The Real Hubba Hubba

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The nest in this tree is the very raven nest in this story.

 

Several years ago, when we were teaching on the Navajo Nation and living in a trailer on the Twin Lakes (Ext - Back BEST)campus of Twin Lakes ElementaryTwin Lakes (Int - Hallway2-5) School, a violent thunderstorm blew down a nest of baby ravens from the top of a hackberry tree. Carol grabbed up two of them, walking home from school. The neighbor’s dog killed the other two.

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Carol put them in an open box on the davenport and named the big one Hubba-Hubba, after our character in The Collector Witch, and named the little one Quoth. They were young enough that they were only about three fourths feathered out and Carol had to feed them baby parrot porridge with a teaspoon. And as it was when we raised our Amazon parrot, Carol’s background in psychology and mine in ethology made us careful not to read human motivation into their behavior. However we were interested in their inclination toward language, so we began at once treating them as though they harbored the same sort of undeveloped intelligence as a baby human.

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We made no attempt to teach them to talk. That is, we did not endlessly repeat phrases over and over to them nor drill them in any sort of way. What Carol has done every single evening since, before switching off the lights for the night, is spend some time scratching their heads and talking to them.

ravenL0405_468x312It was soon impossible to keep them in the box, so we transferred them to a large plastic P12307407pet carrier with a welded wire door. We kept them on the kitchen table. We handled them frequently and talked to them, but outside of squawks and groans, we heard nothing out of them for better than two months. Soon they began picking out large pieces of their cedar bedding, trimming them and using them as wedges and levers to force open the door of their carrier. Just as we were recovering from the shock of their doing this, one of them declared, “Fuck you!” as they scratched about in their new bed of cedar chips. The other one replied, “Ass hole! Ass hole!”

This certainly stunned us. We had not once heard a single word nor any single attempted word out of either of them prior to this. And neither one of us had ever used language like ravens1this around them. What they could have heard on an isolated occasion or two was one of us telling the other about our day at school, including (we assume) the foul speech of our students. In a few days we were astounded once more when we heard Hubba Hubba say, “Help me get this door open.”

This was not at all like parrots. Not only was there no endless practice leading up to the utterance of this sentence, it was as perfectly enunciated as if it were spoken by some human. We began keeping them in a chicken wire pen outside in the daytime. The next time I heard “Help me get this door open,” I rushed to the window to find Quoth watching  Hubba Hubba as he pecked in the dirt under the wire gate.

One day I was very upset, tramping about the trailer, raving. As I was calming down, Quothe said, “Tom! What’s wrong?”

196570606_fd127bc7eaOver the next very few months, they developed nearly all of the words and sentences given below. However, during the last couple of years we were out west, we seldom heard anything new out of them. During our first year in Kentucky, we discovered Hubba Hubba 15327478giving deliveries where he not only spoke in his own voice, but also talked in Quoth’s voice to make replies. Had Quoth quit talking? We were trying to find out when she vanished for good from their pen outside.

Since then, Hubba Hubba takes spells in the late afternoon saying over and over, “Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello…” or, “What’s your problem? What’s your problem? What’s your problem…?” which he articulates as well as ever. He has begun using our names, but they are very difficult to understand, with “Carol” coming out as “Coah” or “Hoh,” and “Tom” sounding like “Hom,” though “Quoth,” which he has said from the beginning, comes out quite well. He asks for food by saying, “Want some,” and when we ask him what he wants, he may occasionally reply, “Want some food,” or “Want some water.”

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Perhaps ravens are best at learning to articulate during some period of readiness, late in their development and any later verbal learning is not something that they’re genetically programmed to do as easily. Who’s to say? We only have the one bird, and there is very little written on the subject, since any hint that some non-human could possibly have any degree of natural use of true language is still largely regarded as heretical.

