The wisdom bestowed by four ravens and a wrapper

The world is a great classroom if you leave yourself open to its lessons. I, for one, have learned the most fascinating things from everyday observations that might have gone unnoticed had it not been for my insatiable curiosity that's both a gift and a hindrance.

Most people tend to anthropomorphize animals to some degree. That's a big word that means assigning human traits to nonhumans. I am guilty of it more than most. I have witnessed philosophical discussions between dogs, theological debates among cats, and domestic arguments between fish - all of them played out in the flatlands of my own imagination.

It amuses me to think of animals having the same ups and downs as the average person and to create dialogue for them to negotiate the web of life. And every now and then, I realize that there really is a lesson being offered by our furry and feathered friends.

I was sitting on a dock in Canada waiting for a ferryboat when a raven landed on the beach. In British Columbia, ravens have great social significance. The indigenous tribes of this area believe the first man was created when native animals came together and took on human form. Animals then became the spiritual guardians of the people they sent forth and thus created the clan system still in existence today. One of those major clans is the Raven. Northwest mythology is full of stories of the raven. He is the trickster, a shape shifter who steals light from the moon and rays from the sun. He is also known as a messenger.

A native shaman once told me a raven never approaches a person unless to impart a lesson or warning. This may be superstition, but wishing to believe, I took notice when one landed in front of me.

Ravens are very smart, and this one began turning over rocks looking for a lunch of hermit crabs. He quickly found what looked like a foil candy wrapper. Nothing so shiny will escape a raven's attention, and he was soon tossing it around and inspecting it from every angle. He had himself a great treasure and forgot all about hunting for crabs. While this was going on, another raven landed and a drama began to unfold.

The second raven wanted the wrapper but feigned indifference while the first raven teased him with it. This went on for a minute, during which time I assigned a dialogue to the participants:

"I'll give you two rocks for that shiny thing!"

"What, this? You know it's worth at least a clam!"

So it went back and forth with much cawing and head bobbing. Fortunately, a third raven landed to interrupt my fantasy and begin a life lesson.

While the first two argued over ownership of the wrapper, the third one circled, waiting for the right moment to move in and steal it. The three ravens were circling each other and making quite a racket when a fourth landed and made off with the wrapper before any of them could make a move. The fourth raven disappeared in the blink of an eye.

With nothing left to fight over, the second and third ravens took off, leaving the original beachcomber by himself. This one returned to his scavenging and soon had a crab in his beak.

A minute later the thief returned and laid the wrapper between himself and the first raven. They stood perfectly still, staring at each other, and I swear they both looked at me.

The first raven was so happy to get his wrapper back that he let the fourth one take the crab and fly away. When I finally left, the first raven was happily tossing his wrapper in the air.

All of this took place in about five minutes, but I thought about it for the rest of the day. That evening, alone in my room, I had another anthropomorphic moment and decided to put it all together and find a lesson.

What I came up with is this: First, not everything we think we want has value. Second, there is very little in life worth fighting over. Third, when you give something freely, from the heart, you will most likely get more back in return. And finally, sometimes the tiniest things can make us happy if we just let them.

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