Here’s a story.
I’m smoking a cigarette, sweating, panting a bit, buzzed. I’m looking out to the north towards Horseshoe Bay, sorta leaning against my seat, straddling the bike, after climbing hard a-pedal most of the way up the hill from Spanish Banks to UBC. Out on the edge of the cliff, at the end of a little trail half a dozen metres from the road, in the bushes, private-like. The same place I usually stop for a smoke after doing the Big Circle. I’m… what? 21? Strong, young, full of juice and big ideas. Spotty, callow and dancing perilously close to full-blown alcoholism, too, but the world is my oyster, by god. You can f–k right off. I love you.
I’m wearing my Walkman, of course, because that thing has changed my life. I’m listening to Elvis Costello’s King Of America, and he’s singing
I wish that I could push a button
And talk in the past and not the present tense
And watch this lovin’ feeling disappear
Like it was common sense
I was a fine idea at the time
Now I’m a brilliant mistake
and it’s the album that I love, right now. Women.
The sky is smeared with grey goth-lipstick clouds, as usual, but the blue is showing through, and I feel magnificent, looking at the mountains and the wrinkly sea, smoking my Player’s Light. Fully oxygenated blood, full balls and, if not full volume, and least plans for full and frantic Friday night.
A raven — big, black, alive — lands with a thump and clink on my handlebars.
No sh-t. A f–king raven. It’s like a foot and a half high, and it’s right there, wabiggety baw!
I’m in that place, though. In that moment. I’m in the place that drugs only rarely managed to take me over the ensuing years, much as I tried.
So I calmly look the raven in the eye as it jinks around on the handlebars until it’s facing me. It looks me in the eye. No, it f–king does, I’m serious. Not straight on, but with its head tilted a bit to my right, so it can really lay the eye on me. I don’t know what to do, exactly, so I do nothing.
It checks me out, takes a minute or two, looks me up and down, jerkily, from crotch to crown, then flies off. I think to myself ‘well, that was pretty cool’, drop my earphones down around the back of my neck, pull out another cigarette, and think about the trickster god of the Kwakiutl and Haida and all the rest, their totem poles stolen and replanted just a few hundred metres away at the museum.
There’s a rustle, another thump, a sudden grip and weight on my right shoulder.
The raven is back. It’s perched on my shoulder. It’s perched. On my. Shoulder. I turn my head slowly, and peer as best I can through the corners of my scratched, smudged lenses into the little black eyes. It sits on my shoulder, gripping tightly, and looks back at me.
I don’t know what to do, exactly, so I do nothing.
And I turn away and look at the mountains again, and love the place I’m in, the body I’m in, the life I’m living. The raven stays with me for a few more minutes, enjoying the view, and then it leaves. Its wing flicks me in the right ear as it launches itself out into the void, over the edge of the cliff.
This really happened, in 1985 or so. I woke up this morning remembering it. It makes me proud, although I’m not exactly sure why.