One cool, overcast morning near the end of September, Raven consulted his GPS to make sure he was still flying due east. That heading, he hoped, would put him over Chilkat Lake and then the Chilkat River where it flowed alongside the Haines Highway. Happily for Raven, at least according to the GPS, his heading still read close to due east, so he felt pleased with himself. Ha! For an old fart flying mostly by the seat of my pants, I am doing pretty good- just as good as that guy on the famous “Inverted Jenny “stamp.
Now, Raven’s compass was a different story. Every time he tried to read it, the needle wandered like a drunken fool out for a walk in a dense forest devoid of hiking trails. Hmm, he speculated, must be some kind of magnetic anomaly. Maybe the surrounding mountains contained undiscovered deposits of iron ore, hidden away like hordes of psychedelic mushrooms stored by tree rats.
If you have no idea of where Raven happened to be flying that day, pay close attention and don’t try to use one of those world maps which look like someone got the skin of a tangerine in one piece, threw it out the window and succeeded in getting it run over by a dump truck. What you need is a decent GE Political map of Canada, say like a two-page spread in an atlas. Now, find Aklavik “pop. 594”, NWT… “Northwest Territories” this is close to where the MacKenzie River discharge into the Arctic Ocean. Go straight down from Aklavik, 8cm or 750 km to a place where the borders of Canada, United States, The Yukon Territory, British Columbia and Alaska come together around 60 degrees’ north latitude and 135 degrees west longitude. This is the only place on earth with that many borders coming together with no war going on. Yet, George W. Bush, Hilary Clinton, Henry Kissinger and the CIA are working on that just in case Kim Jung Mentally Ill doesn’t nuke the place first.
Now if you can find yourself a way larger scale map of this place with no war going on yet, it should show you Chilkat Lake, the Chilkat River and the Haines Highway which runs between Haines Junction, Yukon Territory and Haines Alaska. This is where Raven was flying with a functional GPS and a screwy compass.
Sometimes, when Raven was flying, he got into trouble by doing too much daydreaming, as he did on this particular day. He lost sight of the highway because he was congratulating himself for being clever in bypassing U.S. Customs by flying low and depositing something on the agent’s forehead which resembled what you might discharge after chewing talcum powder flavored Copenhagen. Now he didn’t feel so clever. Everywhere he looked, he saw an ocean of clouds. If you flew above them all you could see was the top three or four hundred meters of Three Guardsman Peek and, if you tried to fly under them, you could hardly see your own wingtips. Raven knew you could get killed trying to fly in pea soup by VFR (visual flight rules) you might smack your head into the face of a mountain and shove your big fat beak through your little bird brain.
Raven also worried about the crosswind he felt on his right side. Though light, it could cause him to drift north as he kept to his due east heading. He considered crabbing but decided against becoming too smart by half. Better to be patient and very careful. There were old pilots and bold pilots but there were no old, bold pilots. He decided make like Genghis Kahn and his brother Don in the old Bob Dylan song and just keep on keeping on. That is preciously how Raven passed another hour or so that day.
Suddenly, Raven thought he heard the barking of faraway dogs, kind of way below and pretty much straight of him. The barking quit and before long he wondered if the whole episode only occurred in his wild imagination. For a time, quite ensued. There remained nothing to see but the ocean of clouds, nothing to hear, real or imagined. Sometime passed before another sound got his attention. The shooshing of automobile tires on pavement. For a few seconds, an opening in the clouds afforded Raven a peephole into the world below and, sure enough, he saw a string of automobiles crawling through fog behind a large motorhome.
Typical humans, Raven told himself as the peephole closed. Afraid to pass but fearlessly tailgating one and other. Those people in the Conspicuous Consumption Vehicle, where would they be showing off in ten or a dozen years? In front of the rest home? The sound of them grew faint and Raven began to wonder if he had already passed over Chilkat Lake unknowingly.
Raven musing came to an abrupt end, interrupted by three deep-throated air horn blasts. He stilled his nerves for the impending crash. He heard squealing tires and later what must have been a semi-tractor shifting through gears to regain speed. At some time, the big rig must have passed under him because the diesel began to fade behind him. The humans had averted disaster.
