One of the most difficult things in modern life is to keep up with all the new jobs available. That’s not to suggest that unemployment isn’t a real problem—it is—but that the game has changed since the days I went to the guidance counselors’ office and thumbed through the box of microfiche to learn about potential colleges. (And what strange people the guidance counselors were!) Since 1981, when I graduated from Oil City High School, the Internet has been invented and has changed employment forever. I understand that making YouTube videos can now be a full-time job, with benefits. Who knew? So when I was kindly presented with a copy of Christopher Skaife’s The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London I wasn’t too surprised to learn that there is such a job.
Delightfully written, The Ravenmaster goes into the ins and outs of life in what is a ceremonial job. That the Brits are fond of tradition is no secret, and this little book is so full of them that it becomes a delightful gallimaufry that includes, I kid you not, dog biscuits marinated in blood. Although Skaife takes you on a few detours through his own life, the book is mainly about ravens. We’re so used to materialists telling us that everything is simply cause and effect of neurons firing that I wonder how they might react to the obvious intelligence and personalities of ravens. Reading about their antics as well as their wisdom it’s difficult not to surmise that consciousness isn’t a purely human preserve. With the ravens and the wolves we are a piece.
Intelligence is more common in the animal world than in the White House these days, and this book may help to show why. Ravens can plot, plan, and be cruel. They can also be kind, compassionate, and friends. I’ve long had a fascination with corvids, and I tried to befriend some before moving out of New Jersey. It was a bit tricky with the strictures of my own Tower of London—the commute, the bus, the job—and so my friendship with the local crows in the back yard of our apartment remained strictly casual. We lose so much by not paying attention to the natural world of which we are, increasingly, so unnatural a part. When humanity disappoints and the ridiculousness of human behavior haunts, I recommend reaching for The Ravenmaster. It’s comforting to know that real minds exist out there in the wild.