I live at the top of a local landmark known as the Weatherly Hillclimb. That’s two lanes, three miles, and six of the wildest hairpin turns in Pennsylvania. So steep and twisted is this rural stretch of blacktop that it attracts nearly 100 drivers each year to an organized road race (the aptly named “Weatherly Hillclimb”), a thrill ride to the top past trees, boulders, and enough rented port-a-potties to service all the locals who come out to watch.
Maybe the adrenaline junkies who roll into town for the event notice that the roadway slices through an especially pretty little hemlock woods. Or, maybe not. Probably going too fast.
I, on the other hand—a normal driver who can barely keep up with the 5 mph posted speed limit--do notice. And, like the photographer who stumbles across the most striking subject matter when he hasn't got a camera, I've had some memorable wildlife sightings on this road, where it’s nearly impossible to pull over.
Snakes and shrews have darted across my path here. It’s the shrews that bother me most. I need at least two field guides and my reading glasses to identify one when it’s in my hands, so I’ve no hope of figuring out whether that last one I saw there was a rock shrew or a masked shrew or a pygmy shrew. Who knows!
I’ve also seen owls, bats, and a couple of those big pileated woodpeckers. Most notable by far were a pair of ravens who’d pop up about once a month, perched on the guardrail in turn three like a couple of NASCAR fans. Always the two of them. Always together.
One winter I found a dead raven at the top of the Hillclimb. It’d been shot.
This is where I’d normally let loose with a well-crafted string of profanity. But this is a family show here so just insert your own expletives.
Since then, I’ve seen the remaining raven a few times. Always friendless. Always alone. He makes me feel guilty; guilty for being a gun owner and guilty for being human. I'm sorry we did this to you. I'm sorry we left you widowed. Humans suck sometimes, pal. We really do.
I saw him (or her—who can sex a raven when you can’t even pull over?) atop his guardrail perch today. I was driving home after having met with a friend who makes his living as a writer. His words were rolling around in my brain. Start a blog, he said. If you want to be taken seriously as a writer these days, you need to have a social media presence.
I wasn’t thrilled with this idea. Did I have anything to say? If I did, would anyone care?
And then there he was, my raven on his guardrail, radiant in glossy black plumage. I swear he came to remind me that in over 30 years as a wildlife rehabilitator and educator, I’ve rarely been caught without an interesting tale to share. Write, baby, write! quoth the Lonely Raven.
So here I am with a nature blog. More to come than just sad stories of solitary old ravens, I promise. Follow me if you like, and we’ll see what darts across our path. Snakes, shrews, owls, ravens? Here, at least, we’ll have the chance to pull over and take a closer look. Even through the hairpin turns.
Update! The raven may not be so lonely. See Dancing on the Inside for more of the story.