All my life I’ve been blessed with the friendship of animals. We all recognise that they will go on before us which is sad but sometimes, just occasionally, they stay with us in spirit.
Such was the case with Ragnar, a raven whose love it was my privilege to share for a short while. We chose each other while I (very ill-advisedly) took on the job of manager in a zoo. He was a miserable, cowed creature sat in a cage looking mean and spiteful but I fell in love with him immediately. I’ve always been drawn to the Norse mythology and to see this noble bird of Odin so badly treated broke my heart. I plotted to get him out, if only periodically.
In this zoo we did demonstrations of falconry so I went to the owner (please don’t ask me to describe him because I don’t like using foul language on this blog) and asked if I might, in my own time, train the raven to fly in the show. He was delighted because no other centre was flying a raven at that time.
Bingo! For weeks I spent my lunchtimes and hours before and after work, walking around with Ragnar on my fist, getting him used to me until he would eventually allow me to stroke his beard. I ended up with some impressive scars on my right forearm on the way but we got there.
When we finally took part in the displays, Ragnar showed his true colours – he was a clown and I was his straight man. I would place him (unattached) on a post and walk away, turning to call him to my raised fist, only to find him standing at my feet, having jumped off the post and followed me on the ground. The crowd loved it and I’d say over the microphone “Oh dear, it’s such a nice day he’s decided to walk!” Putting him back on the post, he would let me get far enough away and when I called he would shake his head and caw at me. “Don’t argue with me, Ragnar,” I would scold and he’d caw again.
Eventually I’d say “Come on, you – these people want to see you fly. Will you fly for them please, Ragnar?” and he would take off, circling above my head, showing off, and then landing gracefully on my fist. I’d parade him down the line of spectators for them to take photographs and he’d bow and caw and show off dreadfully. It was the golden time for us both.
Inevitably, the owner took me away from him saying that now I had “trained him”, one of the keepers could fly him. We were both heartbroken. Every show, Ragnar would make a break for freedom and I would be called to come down to the enclosure to bring him back. He found the solution. He starved himself to death. Whereas when I was looking after him, I would stay with him and watch him eat, chatting to him and ensuring he was OK. Nobody else did this and he got a fatal infestation of worms having buried all his food.
I took him home with me. I got up every two hours during the night all weekend to dose him with antibiotic but on the Monday morning the owner phoned me in a fury. I was to bring back HIS bird. I cannot tell you how angry that phrase made me. Ragnar was nobody’s bird but his own. That was it, the end. by the Tuesday he was dead. I still believe he died of a broken heart. I went to the falconry hut and removed his jesses, picked up his cold, stiff body and kissed the top of his head. “Fly free, my friend, fly free and remember me.” Then I fell into the Chief Falconer’s arms sobbing my heart out. He understood, he knew that you never get over the death of your first bird.
But I didn’t lose Ragnar. His spirit came back to me and often I know he is there. When I’m driving I often have a raven shadow over my car – he is protecting me and when I have been very ill, I have heard him cawing. He is with me always.