Frank is not a member of any Native American tribal group, but uses Rävenwolf as a performance name because of two very powerful totemic experiences he had in the wilderness involving ravens and wolves. Download our brochure for more information.
In June 2002, I did my third climb on Mount Rainier, in the Cascades Mountains of Washington State. The first two climbs (in 1999 & 2000) ended without a summit attempt of that peak, due to weather conditions. On the third climb the weather cooperated and our group set out for the summit, as scheduled, on our third full day on the upper mountain.
We left in the middle of the night, called an alpine start, from the high camp at Camp Muir. This camp is at a little over 10,000 feet on the south face of the mountain, above the Muir Snowfield and next to the Cowlitz Glacier. After about two hours of hiking in rope teams, we stopped for a break period at Ingraham Flats, on the Ingraham Glacier at about 11,000 feet in elevation. Due to severe osteoarthritis in my knees, I had been barely able to keep the pace of the rope team on this first leg of the day’s summit route. This was not a good sign. I was feeling well otherwise, with no ill effects from the altitude. However, as our guides gave us general instructions during this brief break I started to consider whether I could continue, as the route above that location was even more treacherous and we had many hours to go. As I was considering this decision, my rope team leader, one of the Rainier Mountaineering guides, walked over to talk with me. He advised me that unless I was prepared to give 110% of what I had just done on the rest of that route, I should seriously consider dropping off the team. This was very sobering advice. I knew that I could choose my fate at this point, but that above this spot on the mountain either something dangerous could happen to me, or my guide could remove me from the team against my will. He would either rope me in to a safe location somewhere or send me back to Ingraham Flats with another guide.
I knew that the right thing to do was to choose to stay there and wait for the entire group of about 30 climbers & guides to return later that day. I made this decision and informed my guide. I was surprised to learn that two others had made the same decision, a teenage boy and a mid-thirties aged woman. They were each considerably younger than I was, at 48 years old. The guides erected a small tent in an area of that glacier known to be avalanche free, for us to share for the hours when they would be on the upper mountain. So off they all went, leaving the three of us there. The other two were exhausted and suffering from mild altitude sickness, so they went into the tent to sleep, while I stayed outside.
I got comfortably seated on my pack in the morning sun, and began writing in my journal. Of course, I had a lot to write about, as I contemplated my experiences of that week and the likelihood that I would never again have an opportunity to summit this mountain, or possibly even see Camp Muir, one of my favorite adventure destinations. As I was writing out my thoughts on these subjects, I noticed a large shadow move over me, as if a small, silent plane had flown over. I looked up and saw to my surprise a raven winging towards the cliffs of Cathedral Rocks nearby. This bird landed on those cliffs and proceeded to call down to me with various caws and other vocalizations. I kept watching and writing as
the raven then flew down and landed on the glacial snow near where I was seated, and then walked
around me at a short distance, all the while vocalizing at me. What, I wondered, was this bird trying to
tell me? I furiously wrote all of this in my journal, knowing I could always think it through later, and that I could research what “raven medicine” was all about in Native American tribal traditions. I noticed that this raven had one stray black feather on its head that stuck up, in sort of a dreadlock style. After a short time the raven flew off down the mountain, only to return a little while later with a slightly smaller friend, possibly its mate. The two of them landed on the snow, walked around and talked to me for a
while. Eventually they both flew off and I never saw them again. I thought it very meaningful that these two ravens came to me while I was alone outside, in a situation full of failure, insecurity and doubt, and I vowed to research the possible meaning of this experience when I got back home.
In July 2006, I led a group of men from my church on an Alaskan adventure & retreat trip. We flew to Fairbanks, AK, where we met our guides from Alaska Alpine Adventures, and flew north above the Arctic
Circle to Bettles, AK. There we boarded a float plane and flew onward many miles upriver to land on Hunt Fork Lake, a small pond along the John River. This river in located in the central Brooks Range, in the Gates Of The Arctic National Park. It is about as remote as you can get in that part of the world. We planned to float this river southwards, for about 100 miles, over 7 days, before being met and picked up
by our float plane, to eventually be returned to civilization.
We camped our first night right along the John River, right next to where it was joined by the Hunt Fork
Creek. On our first full day floating this pristine river one of our group spotted something large and silvery grey along the river ahead of us, and as we turned a bend in that river we beheld a magnificent full grown male Arctic Wolf standing & watching us float along. As we got closer he trotted off a short distance. We came to shore, navigated the quicksand-like silt on the shoreline, and eventually got a few distant photos of him trotting away. We noticed that one of our hands held close to his paw print was about the same size. These Arctic wolves are larger than their southern cousins, the Timber Wolf. We were fairly impressed with this encounter, which seemed to me a good omen for the future of our trip.
