If you spend any amount of time outdoors, The Raven’s Gift by author Jon Turk will sing to you. With a scientist’s eye, an open mind, and a great sense of prose and poise, Turk examines the nature-connect and mysticism of a group of Siberian Arctic reindeer herders. When Moolynaut, a 97-year-old shaman woman, enlists Kutcha, the raven spirit, to magically heal Turk’s re-injured pelvis (originally fractured in an avalanche) we are pulled into a tale of nature, magic and the loss of an ancient way of life.
by Feet Banks
A PhD chemist and a lifelong skier and adventurer, 64-year-old Turk is torn between his life experiences and his scientific training and The Raven’s Gift is an honest and engagingly written battle pitting logic against magic and progress against tradition.
Skiing over the barren tundra, searching for answers and reindeer, Turk battles tragedy, bitter cold, and the bureaucratic hurdles of doing anything in post-Perestroika Russia. He comes out the other end with a healed pelvis and a shining truth – science and shamanistic magic don’t have to be mutually exclusive and if we are hoping to get anywhere in the future we had best pay more attention to the peoples of the past.Jon Turk spends his winters skiing powder in Fernie, BC, but Mountain Life reached him at his summer residence in Montana.
“The morning sun hung low and red on the southern horizon, as if reluctant to crawl out its sleeping bag and go pee.” (p. 225.)
How was your winter? How is your pelvis holding up?
It’s 100 percent. I skied some big lines in Alaska, the “No Fall” zone more or less, I wouldn’t do that if I didn’t trust my pelvis 100 percent. It’s as good as new.
This is your third adventure book but you’ve published 25 environmental science textbooks?
I wrote the first environmental science book for Earth Day One back in 1970. Back then I believed, coming out of the 1960s, that we had the spiritual will to save the world and what we needed was technology. Now, we have the technology but it seems we have lost that spiritual momentum so I quit textbooks and am writing about the ancient wisdoms with the hope that I will add something to creating that spiritual momentum that I think we need. I know we need it.
Kutcha, the raven, is a big part of your book, and most people who live in the mountains also hold special feelings for that bird. Do ravens seem to pop up more frequently in your life since you’ve finished this book?
I live in the Rockies, there are ravens here. I see them all the time. The question isn’t whether you see a raven, it’s whether you take the time to stop, see it, and connect. Make it a magical part of your day.
I think ravens, most birds actually, can read minds. You know the crows at the beach campsites that peck at your food? If you have a rock in your hand, you can’t get near them. But if you don’t have a rock the crow won’t fly off until the last moment? What’s up with that?
Yeah, I know that there is communication there. Obviously we can communicate with dogs and cats. A dog will know if you are happy, sad, angry, or threatened sometimes better than a human will. As soon as you accept that there is cross-species communication then the question is: how many animals we can communicate with?
Kutcha is a guide to the spirit world, and on this journey and in this book you enter the spirit world. Talk about that.
The important thing, the first step, is to realize and accept the fact that the spirit world exists. Many religions over time have talked about the “ecstatic state” and how it can be achieved. Sweat lodge, music, dance, pain, suffering, powder skiing…
Totally, like skiing in your slough and you get that moment where motion stands still, or rock climbing and being so focused on a tiny piece of rock.
I’ve been rock climbing for 40 years. Every rock climber knows that when you are there you are in the moment of mindfulness, the ecstatic state. Nothing else comes even close in its human value. That is where we want to be, as I get older that is the most important thing to me now, to find ways to get there.
The story of Moolynaut and the reindeer people is similar to the story of indigenous peoples the world over. It’s getting impossible to find people who grew up outside the engine of Western culture. Do you think we can preserve the human-nature connection of our ancestors or, moving ahead, will we have to re-invent our own?
That is a deep question. It’s my belief that our society is at a tipping point. I am a scientist and environmentally things are a bit on edge right now for a lot of reasons. If we are to survive and move on as a species we have to live in a sustainable way, that is a truism.
Now I think one way to do it is to look back at ancient wisdoms and see their value. It doesn’t mean we have to move into a cave and eat roots and berries but if we incorporate the values and wisdoms of shamanic traditions into our world, and learn a reverence for the earth, that is a good thing. Hopefully the kids learn faster than we did.
The Raven’s Gift is available at bookstores or directly from Jon at jonturk.net/the-ravens-gift/