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Raven in the Rain

I've been on a raven kick lately. These intelligent, engaging birds are everywhere in SE Alaska, and I most often see them close-up in parking lots around Juneau. They are particularly fond of hanging out around the grocery stores and McDonald's, taking advantage of the numerous french fries and other edible treats that end up on the ground. I did mention how smart they are, didn't I? I believe it's this high level of intelligence that has gained the corvidae (ravens, crows, etc.) their bad rap as calculating, greedy creatures that are harbingers of bad luck. We humans tend to villify animals that we view as competitors for food and other resources. Ravens are certainly smart enough to give us humans a run for our money—one only need gaze into the black, shiny eye of one of these birds to sense the great intellect behind it.

It's not until you are up close and personal with a raven that you realize how very large these birds are; they dwarf crows in both attitude and dimensions. I believe only the herons and bald eagles are larger, though my landlord has a particularly enormous Buff Orpington hen that I believe could be a contender. I particularly enjoy the sounds they make: curious percussive thwocks and knocks in addition to the standard caws. Baby ravens have these endearing, high-pitched shrieks that sound just like a distressed woman who just saw a mouse.

But I digress. Inspired by the very gravity of these huge, black birds, I was moved to make this portrait of one. The source photo was provided by local Juneau photographer, naturalist, and author Lynn Schooler, and I believe he's pleased by my interpretation. Using black powdered frit on clear glass, I sketched in the branch and bird by sifting powder onto the surface of the glass, then pushing it around with a dry brush and other implements. I then added layers of other colors to create a stormy skyscape. After backing it up with an additional layer of white opal glass, I fused it all into a 5.5" x 9" panel. Normally I would put the image onto white glass and put the clear layer behind, but I sort of like the dimensionality of working on the clear layer. You can see the tiny "champagne" bubbles trapped between the two layers of glass, and the black frit image casts a faint shadow onto the white layer underneath.

This view of a raven silhouetted against grey clouds is a common one where I live. Garrulous and social, ravens lend a fullness and energy to life in the forest (and life in Juneau parking lots) that would be greatly missed by their many admirers, as they strut and waddle with an awkward bowlegged gait across the pavement. All that awkwardness instantly turns to grace, however, when they spread huge, glossy black wings and take flight. No wonder the Tlingit tribe reveres them. They are impressive beings.

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