A fox screamed from up the valley, the sound echoing through the moonlit night. The little canine’s call is an eerie screech, spine-tingling when it rings in the dark of night. The fox may have been calling for a mate, as it is approaching that time of year. Or perhaps there was another message in the cry.
The fox went silent, and the owls started up. A gentle hoo hoo drifted up from the opposite direction of the fox shriek. An answering hoo hoo came from a different angle. The owls conversed under the pearly light of the moon.
Listening to the fox and owls, I thought of the ravens I recently watched on a carcass, and the “yell” they give to summon other ravens to a bounty of meat. Apparently, each raven has its own distinct yell, a voice recognized by other ravens. This allows ravens to choose who they will join on a carcass, selecting social allies over competitors. The birds communicate within a complex society, an avian community we are just beginning to understand (see Szipl, 2015, cited below).
Often, I stand in a forest and listen to the voices: chickadee, squirrel, grouse. In autumn, the elk’s bugle graces the land. Occasionally, wolf howls vibrate through the mountain air. All of these voices — and the voices of the whole wondrous animal world – hold meaning and demonstrate the social structures and intricate species interactions that exist outside of human domain. Sometimes, I think I can glimpse the meanings and for a moment participate in that greater community. Other times, I am left in curious wonder at how much swirls around me that lies beyond understanding.
Sadly, most animals have learned to flee the sound of the human voice. Not all. Raven and chickadee can both be quite verbal in a human-bird conversation. I have found that playing the Native American flute allows me to add my voice to the wild without disturbing the peace of those creatures more shy than the gregarious birds. Three coyotes once took a seat to listen to my notes. A chipmunk perched on the woodpile with curiosity as I played. Elk will give me a look, then return to grazing – once a bull elk answered my flute with a drawn out bugle.
And Raven. My duet partner. Raven sits in the tree by the cabin, and will – when he wants – do a nice back-and-forth performance. I was asked to try and record this; a trick to get Raven, flute, me, and recorder in one place. The flute in this recording is crafted by Coyote Oldman, and neither my performance nor the tiny iPhone recorder does justice to the beauty of the instrument. In the silence, Raven is communicating in ways outside of voice, cocking his head towards me, lifting a wing, fluffing a feather. He, as usual, voices the last note.
Szipl, Georgine, et al. “With whom to dine? Ravens’ responses to food-associated calls depend on individual characteristics of the caller.” Animal Behaviour 99.0 (2015): 33-42.