Quoth the raven: ‘gleerp’

I was sitting at the picnic table conveniently provided by our federal government—a warm, sunny roadside spot approximately 360 miles south of Reno called Hell’s Gate. This humble picnic for one was taking place on St. Patrick’s Day, and to honor the old Irish goat, the creosote plants were busily converting the white light of the sun into the bright green of their new spring leaves.

Lunch was simple, yet fun: a big chunk of turkey pastrami and barbecued potato chips. One of those lunches where one is wise to avoid reading any list of ingredients that may be lying around. That mental hobgoblin known as Nutritional Guilt tried to join me at my table, but it was quickly shown the highway. Not today, pal.

Just then, a real creature invaded my party. A raven, no doubt an old pro when it came to workin’ the suckers at Hell’s Gate for bits of tasty people food, glided in and landed on a rock on the edge of the desert about 10 feet from me.

“Howdy,” I said. To my surprise, he replied.

“Gleerp,” said the raven.

Not the classic “caw, caw, caw” sound for which ravens are best known. This was an entirely different noise. Where your standard raven call is a loud, harsh kind of bird-bark, this sound came from a subtler, sweeter section of the raven’s vocabulary. A friendlier, more sympathetic sound, faintly tinged with the forlorn.

In other words, it was his full-tilt begging act.

I was curious to see if he’d work a bit for a treat. “Would you care to repeat that?” I asked.

No problem. “Gleerp.” He didn’t bark it at me, he didn’t sing it to me and he didn’t chirp it. He just kind of slipped it out there, rolling it out of his raven larynx with this oddly remarkable tone of metallic wetness. The written word is pretty much at a total loss when it comes to conveying this raven-speak with any real accuracy. The word “gleerp” is a fairly weak attempt, and yet it sounded a lot like “gleerp.” Sorta. If you could find some way to croak the word “gleerp” while simultaneously injecting it with a mild gurgle that came from a part of the raven throat that had been wrapped in aluminum foil, you’d be getting there.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Gleerp,” gleerped the raven, his intentions now completely obvious. By now I was confident that no “follow me to the cave of my master, the great desert brujo” saga was about to take place.

“I’m not supposed to feed the wildlife, you know.”

This prompted a gleerp that sounded a little like “don’t bore me” combined with a hint of “yeah right.”

OK, you overgrown crow. You win. I cut off a chunk of pastrami and flipped it to him. He deftly plucked it off the dirt with the tip of his beak and gulped it down.

"Gleerp," quoth the raven.