Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Raven II Rides France!

Tuesday June 26 2007

The Raven woke up - in France!

Caroline brought us coffee (merci!!) and breakfast out on the divine patio overlooking La Masselle, home of Stephane and Caroline, and we surveyed the farm of horses, stone houses and barns, and remains of old stone walls, us.

After breakfast Stephane Chazel took us on a horse ride - in France!

The Raven perched himself in his Raven bag on the gray gelding Jasmin, a 10-year-old Anglo Arabian who's finished his last 3 160-km rides.

Our 2 ½ hour ride took us up into the green, rocky hills, past vineyards, olive tree orchards, fields of green grass (“Grass is good this year”), old old farmhouses, and the ruins of a castle on a little hill. We looked at a few of Stephane's turned-out-growing-up horses, yearling to 4-year-olds, turned out with a 26-year-old retired babysitter endurance gelding. We had a little canter up a field, and Jasmin had this very controlled, huge rocking chair canter stride. Wow, I bet he's fun in an endurance ride!

Although the Raven and I could have gone on forever, and it certainly looks like the trails do, we made a loop and rode back onto La Masselle.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Raven Jet Sets!

Thursday June 21 2007

Going along with this endurance ride in Assissi, Italy, is a Gala Dinner for Assissi Endurance Lifestyle.

Our driver picked up the four of us – 3 humans and The Raven (stuffed in my bag), and shuttled us to the Misura Endurance Village in the valley just below Assisi Town, where some 1200 fancy dressed people and 1 suave Raven attended the opening Gala Dinner for Assisi Endurance Lifestyle.

The Raven fits right in anywhere - Kingly ceremonies, mucking stables, the world of culture and high society. He has no social airs and doesn't recognize those who do, and he always enjoys himself.

Champagne and special Umbrian hors-d'oeuvre were served while the elegant crowd mingled. Around 10 PM there was a mass migration toward the tables set up surrounding the stage. The night show started off with a fashion show under the lights, with the lit up Baslilca of St Francis on the hill, and higher up the lit up Rocca Maggiore castle, providing the backdrop for the open air countryside setting while waiters served a 3-course dinner to 1200 people.

At 11:30 PM a jazzy band started playing, then at midnight, a fireworks show started - pretty spectacular.

After the final dish was served, the crowd drifted from the tables to the bar area where fresh fruits, coffee, and gelato were served to polish off the evening.

The Raven, having already sat on Royal Gold Carpet in Malaysia, had his spin on the Fashion Runway – after the models and TV cameras of course, so he wouldn't distract from the models in the show.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Buon Giorno!

Tuesday June 19 2007

Buon giorno! Hello, good day! Really can't complain when a handsome Italian man in a suit and tie is holding a sign, “M,” at the Rome airport and picking me and the Raven up in a Mercedes SUV!

Andrico drove us the two hours from Rome to Assissi, up and into the old town built on a hill, racing through and around the narrow streets in our Mercedes, dodging tourists, up and up, and Andrico dropped us off at the hotel, where we waited on a medieval staircase for the hotel owner to return from lunch.

The Raven wandered around this lovely old medieval city of stone houses, full of “hill-town charm,” peppered with ancient churches. It has the well-preserved and still-standing remains of eight fortified entrance portals – which you drive through to enter the town - and town walls.

The origin of the name Assisi is unknown, though legend has it that the queen of Troy's brother, Asio built it. It dates back to pre-Roman times, first inhabited by the Umbri (6th century BC), then by the Romans. The Christian faith was brought to Assisi in the 3rd century AD.

Assisi is best known as the birthplace of St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order. He followed his calling in life, much to his father's chagrin, begging for the poor, asking God for enlightenment, nursing lepers, restoring ruined churches, embracing poverty, preaching, (though he chose never to be an ordained priest), and eventually founding the Franciscan Order. Two years after his death in 1226 AD, he was pronounced a saint by the Pope, and the building of the Basilica of St Francis began. I think we can assume Francis was not only a saint but a horse (or at least donkey) lover, because legend has it that on his deathbed, his donkey wept as he thanked it for carrying him and helping him throughout his life.

The Raven admired the statue of St Francis on his horse.

After the fall of the Roman empire, Assisi was besieged and razed several times throughout history. The Rocca Maggiore Fortress, sitting on the top of the hill guarding the town, was built for defending the city around 1174 AD, but the citizens of Assisi did the same thing to the fortress – besieged it and razed it - due to its symbolism of despotic power. In 1367 rebuilding of the fortress began, and it was enhanced throughout the centuries, and it still stands over the city, with its walls and towers extending into the distance.

We stopped at a corner restaurant and sat outside at a table and had, after a panini sandwich, ice cream, which was festively decorated with caramel-dripped cookies and a colorful foil sparkler. Bellisimo!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Three Little Ravens

Tuesday June 12 2007

Last year in the spring, 3 little Ravens
fell out of their nest along Pickett Creek. Neighbor Linda (now next door to Carol, who's next door to us) found them after a windstorm blew them out of their nest. They were sitting on the ground on the bridge over the creek on her new property. The parents were still trying to feed them, but the little ravens were sweltering in the heat, dehydrated, and in very bad shape. Linda called up Carol next door, who drove over in her black pickup; they bundled up the little ravens, and drove a few miles downstream to Linda's (now old) house. The parent ravens were frantic, watching Carol's truck drive away with their babies, but, without human intervention, it was quite clear the little ravens would have died very soon.

Linda and Carol used eyedroppers to get water down them, and Linda kept them at her house. Carol drove home, and later in the day got back in her pickup to drive into town, and the parent ravens followed her truck all the way down the creek into Oreana – she said it was quite eerie. “How they could tell my black truck from her blue truck, and know the babies had been in mine, was amazing.” They eventually figured out their babies were at Linda's place.

Linda, and her partner Mike, and Carol all pitched in to feed the baby ravens – at first dog food soaked into a mush, and bird food, which is higher in protein, and eventually just about anything, including chicken, and tuna, “the smellier the better.”

At first Linda kept them inside as they needed to be fed several times a day, and she even took them to an endurance ride or two, because the hungry babies needed to be fed constantly. “They were all mouth,” said Carol, “big pink mouths,” which must be their attractant for the parents to put food right in the target – down their throats. Eventually Linda kept them outside in a big cage, till they were able to hop and flap around. By that stage, they were no longer so tame they'd sit in Linda's hands, but they would land on Linda's and Mike's heads.

Linda has a big menagerie of dogs and goats and horses and mules; the ravens were just another part of the family. Eventually, one of the ravens disappeared, and they never saw it again. Later in the summer, Mike and Linda found one drowned in a water trough, a very sad event.

That left Hoss. Hoss the Raven kept hanging around, getting fed, growing up with the farm animals. One day he was gone, and later that day another neighbor further down the creek toward Oreana called, “Linda, I have your Raven!” She said he looked disoriented and was hungry, so she fed him dog food. When Linda showed up with her bowl of treats, she said Hoss was so happy to see her, he followed Linda right to her truck and flew back home with her. He was still so starved when they got home, Linda kept feeding him... and feeding him. “He just kept eating, so I just kept feeding him. I mean, what the heck.” The next day, Hoss was gone, seemingly for good.

That might have been the end of the Picket Creek Raven stories, but months later, Hoss returned. Of course, all Ravens look pretty much alike to human eyes, but this had to be Hoss, because he'd hang out at Linda's place on the fence, or on the goats' backs , like he always did. He wouldn't allow himself to be touched anymore, but he'd hang out much closer than any other raven might have, and he was unbothered by human presence. And, he seemed to have brought a girlfriend with him.

Carol says he's still hanging out in this valley – often it's the two of them. Hoss or both of them will stop by her place early in the mornings and croak and caw a while. She'll also often see a Raven or two when she's out riding, and he'll often come quite close. She's sure it's Hoss, coming to check on her.

