We were walking on the easily accessed lower reaches of ‘Kungsleden’, a long distance walking path through the mountains.
We had always feared the numbers of people we might encounter on the path, so had preferred less famous, shorter routes nearby. This year though, thinking that due to the virus there would be less tourists than normal, we thought we’d try a small section of it and see what it was like.
The lower section of the path is designed for tourists rather than long distance walkers, so it’s easy underfoot and follows the river to provide the most scenic views. A little further up it becomes a little rougher, but it’s still a very easy stroll, through low birch forest, with glimpses of the bursting-full river nearby.
Rolf decided to take a break at a viewing spot an hour or so into the walk, and I walked on, curious about what was just round the bend, and the next bend, and the next bend. I have to time myself or I forget to turn back – I said I’d turn after twenty minutes.
The path climbed and fell, with exhilarating views of the river below. I arrived at what is marked on the map as a ‘Meditation Place’. Why this should be a better place to stop and reflect than any other I didn’t know. As I approached it, something moved ahead of me on the path. Too large – I thought – for a bird, but not an identifiable animal. Very dark, and very still. It was a large black raven. It walked across the path and up ahead of me to the meditation stone and inscription, and I followed, meekly.
I’m used to seeing ravens in the sky but I’d never been this close to one before. It’s behaviour seemed odd. I wondered if it had found something to eat there, and I was disturbing its lunch. I looked for a dead animal nearby, but saw none. Then I wondered if it was injured and couldn’t fly away. Possibly, but it could certainly walk away, and, strangely, it didn’t. It just jumped around the meditation place, looking at the stone, at me, at the leaf-strewn ground. I walked towards it, and it stood its ground.
It was me not the bird that felt a bit threatened. It’s a big bird, with a large beak, and this raven in particular – well frankly, it seemed a bit mad. Not that I’d know what a sane raven was like.
But I took it as an omen – a good one – that it had appeared here, so I stopped to meditate, as instructed. It was memorable, because of the raven by my side. After the minutes of meditation I decided to walk back. I took a picture of the raven – to show Rolf – and then turned my back on it.
After walking for a while I began looking for Rolf along the river bank. I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d left him and was concentrating on this when something flew across my vision. At some distance, near the river, I saw raven – no doubt, the raven – fly down to the ground exactly where Rolf sat. He was so engaged with the bird that he didn’t notice my approach.
Had it followed me here?
We watched it together, rooting around on the ground, wondering what it all meant. Then we gathered up our things and set off down the path. The raven came too, walking. Some people approached us along the path and then passed us, so we stepped aside – as did the raven. Then it trundled ahead of us down the path, like a dog.
We were charmed by it but also, to be honest, a little alarmed. I’d no idea what it might do – if, for example, we didn’t invite it home for tea. I’d never thought of having a raven as a pet. It’s a large bird – you wouldn’t want to upset a raven. So we followed it down the path, on our best behaviour, wondering what it, and we, would do next.
I imagined the raven regularly leading small groups of tourists along this path. ‘Come along now,’ it might say, ‘don’t lag behind’. It had a bit of a side to side, lumbering sort of walk, like it had walked this way too many times before, tired of instructing travellers about the route. It was beautiful nonetheless – I noticed its feathers were shining an iridescent blue in the sun.
Further along the path we met some more people coming toward us so we stepped aside again, as did the raven. I wanted to ask them if they wanted a raven, if they might like to take it with them, for company, but I didn’t. This particular madness wasn’t easy to share with passing strangers. But this time, when we stepped back on the path the raven didn’t join us.
We breathed a sigh of relief and walked on as fast as we could. How ridiculous, to be running away from a bird. Then after a few minutes we began to miss it.