Life Lessons from my travels – the Raven and the Gopher
The British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) is where I have spent many happy hours training with an armoured battlegroup learning the tactics of how to fight, but also life lessons like this story of the raven and the gopher.
To be completely honest, the BATUS experience is just what every small boy playing with Action Men dreams of! The exercise area is in one of the most sparsely populated areas of the Alberta and gives our tanks, artillery and infantry the freedom to fight each other using laser simulations and for our units to use real ammunition in training against cardboard targets! The main inhabitants of the area surrounding the base are the ever present ravens who scavenge for food and the comical gophers who always chirp excitedly when we disturb them! I can readily imagine this tale of the poor raven and cheeky gopher!
Once when a Raven was soaring over some cliffs near the ocean shore, he was seen by some sea birds that were perched on the rocks. They began to poke fun at him, calling him disagreeable names: “Oih, offal eater!” “Hey, you’re just a carrion eater!” “You’re just a boring plain black, compared to our beautiful colours!” “Caw! Caw! Caw!” the poor Raven cried as he flew away, “Why do they call me such names?” He flew far away from the great ocean until he came to the grassy prairie, where he could escape the torment of the sea birds.
Just in front of him he saw the entrance to a gopher’s warren. He thought to himself, “If it is a disgrace to eat dead animals, I will eat only live ones. I will become a murderer!” The Raven stood in front of the hole patiently waiting for a gopher to come out. Soon a Gopher came home, with some food for the warren. The Gopher said to Raven, “Please stand aside – you are right in front of my door.” “It is not my intention to stand aside,” said Raven. “They called me a carrion eater, and I will show that I am not, for I will eat you!”
“If you are going to eat me, please grant me one last wish,” replied Gopher. “I have heard that you are a very fine dancer, and I long to see you dance before I die. If you dance as beautifully as they say, I shall be willing to die when once I have seen it. If you will dance I will sing, and then you may eat me!” This pleased Raven so much that he began to dance and Gopher pretended to go into ecstasies about it. “Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, how well you dance!” he sang. “Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, how well you dance!” The Gopher sang on and on until the Raven was so tired of his dancing that he needed to rest. The Gopher said, “I am very much delighted with your dancing. Do shut your eyes and dance your best just once more, while I sing.”
The Raven closed his eyes and hopped clumsily about while Gopher sang, “Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, what a graceful dancer! Oh, Raven, Raven, Raven, what a fool you are!” Halfway through the song, the Gopher dashed as fast as he could between Raven’s legs, not stopping until he was safe in his hole. From the safety of his warren, he turned, his white teeth visible in the darkness of the hole – he laughed laughing mockingly and he said, “Chi-kik-kik, chi-kik-kik, chi-kik-kik! What a ridiculous figure you made while dancing; I could scarcely sing for laughing. Look at me, and see how fat I am. Don’t you wish you could have caught me? What a poor hunter you are!!”
The poor tormented Raven flew away in a rage.
So what are the Life Lessons, that we can learn?
•Be comfortable in your own ‘skin’
I have always thought that the raven is a beautiful bird whose black feathers often look an incandescent purple in the sun. Yet the sea birds mocked his different plumage. Just because you are different from others, doesn’t mean that they are any better than you, just different.
•Don’t try to be something that you are not.
Ravens are excellent scavengers, they do not need to hunt to survive in the wilds. While it is often good to be challenged to try new skills, a good coach or mentor will not ask you to do something that is not attainable with perseverance and persistence. Hunting, even though fooled by the Gopher, was clearly not within the Raven’s ability.