Brush Fire, Navajo Estates, Twin Lakes

Here are the words Hub uses. They are not listed in nice columns because of the contrary behavior of this website: a, all, am, are, ass, awk (spoken), boy, Carol (very poorly pronounced), door, food, fuck, get, go, going, good, hello, help, here, hmmm, hole, how, Hub, I, is, matter, me, open, out, problem, Quoth, right, some, that, the, this, to, Tom (very poorly pronounced), want, water, what, you, your.

Here are his phrases: All right.   Awk! Awk! (spoken, as humans would 24OBOX1-articleLargepronounce it)   Carol! (very poorly pronounced)   Hello.   Hello how are you? Hello Quoth.   Help me get this door open.   Here’s one.  Where are you?  Hey Quoth.   Hmmm?   How are you?   How’r’you how are you? (run together)   Hub.   I’m a good boy. Hmmm?   I’m going to go out the door.   That’s a good boy. Hmmm?   Tom. (very poorly pronounced)   Want some.   Want some?   Want some food!   Want some water.   What’s the matter?   What’s your problem?

Our character Hubba Hubba in Good Sister, Bad Sister, The Collector Witch, Stone Heart and The Burgeoning is no raven at all, but a double yellow head Amazon parrot with enchanted interludes as a crow, not a raven.

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to keep a raven or a crow, we’d love to hear about it.

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Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps

Meri Greenwood gives Ocker a Powerful Stick

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As the shadows were growing long, Ocker buried his marble before flying to the whispering branches of a tall spruce to study a green haired man picking up sticks on the ground below. Titmice and chickadees called nearby, hidden by the boughs. Ocker shook himself and sorted through the feathers of each wing while he kept an eye on the man. “That’s Greenwood, all right,” he thought.

Without warning, Meri Greenwood stood up and looked straight at him. “Hoy, Ocker!” he hollered. “Ain’t eighteen rod a pretty far piece for to visit?”

Ocker was so startled by this that he had to flap his way into the air to hide his having lost his grip on his perch. “Damn him!” he rattled as he swooped down to a tree much closer.

“Do you not trust me?” said Meri.

“Not much,” said Ocker. “Do you trust me?”

“I trust you to be the shrewdest thing I know of with feathers, but if you want to do business, you are going to have to come down here with me,” said Meri as he squatted at once and patted the ground.

“Business hit is,” said Ocker, landing on the carpet of needles before him, “but your flattery won’t lessen my price. I have information dear to you.”

“Celeste!” cried Meri. “Where is she? She my whole life do be.”

“Then she’s worth my price…”

“Well what is hit?”

“I’ve had some especially valuable tidings to sell, lately,” said Ocker as he ran his beak down a flight feather with a silky zip. “And one of my customers came to consider my services so indispensable that she gave me the powers of a hedge wizard and taught me a traveling spell to get me quickly to her castle to keep her up on matters of keen interest to her…”

“Demonica?”

Ocker stopped short, quite wide eyed at this. “How could you possibly figure that out?”

“Two and two make Demonica. But now, I interrupted your tale.”

Ocker felt very exposed. “Well, the traveling spell only takes me to her keep and back,” he said, bristling up like a pine cone and sleeking down. “And hit took me all day to fly here…”

“I can not never her spell for to change, nor can I change the magic of any Elf or Human,” said Meri, falling silent to eye him with his keen emerald eyes for so long that Ocker nearly sprang into the air in a panic. Suddenly Greenwood rose and went to his knapsack, pulling out a small polished stick. “But I this here do have…”

“A stick?” cried Ocker. “You must not think me as shrewd as you were saying.”

“Some of my trees the magic fire from any one can to store,” said Meri, holding out the stick. “This be one of Longbark’s twigs. She be the eldest being in the Forest Ancient and has magic and she very wise do be. This here twig a good deal of fire does store. Maybe you can yourself a way to change Demonica’s spell to divine, if you first a quantity of your magic fire in the twig to store. So will you take the twig?”

