the eagle & the raven

On Haida Gwaii it’s not uncommon to see ravens or eagles soaring above in an off-shore wind or perched at the peak of a Sitka spruce.  A master of the skies, the eagle is thought to be a spiritual guide with the ability to skim the boundary between the physical world and the spiritual world. Equally admirable, the raven is a symbol of change, humour and curiosity.  It’s been thought the raven released the light of the sun to bring to the world.  Both their profoundness and their frequency are likely why they have been placed with so much importance in Haida history.

The people of Haida Gwaii descend from two different moieties or social groups: the Eagle and the Raven. Though the two groups did not live in separate regions, but were interconnected and interdependent. Marriages had to take place between Eagle and Raven, with their children becoming the same clan as their mother. Each group was comprised of more than 20 lineages  and their respective crests. These crests were historically used as public displays of an individual’s family heritage on totem poles. The raven and the eagle are still used today in Haida social structure, culture, and folktales.

I had my first intimate encounter with an eagle while hiking Spirit Lake Trail. It was boldly consuming to be in the presence of an eagle. They’re hidden, yet they have a way of making their presence immediately known. The lake had little movement, the air was still and the abundance of moss absorbed the vibrations of walking. There were humbling sounds of an echoing song bird bouncing off the density of the trees. And the sound  of water cascading off saturated leaves. Everything was calm. But I was not alone. With one heavy whoosh, the wing span of a watchful eagle opened and the eagle took flight only metres above my head. The movement of its wings emanated a heavy, thick bellow that brushed my forehead, and moved across the lake surface expanding to the forest canopy. The sound moved differently after that. For the next half an hour, the quietness would return and then be disturbed again as the eagle moved from perch to perch. At times I followed it, trying to take a picture. Although, I always felt as though it was following me.

Regardless of where I am on this island, whether I’m aware of it or not, there’s always an eagle or raven in my presence keeping a watchful eye.

Allison SmithComment