Before I met it, I had already heard a few things about it. It was well known in the neighbourhood. I can’t remember who told me about him but, one day, I learned that there was a mad bird living near the new secondary school who would attack anyone who went near its territory. This aroused my curiosity. I wanted to see this.
Shortly after midday one Wednesday, it must have been around half past one, I arrived outside the school. There was no one to be seen. The gravel garden lay there in cool spring sunshine. There was a pond, some reeds, young trees whose trunks were still wrapped in hessian and tied back to stop them bending too far. The red building behind it was modern, ugly, important. So this is where the demon was meant to be living.
Was I uneasy? Definitely.
Was I afraid?
No, I was panicking.
But turning back was not an option for a fourteen-year-old boy. It would have taken a Doberman to do that. Or a caretaker with a rifle. A monster. Not a raven.
I looked around. Nothing to be seen. It was silent. Was it all just nonsense and, like an idiot, I’d gone and fallen for it? There weren’t any birds here. There was no wicked raven here.
Then suddenly a black goblin hopped across the gravel: swift, hunched and unfriendly. After three pretend attacks and a skilful feint it jabbed its beak into my right foot, deliberately targeting it, angrily. Only my shoe protected me from a deep and painful wound.
I recoiled and the feathered demon pursued me; another step back and it attacked again. I stumbled out of the garden, narrowly missing the pond, and ran away till I was over the canal and reached the stadium – where I was safe.
That is still the only bird that has ever attacked me. I can’t generalise on the basis of this experience. Even then, I assumed that this raven must have something wrong with it and not be quite right in the head. I had read in a book that birds suffer from false perception at an early age and that chicks, for example, can mistake a beeping football for their mother. This bird must have suffered some kind of similar damage. But why did it go for my feet? Why didn’t it aim for my head if it seriously wanted to scare off someone like me? But what if it didn’t want to hurt me, just scare me off? Then its behaviour would have been proportionate and reasonable.
This raven also knew nothing of my conventions or my rules, it didn’t curse or swear, it didn’t argue, but I still can’t claim that it didn’t understand me. It was not unreasonable to push a pint-sized smartarse back behind his boundary. This was the raven’s garden. I had known that and been given a rap on the knuckles, no, on my foot.
Adults have no need for ravens, they can do without these birds.
Even if, nowadays, grown-ups also understand or pretend they understand how much every animal and every plant is part of an equilibrium. They know this, of course, but this doesn’t mean that adults deduce from it that animals have a right to live. Ravens as a whole are needed – but this particular raven isn’t.
This is why ornithological handbooks do not contain photographs, because they show individuals, singular cases like Jacob, rather than a general picture, and the particular needs to be excluded for human beings to be able to create a category. I discovered this a few days ago in the remarkable Verzasca delta. Here, I came across two birdwatchers behind some white willows, each one equipped with a huge telescope on a tripod. They were using these to observe the dicky birds in the reed belt.
There’s a little egret over there, said one. It’s sitting on a piece of dead wood in front of the peninsula.
And there’s a great eaglet right next to it, murmured the other.
Then they were silent again and carried on categorising things. They saw a lot of species, but they didn’t see an animal.
Ravens are recognised as a group, as a species, but I could happily do without that one particular raven that pestered me. There is only the plural and how large that plural is, is decided by the principle of specific circumstances.
For me, precisely the reverse is true. I couldn’t care less about ravens. I regard them with a very special kind of total indifference. However, I cannot do without one particular raven. This is going to be the third one here.