Friday, January 22, 2021


Looking down into the Anchorage bowl from Middle Fork Loop Trail

On downloading a pile of pictures taken during January, the last photo seemed odd. Far from remarkable, it showed a view across Cook Inlet in the last light of day with the purple silhouette of the Alaskan Range in a pink sky. Though it had nice colors, it had no obvious form or structure. Neither did it first seem to have any specific subject matter. Then I remembered the ravens.

On that night I had headed into the hills in the hopes of clicking some photos of the full moon. The moon rose late that night, though, long after sufficient light for any photo taken with my small camera had disappeared. I did manage to click some landscape shots, but nothing still hidden moon. As the day dimmed, I clicked a final series of photos of the orange-lighted southwest ridge of Wolverine Peak. Then, as the darkness deepened, I put my camera away, thinking for good.

A few minutes later I dropped into the basin of Middle Fork of Campbell Creek, crossed the bridge, and then turned down through the cottonwoods on the far side. In the deepening evening I heard no sound but the crunch of my shoes in the snow. Five minutes later, the trail led me through a wall of willow out onto the open meadows beyond. Suddenly there spread far below me the many lights of the Anchorage bowl and the purple silhouettes of Mount Susitna and the Anchorage Range rising across Cook Inlet.

In the increasing dark and cold, it seemed now but a matter of reaching the car, some five miles away down on Campbell Airstrip Road. With enough clothes on, good trail to follow, and the moon soon to rise, I looked forward to a pleasant but uneventful hike out.

The west ridge of Wolverine Peak

As I circled around to the front of Wolverine Peak, though, I suddenly heard a confusion of cawing coming toward me. Looking up, I saw a clutch of ravens winging up from the city. Like me heading for the car, they seemed heading for their roost a well-protected copse of cottonwoods hugging the base of Wolverine Peak’s southwest ridge. Stopping, I watched as one clutch of twenty or so flapped upward and around the ridge. A few moments later a few wildly flapping stragglers hurried after their cohorts. Then a hurrying pair passed overhead.

O’Malley Peak on the right and Wolverine Peak on the left

I turned to continue downward, but not before the cawing of another clutch rose from the darkening city below. As they winged overhead, I cawed to them. As if in response (or so my vanity would like to think) this group ceased in their journey upward and began circling directly overhead. Diving and cawing, lunging and cooing, in singles and in pairs, they wound around and around in the dimming light overhead.

One could wax purple, imagining them aware of the passage of time and their attempt to seize the moment. But they probably just wanted to play, not needing any reason as to why. After three or four minutes of continually circling above me their ring began to break apart. The majority soon gathered into a group and continued upward toward Wolverine Peak’s southwest ridge.

Two, however, turned back to the city below. Maybe they wanted to make one last search of the garbage bin behind McDonald’s on Spenard Road. Maybe they wanted one last warming air bath in the roof vents of the Hilton. Maybe they just wanted to fly a little more before returning to the roost. Lifting my camera, I stretched the telephoto lens to its maximum length, and clicked a photo of those two ravens, the last photo I would take that day.

Now, over

The two ravens

three weeks later, I remembered taking this photo. Looking at that photo carefully I could make out in the left center the little silhouettes of those two wayward ravens flapping eastward into the waning light. I remembered then lowering the camera from my eyes and watching them until they passed from sight.

In the great scheme of things seeing a few ravens in the sky may not seem especially wondrous. One usually sees many on most winter days in Anchorage. But at the right moment in the right place, such a sighting makes for a memorable moment. In such a moment one might even imagine seeing into the life of another animal living in the world, a world in which it seemed much more at home in than any of us. Thus did this seemingly unremarkable photo recall a remarkable moment.

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