. I just had a good feeling at the end. It was a strong healthy bird which could easily fend for itself, find food for itself and realize it was a raven. He never came back to my house. I used to go to the store and what a silly sight to see this raven hopping and skipping along with me. It was endlessly curious about objects on the ground. Whenever it fell behind, it flew back to me, landing in the beginning, on my head. I soon learned to hold out an arm, on which the bird landed and then jumped to the ground. To get out of the reach of the children, it just flew up, perched on the roof of the store and waited for me. I heard that some of the Elders were afraid when it perched on top of the store while I was inside shopping. When I came out, it hopped back down and hippity-hopped back to my house. It was sort of absurd, but I was it, I was God. It was very possessive of me and acted aggressively toward others. I remember it pecking at the children’s rubber boots. The bird willingly jumped into my outstretched hand, but not so with others. I felt very much honoured. I felt, “Why do I deserve such loyalty?” It seemed to feel that I was a very special being I think. I felt very complimented by that.