Once again dogs could be heard, this time seemingly barking from all directions and rather nearby. Raven caught the smell of wood smoke. Alder. Acrid as if from a smoldering fire, perhaps humans smoking fish. He liked smoked fish but it was kind of hard to steal. The overcast appeared to be thinning and he liked that, too. Raven decided to drop to a lower altitude and found a surprise awaiting him. Not only had the overcast lifted so that it no longer skimmed the ground, but he saw that he had arrived at a human settlement. In fact, it looked like someplace he’d been to more than once. I know where I am, he told himself. I’m in KLUKWAN! He glided to the ridgetop of a modest looking house from which the human occupants appeared absent. Perfect last minute stall, perfect two-point landing, he congratulated himself. Those Top Gun Navy pilots should try landing on a carrier with a giant crease running the length of the deck!
Now Raven knew that the wind must have pushed him north of Chilkat Lake and, when he surveyed his surroundings he noticed he had overshot the Haines Highway where it bent southeast on its way through the Tlingit village. He could fix that problem but not the one caused by the smoke coming from the chimney on a rusted refrigerator in the backyard of the house next door. He wiped drool off on the leading edge of his left wing.
Unhappily for Raven, his arrival had not gone unnoticed by the humans K-9 inhabitants or his distant cousins. Soon the racket became too much for Raven and he decided to correct his navigational errors and resume his journey to the “City” of Haines.
Depending on how hard he would have to work backing them in, Raven figured he needed about one and a half hours to reach Haines. The back-yard smoker had gotten him to thinking about how hungry he was. Now he began imagining what sort of feast awaited him in Haines. He’d start at the IGA supermarket i.e., the dumpster there, if it had been left open. The high schoolers would have been cut lose by the time he got there so that he could also count on finding a half-eaten bean burrito. Sometimes he felt guilty about eating baby burros but sometimes you do what you have to do when you are hungry. Maybe he’d find a pink slime burger not yet permanently welded to the IGA parking lot. Then you had the cruise ship passengers, very skilled at landing ice cream cones upside down on downtown sidewalks. French Vanilla… Chocolate Mint… Banana Walnut…
After satiating his hunger, Raven figured he would take in the Haines theatre. Go to the library to compare the number of ravens dropping in to improve their minds versus the number of humans coming to view online porn. Then off to the medical clinic to see how many patients came in with sawed off fingers compared to those hoping to cure a case of goner-rhea. He’d stop in a the small boat harbor to meet returning fishing charters and purloin a filet of salmon. At dusk he would look for a place to get a good nights roost. After the previous days ordeal and some well-earned recreation, Raven woke up in a Haines RV park. He watched the new dawn climb over nearby peaks from his vantage point halfway up a 40 meter Sitka spruce. He remembered the filet stored one branch up but decided he wasn’t hungry yet. Besides, he figured like a green banana, a freshly caught fish improves in flavor when given a little ripening time.
When Raven looked into the lust lawn below him what should he see by the dawn’s early light? Robin, pottering around and turning over decayed leaves in search of breakfast. I think I’ll make social, Raven decided, I just need to come up with a way to get down there without scaring the creature. So he watched and, by and by, hatched and idea as to how he could go about chatting up Robin. He glided to a part of the lawn the better part of 20 meters from Robin and began shambling about, picking at this and that, as if he too were in search of insects. Robins erratic path proved challenging to Ravens strategy, but by and by he proceeded to get within proper range for beginning a conversation.
“Top of the morning to you, Turdus Migratorius.” Robin eyed the flying garbage truck warily.
“Who are you calling a turdus-whatever?”
“Turdus Migratorius. That is your name in Latin. It has nothing to do with your alimentary canal.”
“So, what is your Latin name,” Robin demanded.
“I am Corvus carax illuminous max.”
“You’re coming off like some phony English aristocrat; “Edgar Billingsworth Merchant Quiggly”.”
“Okay,” Raven admitted, “I made up the two extra names. Now what might your plans for the day happen to be?”
“I’m eating every bug I can find to I can complete my migration to California. It takes a lot of energy.”
“What a coincidence. I’m also heading to California.”
“What for? You don’t need to migrate there. I have no choice. I would freeze my rump off if I stayed in Alaska.”
“I’m completing the last two items on my bucket list,” Raven replied.
“Pray tell, might those be?”
“I’m going to Stanford University to take a spin in a centrifuge. I’m told it’s a bigger thrill than either paragliding or bungee jumping off tall cliffs. Then I’m going down to Baha. I’m going to lay on a beach and watch those cute little chihuahuan ravens walk by.”
Robin held his tongue for a moment then gave Raven a piece of his mind. “Once you get to Stanford, and I’m sure you will, I suggest you first take physics 101 or you won’t need to cross off that last item on your bucket list.