The first time I took a horse out riding when I got back here this visit, I saw a raven alight on a hillside. It really looked like he was doing nothing but watching me, so I yelled, “Hi Hoss!” at him. Another time Carol and I were riding, and we saw a raven circling high above. I yelled, “Hi Hoss!” again, and the raven flew down to have a look at us. It might not have been Hoss, because sometimes Ravens can be quite curious, but chances are, it was him, because there aren't that many ravens that hang around this drainage. Once a day or so, I see 2 ravens hanging out in one particular dead tree by our creek. I go out there to right under the tree with my camera, saying, “Hi Hoss!” The two look at me, and go about their raven business, cawing and hollering, preening, ducking from little birds or kestrels that are quite perturbed they are hanging out in the wrong spot.

We humans think we are so smart, that we have everything figured out. We forget that we take and take and take from the planet, things that will never be replaced, and things that just won't continue to sustain us with our steadily growing population – do the simple math. Carol and I have always thought that as soon as we humans destroy ourselves and the planet, the Ravens will inherit the earth. They are the clever ones. They've been out there since the creation of the earth (they are mentioned in the Bible several times; it was Ravens that fed Elijah in the wilderness), and they'll be around long after we've taken everything till there's nothing left for us, and they'll still be having a great time. I can only think that we Pickett Creek humans all have good Raven karma, through Linda's and Carol's good raven deeds, (and through my obsession with Ravens), so who knows, maybe we'll get to come back as Ravens one day...

P.S. The great photos are all from Linda and Mike and/or Carol!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Raven Returns! (Sort Of)

June 9 2007

Wait – what's this!? Return of The Raven in Oreana ??

Well, it's not the exact same Raven (I can tell), but it's another Raven... The Raven Two perhaps?

As to the original Raven, I can't count the condolences I received after the crushing disappearance of it in Brisbane (humorous, and serious, condolences, I think), and then there was the help I was offered by numerous people in searching for the lost Raven and/or finding a replacement Raven, (including one endurance rider who stopped at the place I originally bought the first Raven from 8 or 9 years ago, enlisted the help of the manager there, and left his credit card in case that guy found one for me later), and an Australian offer to try to sew me another one.

I recently wrote the company Folkmanis who used to make the Raven puppet, and told them of the Raven's adventures and misadventures. I knew they hadn't made this Raven for 8 or 9 years, but besides sharing a story with them I figured they'd enjoy, I also asked on the off chance there might still be a spare Raven puppet hanging out in the attic or something. The kind marketing director there suggested I keep an eye on ebay – which I'd done from time to time – and since I hadn't checked in a while, I looked again – and there, right then, was another Raven! I was all over that bidding. Meanwhile, another gal from Folkmanis – named Raven, of course – offered to send me HER Raven that she'd had sitting on her desk for many years.

Well, the replacement Raven off ebay arrived this week, and it took no time in getting back into the groove of things. He met the horses – Jose sniffed him on the hay pile, then grabbed him in his mouth, scared himself, backed up with it still in his mouth, kept scaring himself backwards, and finally let the Raven go and wheeled away. The Raven then helped Steph garden , joined us for dinner, and is now hanging out in the suitcase getting packed to leave for Europe next week, for the next three months. THIS TIME, a closer eye will be kept on the Raven II (or Raven Due for Italy, or Raven Deux for France) - it will have a Lost and Found Reward tag attached, in case something bizarre happens again. Maybe I should just wear it on a chain around my neck. Sure, it would be a big Bohemian necklace, but it wouldn't disappear so easily again.

And no, it is not the Exact Same Raven, but I think it will be a decent replacement. Surely I don't need to start over the Raven's endurance miles, do I? It might even be joined by other Ravens at some point... maybe the Kiwi or Kookaburra that jumped in my bag from New Zealand and Australia... that remains to be seen. Raven Fans, stay tuned! Non-Raven fans, well, just get used to it – he's back!