My Raven Tattoo
This year, I decided that I should mark my bird listing by getting a bird tattoo for every 100 species of birds that I identify. I like the idea of earning rewards. The life of an adult lacks enough little rewards. When I was young, I could get girl scout badges, letters on my letter jacket, or certificates of participation. Now…well, not a lot! Aside from rewarding myself, this plot to earn bird tattoos seemed like a good idea, since I already have an archaeopteryx tattoo, which historically was believed to be the first bird. The name Archaeopteryx means “first wing.” There are other fossils that have since been found, but archaeopteryx remains an iconic bird/dinosaur because it helped scientists of the 1800s connect birds and non-avian dinosaurs. Plus, the Berlin specimen really is an elegant fossil. It is like a prehistoric dancer, passionately arching backwards and shrugging its arms. Thus, although it was not my intention when I got the tattoo, archaeopteryx can be my first “bird” and a marker for the first 100 species on my list.
I have identified about 230 species now. Therefore, I have “earned” another tattoo. To mark this milestone, I decided to get a raven tattoo. Now, there are 229 other birds that I could have chosen from. The very first bird that I added to my list was a stray Ivory gull that found its way to Duluth a few days after I began birding. The pretty white gull from the arctic might have made a nice tattoo or could find its way in one in the future (perhaps with Lake Superior). However, I wanted something that matches my aesthetic a little better. I tend to wear dark colors and dye my hair blue and black. Perhaps if I wrote jaunty sailor costumes all the time, a gull would be a good tattoo. But, that isn’t me…at the moment. A nautical themed version of myself is probably not going to happen any time soon as I hate water and am prone to seasickness. Ultimately, I decided to pick a raven because they are attractive, interesting birds.
That is a shallow reason to choose that bird, I know. They just look cool. But, ravens and other corvids ARE cool. They are incredibly intelligent birds- and some of them have the ability to problem solve, make tools, identify themselves in the mirror, remember where food is stored and try to trick competition with fake caches, and learn new behaviors-like safely crossing the street. Many cultures have stories about ravens, often connecting them to death- since they eat carrion. (Though Native American cultures seem to connect them to creation and trickery). I suppose that I like this connection to death over say….the bluebird of happiness or a patriotic bald eagle. I think about death too much. Not in a dark, suicidal sort of way- but in an existential, everything is meaningless, how to do I live a good life sort of way. Finally, I saw two ravens last spring when I was camping at Wild River State Park. For most of my life, I was not able to differentiate ravens and crows. I think that I am finally able to tell the two apart by the way they fly (crows flap quite a bit and ravens soar), their faces (ravens have a thicker, more square looking bill), and their sound (ravens have deep, almost barking voices). So, in a way it is a milestone bird since it represents the sorts of things that I have been trying to train myself to pay attention to when I see a bird.
As for the tattoo itself, I think it turned out beautifully. I had it done at Ink Tattoo in Superior, which is where I went for my archaeopteryx tattoo. I will say that I don’t particularly like getting tattoos since the buzzing noise and stinging pain can be a bit much. It starts off alright, but after a while, it is hard to sit still and distract my mind. Still, I feel very comfortable there and it helps that two of their artists are female (I am not sure if they have other artists at the moment). Jill did both of my tattoos and was able to really capture what I had imagined. I also like that the shop is full of LGBTQ themed art. It creates a welcoming, positive, progressive atmosphere. I think that tattoo shops can be a little intimidating since they may seem dark, aggressive (sometimes with skulls, dragons, flames, or other motifs in the signage.). Overall, it was a great experience and I can’t wait until I get to 300 birds. (Admittedly, it is harder to add more to the list as the list starts to grow).
What will my 300th bird be? There are many wonderful birds! A chickadee would be nice, as it is symbolic of winter and our ecosystem. A blue jay is another corvid- and would also be a nice symbol of winter and our region. Or, perhaps I could choose birds that are symbolic of my travels as well. A rosy starling could be symbolic of my trip last summer to the ‘stans. The Asian magpie is the national bird of South Korea (a trip that I remember fondly). The whooper swan is the national bird of Finland and steeped in cultural meaning, as The Swan of Tounela is a song by Sibelius about the mythical swan floating on a river in the land of the dead. Hmm…. well, who knows!