Years ago, I underwent a brain MRI. It was preceded by two head bouncing bike riding fails. By head bouncing, I mean head dropping nearly six feet and bouncing off the solid, immovable, immutable rock making up Earth’s flooring. I was at the awkward Mind-Body age every male seems to experience when the Mind believes it is still young and capable of superhuman feats and overrules vehement protestations from Body. Mind won the battles. Body lost the war.
The first, a poorly timed jump off a two-foot lip where my reflexes failed to pull the front wheel up on time for a tail landing, succumbing, rather quickly, to gravity and a body-slamming dance with solid rock. It was the 80s and slam dancing was a thing in which I participated but that was bodies bouncing against bodies with human squishiness providing forgiveness in the contact unless you caught a sharp elbow to the ribs. The other crash and burn, a few days later stylized by a slow-motion endo on the Slick Rock trail.
Nothing visible was broken in either fall. Bones were intact beneath bruised flesh and battered ego. But, I started experiencing weird deviations from my normal behaviors and the occasional spiritual visions interpreted by others as brain damaged hallucinations. I believed I could fly. My biking mishaps were predicated by this belief.
A single MRI layer intersecting with my eyes revealed a distinct blue-black Raven image. It wasn’t like a smudge in a knot of wood where you close one eye, soft focus and half-open the other squinting with the head tilted 45 degrees and miraculously appears a Jésus face. No. I saw it with my own eyes. This was an unmistakenly clear, highly detailed, overhead image looking down upon the backside of a soaring Raven. Wings outstretched, primary feathers parted resembling spaced fingers, the wedge tail in full fan. The feathers were distinct as were the shaft and zipped feather veins. Tendrils of scruffy beard visible at the base of the beak. The beard and wedged tail distinguished it from Crow.
Both Raven and Crow are highly intelligent members of the Corvidae family who don’t get along. I don’t care much for the crows. They are bullies. They congregate in raucous groups called murders and screech in grating caws that killed many of my youthful slumbers after staying up well into the single-digit hours. Ravens, on the other hand, enjoy their solitude, tend to travel alone or in pairs. When they do infrequently speak, relative to crows, it is in deep, sonorous croaks. A group of Ravens is a conspiracy. When adolescent Raven leaves home, they join gangs where they hang out until mating when they pair off. I am definitely Ravenish in my behaviors.
The bird in my brain faces forward, looks through my eyes, the body is perfectly centered over the longitudinal brain fissure, wings outstretched as if soaring 1000s of feet high on the gentle geothermals rising off massive red rock walls.
The doctors were surprised. They took a series of additional scans none of which contained the Raven image. They remained perplexed, claimed there was a bug in the MRI software causing a shadow which is why it wasn’t visible in subsequent scans. I fought, to no avail, to get a copy for myself. Eventually, lawyers became involved and they simply denied it existed refusing to show me the original Raven layer or any other of my brain scans. Company policy, they said. It was an obvious conspiracy against truth. They were afraid every MRI they ever taken was potentially tainted leading to incorrect diagnoses and would launch an avalanche of lawsuits. At least, that was the implication during our few, brief conversations. I think they were all bastards of the crow totem and harbored intense jealousy bordering on murderous intent for Ravens.
I, myself, was confused but for wildly different reasons. I am absolutely positive there is a Raven layer in my brain. It’s just that it is so thin there’s about as much chance of capturing it in an MRI as having a bird shit on your head twice. And I’ve been head shat twice. I guess that makes me lucky and not just a shit head?
My confusion arises because I believed my totem was Wolf or Vulture never having considered it could be Raven. At the time, I would have preferred it was a vulture but that’s because of a bit of juvenile hero-worship not any particular spiritual connection to the naked headed bird that glides all day without flapping a wing while searching the slightest, wafting scent of decay for dinner. (I, too, hate to cook.) My favorite author, Cactus Ed, had an affinity for vultures believing they would be a great form for his next incarnation. I wanted to be like Ed…until I matured and realized the folly of elevating any human being above another let alone engage in hero worship. Now, I just do my best to be an unadulterated me. And part of that is to understand my affiliation with Raven.
Raven is my particular spirit totem, birds, in general, are the spirit animals with whom I’m most attuned. This partly explains my penchant for photographing and occasionally collecting feathers. That and their delicate beauty is astonishing whether light-absorbing solid black or a mixture of eye mesmerizing colors.
My affinity for Ravenness is likely the reason, when standing at the edge of a thousand-foot precipice in Island in the Sky overlooking the White Rim, I feel a longing to launch myself into the blue. I believe I can fly. But not until I find two Raven flight feathers. They can’t be plucked from a caged Raven or pulled off the wings of a dead one for they, too, are deceased, void of flight magic. No. They must be the gifts of a living Raven dropped from the sky for me to catch before they touch ground. And when I finally possess them, I will hold one in each outstretched hand and take a flight of faith off that edge into the void and soar to my heart’s content.