Later that day we found a nice flat spot along the river, and set up camp for our second night on the river, on the beautiful bed of river stones and sand there. That night I was awakened by one our group calling out “Wolf”. We had our rain tarp drawn up and could see out both ends of the tent, through the screen mesh panels. As we were above the Arctic Circle in mid-July, the sun did not set at all, and so it was light outside all night long. As our friend continued to call out, my tent-mate and I then saw that there was a small, young wolf in our camp, running about and chewing on everyone’s shoes that had been left outside each tent to dry under the rain fly. He was a beautiful cinnamon color and quite playful, probably a juvenile wolf out for his first summer, exploring the terrain near his den. He trotted back towards the tent where our two guides were fast asleep and started to chew on their boots. We both yelled to try to wake them, but they remained fast asleep, and the wolf then turned and headed directly towards us.
As we watched, he came right up to the mesh screened window at the back of our tent, looked right at us, and then proceeded around to the front end. There he sniffed all our shoes and grabbed my right Keen river sandal and took off for the nearby spruce forest, carrying it in his teeth. We looked back out toward the guides’ tent and saw our senior guide standing there with his shotgun in hand. When he saw
that the wolf meant us no harm, and heard me yell that he was taking my shoe, he put down his rifle and ran after the wolf. Of course, it got away into the forest easily. Our guide marked the spot where he had entered the woods with a branch stuck into the mud, and came back to our encampment to talk with us.
After a brief talk we all went back to sleep for a few hours. I was very grateful that I had brought on this trip another pair of shoes, since I now had only one sandal. Later, during breakfast, as we were all discussing these events, one of our group spotted this same wolf, watching us from the forest edge. Upon the advice of our senior guide we all jumped up and ran towards the wolf, with the intention of scaring him enough that he would keep his distance from humans in the future, for his own safety and well-being. We had also discovered that he had chewed all the Styrofoam insulation from the outside of the French mill coffee pot. He seemed to be drawn to all the items in our camp that had a distinctly human smell, and investigated these items by chewing on them. We then searched the forest for my missing shoe, but saw only the tracks of many other animals that had patrolled around our camp, unseen in the thicket of stunted spruce trees and willow bushes. It was my specific honor to have this young wolf take my shoe as a prize, as the only item he took when he left, probably presenting it to his family back at their den. Again, being no stranger to personal encounters with wild animals, I knew that I was going to have to research the meaning of “wolf medicine” when I returned home after the trip.
So, what does all this mean to me? A spiritual leader who knows me well advised me that according to some Native American tribal traditions, a young man might take two totems from his wildlife experiences, one as his left-hand totem and the other as his right-hand totem. Since the wolf took my right shoe, I understood that wolf medicine would be my right-hand totem. This would then make raven medicine my left-hand totem. Therefore, my totemic animal medicine is “raven-wolf.” According to some tribal traditions the left-hand totem is about the type of wisdom that I am destined to be attracted to or have as dominant in my life, and the right-hand totem is about what role I would have in my spiritual community. When I researched raven medicine I learned that it is primarily about “the mystery’” of the cosmos, the unknowable and mystical aspects of life. Wolf medicine is about being a leader and teacher in my community, dedicated to helping others in their understanding of their lives. These two totemic medicines are a powerful combination. I have also learned that the northern European totemic traditions, to which I am linked through my German & Lithuanian ancestors, also strongly value ravens & wolves, with very similar meanings, and so I use this performance name in honor of my Germanic & Baltic ancestors.
So, this is how I came to take the performance name “Rävenwolf” in my life as a Native American flute player. It just felt right to me to do so, since I was drawn to this indigenous instrument around the time of the Alaska trip. Although I have no Native American blood in my genetic inheritance, I am honored that these two unique experiences happened to me and gave special guidance and direction to my life. I do not believe that any chance was involved in these two experiences, especially since in both instances I was in an open & receptive attitude to the universe, willing to be filled with new wisdom and guidance. After these two experiences I became much more aware of all the animals that come into my life, even when I am not “in the wilderness.” Even seeing a fox in the woods behind my home, or a red-tailed hawk on my daily commute to work, have new meaning to me now.
I invite you, the reader, to learn more about these two medicines, and about others that may have importance in your life. Pay attention to the wild beings that appear in your life. They show up for specific reasons, and it is up to you to decide what those reasons may be.