“I’m just going to run off the side of the mountain. You
can meet me at the bottom,” I told my husband, Sean.
He gave me that look, the one that means, “This is not
what I wanted to do this morning.” Sparked by a tall stack of Buddhist books—and a birthday ending in zero—we were engaged on an extraordinary trek. We had started in
Kathmandu, visiting sacred stupas and spiritual hot spots.
Now we readied for my breathtaking parahawking escapade
with a couple of bird lovers passionate about conserving their
Frankly, it was an adventure in faith. Not the famous
“faith enough to move mountains,” just sufficient trust that
I would land safely at the bottom of
one. I jumped into a car with the crew,
bunches of gear, and an Egyptian
vulture named Bob for a 30-minute
ride. (While my husband trekked five
kilometers on foot to the landing site,
with the conviction that I would meet
him eventually.) At the summit, I was
given a thick birding glove for my left
hand and a fanny pack of Bob’s food
to fasten around my waist. My guide
strapped us together and we ran.
Luckily, we caught the wind and
took flight. Bob flew gracefully in front
of us, revealing the best thermals.
Occasionally my partner blew a whistle,
signaling me to stretch out my arm.
Bob would land, eat, and hang out
briefly before heading in search of a
fresh current. After the flight, we all
landed, much to the relief of my waiting
Of all the things we saw on that
trip—the massive, colorful Boudhanath
Stupa, a live riverside cremation, the
rare one-horned rhino of Chitwan—it’s
the experience of flying that sticks with
me most. In hindsight, the entire trip
felt like a pilgrimage to that moment.
The trek had been a whirlwind of
emotions ranging from wonder and
awe to staggering sadness followed by
immeasurable joy. Locking eyes with a
trucked buffalo during a lengthy traffic
jam instantly changed my diet. Flying
with Bob forever altered my relationship with the sky and its many beings.
It’s tempting to think that we humans
invented pilgrimages; they so permeate
our religious traditions. We also might
be inclined to believe that all spiritual
quests require walking—from the
1,200-mile trek around Shikoku to the
4,000-stepped staircases of Shatrunjaya
Hill. And yet, perhaps the most curious
expedition required no footsteps at all.
Indisputably, the grandest
model of a faithful pilgrimage
is Noah’s interspecies saga.
Indisputably, the grandest model
of a faithful pilgrimage is Noah’s
interspecies saga. Its colossal scale
and tactical quandaries, while likely
fantastical, stand testament to the
imperative for humans to conserve the
biodiversity of our planetary home—
from solitary aardvarks to social zebu.
However, after the lengthy voyage,
it was not a stride but a flap that
initiated the path forward after chaos.
Not from Dove, as many presume. No,
that renowned and celebrated winged
one was actually second to leave the
wooden vessel. First, there was Raven,
whose mysterious journey is worth our
reflection and can provide valuable
insights for our own wayfaring.
Embrace enigma. It’s said that
after 40 days, Noah opened a window,
releasing Raven, who kept flying “to
and fro” until the water had dried up
from the earth. The legend then moves
on through five lengthier verses about
Dove. This disparity has led inquisitive readers, rabbis, and ornithologists
alike to speculate on the two-bird
strategy, offering innovative—and
often amusing—explanations. Yet,
overall, history has favored precious
Dove, disregarding Raven’s contribu-
tions. Nonetheless, it seems to me
Raven was the courageous one we
should honor, setting out into the
unknown, willing to backtrack and
strive ... again and again. I like to think
Raven might whisper to us: Perhaps
not all pilgrimages need a physical
destination to be meaningful.
Be adaptable. Beyond that epic
flight, Raven shows up worldwide. She
looms prominently in creation stories
of the First Nations and Sumerian
texts about the Great Flood. Her kin
Hugin and Munin traipsed the world
daily, aiding the Viking god Odin.
And it’s said fierce Celtic goddesses
even took her form during warfare.
Ubiquitous not only through stories,
ravens adapted to a variety of habitats
from snowy lands to lush forests and
sandy sea coasts. Daring and remark-
ably intelligent, they eschew pickiness,
thriving by foraging. Perhaps Raven
would advise us: Stop being so finicky.
Find the blessing in “good enough.”
Take time to play. If the ark’s first flyer was anything like today’s
acrobatically inclined birds, all that to and fro included somersaults, rolls,
and light-hearted frolicking. Humans
have observed ravens using roofs as
slides, tossing golf balls to each other,
careening down snowy hills, and catch-
ing sticks—mid-flight! One was seen
flying upside down for over half a mile.
Perchance Raven would implore: Flirt
with joy. Relish the thrill of living.
Don’t take your plans so seriously.
No time like today. Whether it’s
crafting a daily to-do list or planning
our once-in-a-lifetime journey, it’s
easy to get overwhelmed, bogged down
in recommendations or immobilized
in endless Googling and Yelping.
Accordingly, our spiritual quests can
become so outsized that we never take
them. Methinks Raven would quip,
with just a hint of snark: Just do it.
There’s Noah time like today.
In the end, I don’t think it matters
how far we travel on our pilgrimages.
Instead, what’s essential is heeding
that call from our hearts that pulls us
to some distant—or perhaps not-so-
distant—location for the unexpected
lessons that lie obscured underneath
our daily busyness.
So, wherever your travels take
you, along your way keep an eye on
the sky. There might be a useful guide