This was not nearly certain enough to suit Ocker, but there was an unmistakable desperation in Meri’s tone that made him snatch away the twig at once and stand on it.
“Celeste and her sisters and that swyving rat brother of theirs are seeking sanctuary with the Elves in the Jutwoods,” he said with a snap of first one wing and then the other. “They were camped about ten league south-east of my nest two days ago.”

“Rat brother? They a brother do have, but he’s not no rat.”zack__s_face_on_a_rat__s_body_by_gginstereo-d3gu6tu_edited-1

“Yea? Well he is now. Somebody got him good. He’s all rat except for his face, and he’s counting on the Elves undoing his curse, though the three quientes… I mean three ladies, hope they don’t manage.”

“How could you possibly know something like unto that?”

“I listen from the treetops,” said Ocker as he took a couple of careful pecks at his new stick. “I heard them say hit, that’s how. Say. How about the hindquarters off one of those squirrels you have draped across that log?”

igp1965_1“They are both yours,” said Meri, grabbing up his bag. He set off at once into the timber and ran through the deepening shadows until he reached a mossy glade. Across the glade he came to a large ring of mushrooms. As a whip-poor-will gave its first call of the evening, he stepped into the ring and disappeared up to his knees in the moss before
jogging down out of sight, vanishing altogether.

Country Diary archive : A large fairy ring of toadstools in the woodland floor

 

Ch. 9, Good Sister, Bad Sister

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Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps

Meri Doesn’t Mind if Celeste Looks Old: Part Five

Celeste

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I can bear you the rest of the way,” said Lladdwr. “But first…”

zoom“Yes,” said Ceidwad, giving herself a thorough shake. “We’ve been putting off telling you something…”

“Koude hit to wayten?” he said as he motioned for Lladdwr to let him mount.

“No,” said Ceidwad. “This may be nothing at all. And then again…” She paused under the rattling aspen leaves to sort through some feathers. ”

“Wel thanne what?”

“Mother Celeste and her sisters are now quite aged,” she said with a deep bob of her head.

“So? Thou dost knowe that weo on erthe sithence the byginnynge of al memory hanimages (21) ben, righte? No thyng a-lyve beth eldre than Ich am.”

“I’m sorry,” said Ceidwad with a snap of each wing before fixing her gaze upon him. “My attempt to be gentle has simply undone things. I have no choice but to be direct and I apologize for having delayed telling you. Razzorbauch turned our mothers into old hags when he made them prisoners of Mount Bed. They still have endless lives, but not endless youth.”

Old-Women-2_edited-2“They lok olde?”

“That’s what we’re saying,” she said. “And we had no idea how someone who has always had eternal youth would alvitaface having his lover be gnarled and aged, so we didn’t speak up when we probably should have. Have we made you upset with us?”

“Up-sette with thou? Fithel-stikkes!” he said, tramping about in distraction. “Alacke! The oonly way to chaungen hem bakke is with the Grete Staf of Power and the Cristal Herte. And evene thanne, weo myghte neede the Ffirst Wysardes grimoire.”

“Our mothers have accepted their fate Meri, and they hold out hope that the Elven Prophesy is true. If that be, then perhaps they will indeed be turned back, and eventually will only have been old for a mere moment in your time. The question is, how are you
managing right now?”

“What?”

“Mother Celeste has longed for you these live-long years. Will your shock at the sight of her upset her?”

“O!” he said, stopping short at the sight of how it all was. “Ich see. Wel my derre Celeste wol alwey the moost bryhte sterre in the hevenes ybe. That beth al she by the lok in myn eyn wol gete.”

“Well then,” said Ceidwad, rising to her feet with a shake of her feathers. “Are we ready?”raven-cut-753011

Meri gave her a sudden hug and a pat, did a handspring and hopped astride Lladdwr as he rose to his feet.

“Finally off his swyving toute!” croaked Ocker from somewhere overhead.

Ch. 15, The Reaper Witch

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Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps