Raven by Yuki Adams, 1990
Synchronicity. What comes to mind when you read that emboldened word? When I first encountered it, I thought “Synchronicity” looked and sounded like the stuff of science fiction, like a strange Saturnian metropolis, perhaps. I even began writing a mystery set in Synchronicity, where a series of simultaneous events occurred as clue-threads needing to be unraveled. But, alas, the 20 years or so I needed to spend in the nurture-opolis of Mommyhood distracted me from completing the project.
Synchronicity comes from the two Greek roots sun-, together, and khronos, time, but Carl Gustav Jung coined the term as we use it today: the experience of two or more events that are meaningfully, but not causally related. In our family, for example, my first husband and my brother were born on the same date and their names are both Gary. My mom and her sister were born on July 30. (My grandson was born only 10 minutes before July 30!) I was born on the same day as R’s son. Mom passed away on February 24, which is also my niece’s birthday. Seems like more than a few coincidences, right? Have you noticed similar events in your life?
The most striking synchronicities for me have involved *ravens. When R and I were preparing to be married we spent a day in Vancouver, B.C. looking for rings. We were both drawn to local Northwest Coastal motifs, but we’d been unable to find anything we liked in our hometown. Across the border, we perused gallery after gallery, until at last we ended up near Granville Island in a First Nations jewelry shop. There, in a glass case at the front of the store we found what we were looking for. R’s ring was engraved silver with a gold Thunderbird decorating the top. Mine was identical, except that in place of Thunderbird, a brilliant gold Raven was worked into the design. We felt such a magical attraction to our rings that we purchased them on the spot.
Our Wedding Rings
Weeks later, I was sitting on a bench at the University of Washington sketching crows in my journal. After doodling through the morning session, I’d skipped out of possibly the most deadbeat writing workshop ever offered and needed to kill time. A shadow crossed over one of my crows. I looked up and above me stood a beautiful, well-aged woman with white hair down to her waist. She was wearing black sunglasses and a traditional Mexican wedding dress, only instead of white it was gray, and in place of colorful flowers the bodice was embroidered with black ravens. She carried a cloth bag over her arm embellished by what appeared to be a raven worked into the weave. I thought about the wedding ring we had recently purchased.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, sounding surprised. Her voice seemed familiar, but I couldn’t place it.
“Nothing,” I said closing my journal, “just drawing and writing.”
As I told her about the workshop I’d abandoned, the woman kept looking back and forth between my journal and me, nodding her head every now and again. She seemed preoccupied, like she had something on her mind, something eating at her that she was about to lay on me. I felt uncomfortable, maybe even a little scared.
“Don’t worry, I won’t steal your ideas,” she laughed, sitting down so close to me on the bench that our bodies were touching. She smelled familiar, though I couldn’t identify her scent. Maybe cedar or another evergreen. Reaching into her bag, the woman pulled out a sketchbook, opened it and showed me page after page of charcoal drawings of ravens. Some were poking their heads out of dark clouds or flying through thick sheets of rain. Others rested on the limbs of gigantic trees or perched on the parking lot lampposts of big box stores. One had the remains of some rodent in its beak. They were in groups of two, three, or four, but most were alone. The woman’s work was almost photographically detailed and far superior to my own.
“Wow! You’re a quite an artist,” I told her. “Clearly, I don’t have to worry about you stealing my ideas, though.”
She looked even more surprised. “Oh, so you really don’t remember, do you?” she asked, removing her sunglasses, looking at me through what were the blackest eyes I’d ever seen on a person.
“Remember what?” I held onto my journal. Her eyes were like infinite black holes sucking me in. I looked away.
“Us…you and I…the two of us when we were ravens, dear. Anyway, I thought you recognized me when I first walked up because of the way you tried to protect your journal. If you don’t remember me, you should, you know. You really should.” She frowned, picked up her bag, tossed her journal into it, and walked away shaking her head and muttering words I couldn’t make out, to herself.
Poor old bird, I thought; she’s clearly wacko. I went back to my journal, but I couldn’t sketch because the woman’s words, “We were ravens, dear,” kept derailing my concentration.
From then on, incidents involving ravens just kept coming. For our wedding, we rented a roomy beach house on one of the San Juan Islands and as we walked up to the front door, there on the wall beside it hung an iron Raven. (On the back door, by the way, was an iron Thunderbird!)
Raven Greeting Us At Our Wedding House
After that, I started seeing the world through raven-colored glasses: a postcard in a gift shop, a painting on an art walk, a stuffed raven in a toy store. Clouds in the shape of a raven! When R built me a writing cottage in the backyard, I named it “Raven’s Roost” and filled the bookshelves with as many books on ravens as I could find. The cedar walls became a gallery of images devoted to Raven.
What astonished me the most, though, was how in my many years of living in the Pacific Northwest I had never seen a single raven, yet after we bought the Raven ring and I had the incident with the white haired woman, ravens seemed to appear regularly. On walks in my neighborhood, I’d notice one or two following overhead. I nearly bumped into another sitting on the bow of a sailboat down at our bayside marina. One morning, I heard a cacophony of crows yakking even more than usual and watched them dive-bomb a solitary raven perched on the very highest branch of the Douglas fir that towers over our backyard. As soon as I ran outside screaming at the crows, the raven flew away. After my mom died, two ravens circled overhead one afternoon as R and I worked in our garden, and at her celebration of life on the same San Juan island where were married, a raven sat watching the festivities for several hours from a nearby cedar, and only flew away after my children released Mom’s ashes into the Salish Sea.
Ravens at the Fairbanks Recycling Center
When I was in Fairbanks, Alaska recently, my son-in-law, C, drove us to the local outdoor recycling center to unload our cardboard, glass, and garbage into the color-coded metal dumpsters that were spread out around the perimeter of the site. Close by, on or in another dumpster, gossiping in the high-pitched gravelly tones of old widows in black who cluster here and there on the cobblestone streets of Florence, Italy, three well-fed ravens were hanging out. We watched them glance back and forth between us and the plastic bags they were ripping apart to get at the precious moose bones and macaroni for which they would pluck our eyes out if we tried to steal from them. And at the same time, we noted, from high up on the snow-bent branch of a black spruce, a monkish raven sat alone, silent, watching C and me with the blackest eyes either of us had ever seen on a bird or a person.
“Yixgitsiy xivitux ghuhoł.”
Raven was walking among them.
(Watercolor by the Author)
*The capitalization of raven varies throughout this post. Generally lower case is used unless Raven is referencing a name.