July 21, 2011

Executing a Raven

Well, it wasn’t really a raven. A crow actually. But raven sounds more poetic, don’t you think?

Yesterday afternoon as I was driving by a park on the way to pick up the kids, I saw the most amazing thing. It was a hot but nice afternoon, with a bit of a breeze blowing in from the west. This crow was trying to land on the top of a telephone pole. You could see him angling, his body crunched with the effort, his wings flapping wildly trying to control his flight. (I say he ~ it might’ve been she. What do I know?) The thing is, he wasn’t trying to drop down on it from above. The wind was in his face, so he flew past it from below, flapped hard until he rose to the height of the top of the pole, let the wind push him backwards, and then he folded his wings and dropped onto the flat circle.

It was absolutely amazing, I tell you! He had to do it twice. The first time he did a complete circle ~ came in below, rose, let the wind carry him, but too far, so he dropped again, flew forward, rose, and then dropped onto the landing pad. Amazing athletics, I tell you.

That got me to thinking about executing a raven in writing. Don’t you just love coming across something in what you’re reading that absolutely makes your jaw drop? A perfect turn of phrase or the subtle observation perfectly expressed or a word in just the right place, or a plot twist that gives you the chills, it’s so good.

There are authors who consistently execute the raven. That’s why we read them. Alice Munro and Julian Barnes and so many others. You just stand in awe of them. Their gymnastics are almost always a perfect 10. The crow, too, was obviously a fabulous flyer, because why would he attempt it if he was not. The skill involved is amazing, and this bird was almost flawless.

But the thing is, even with his skill, this crow had to do it twice. Some maneuvers are so complex and dependent upon chance that you just have to keep trying to get it right, to land Plop! onto that little tiny wooden circle.

Here’s to you and me, today, attempting to execute a raven.

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