Once I was waiting somewhere for my mom to pick me up, and I saw a crow hopping around outside. As this was before smart phones, I had nothing to do to pass the time, so I leaned forward to get a better view. The crow was happily enjoying a cannibalistic meal of another, dead, crow.
The fact that I still remember this, at least ten years later, is testament to how disgusting it was.
So I never really liked crows, and never bothered to learn very much about them. Which is too bad, because it turns out that crows are 100 percent badass.
I proofread Tulugaq: An Oral History of Ravens for Inhabit Media in August. The book combines photographs of ravens with stories gathered from Northern residents, many of them Inuit elders, about their experiences with ravens, both mythological and real. (By the way, the word “crow” is actually an umbrella term that encompasses several different “races” within the species, one of which is the raven. I also learned this while proofreading Tulugaq!)
Ravens are a huge part of Inuit mythology, figuring in many of their origin stories. As the first story in Tulugaq relates, the raven created the world from snow that had gathered on his wings as he flew through space. He then created the sun, moon, plants, and animals from pecking at this ball of snow.
In a lot of the stories, the raven is a trickster, surviving on his wits. One story in the collection tells that the raven was the last species to board Noah’s ark, because it was eating the bodies of people who had drowned. Ravens are also said to guide hunters to game; this story probably originated because ravens, as garbage and carrion eaters, benefit more than most other animals when humans have plenty to eat.
In real life, ravens are one of the most widely distributed bird species in the North, and unlike most, they don’t migrate south for the winter. They can be observed “playing” with other ravens and taunting other species, like cats. One Yellowknife resident in the collection reports seeing ravens perching on streetlights and enveloping them with their wings; the bulb turns on automatically, and they enjoy the heat it creates.
We tend not to like animals that live in cities among humans, like crows, pigeons, squirrels, and rats. But any animal that can carve out a space for itself with us must be pretty smart, even if it does eat its dead friends.
Tulugaq will be available to buy later this month through your local independent bookseller, Amazon.ca, or Chapters.