I Dream, Therefore I am Raven

I Dream,
Therefore I am Raven

New Takes on Traditional Stories by Garth Stein

Inspired by the Artwork of Preston Singletary

The I Dream, Therefore I Am Raven solo exhibition features the artwork of Preston Singletary. On view at the Traver Gallery from May 2nd – June 1st, 2024.

“I have long wondered when the next story of Raven might be entered into the annals of Tlingit history. Did Raven just stop doing things, or is he perhaps some kind of spirit around us who is trying to affect changes knowingly or unknowingly? I have partnered with my friend Garth Stein who has Tlingit ancestry and who is an internationally best-selling novelist. I asked him to create a narrative around this concept. It resulted in what I have come to think of as a new direction in my own work, imagining the stories of what Raven is up to these days.” – Preston Singletary


Raven’s Dream


He went to sleep, Raven did, and for a long time he slept. And while he slept, he had Dreams, and they were good Dreams. Raven was the best dreamer of them all. He dreamed of the sky, which was clear and endless. He dreamed of the waters, which were clean and cold. He dreamed of the animals, who were uncorrupted by the smell of men’s hands, who had never tasted sugar but who had sipped honey from the comb. He dreamed of the World as it was before he went to sleep, as it was before it turned on itself with contempt and tore itself apart. He dreamed of the Before World, which was as immaculate and true as the high breeze that holds the eagles in the sky. The Before World with its magnificent salmon, bellies ripe to bursting with roe, hurling themselves upriver to spawn. The Before World with the music and the People, happy, contented People, satisfied by their abundance, grateful, generous, humble People. Raven dreamed.


Listen to the World

The people had seen Raven then. They had seen him arrive there on the beach and they said, “Oh, Raven, we’ve been calling for you!” Raven said to the people, “I am hungry. I cannot listen when I am hungry. Feed me!” The people gathered all the foods and made a feast for Raven with their cedar smoked salmon and their blackberries and their snow crabs. They dressed in their feasting blankets and they lit a great fire and they danced for Raven. And when Raven sat down to eat his food, there was little on the table. The salmon wasn’t red and glistening like garnets in slate, but pale and pink. True, the blackberries were large and plump, but they were without flavor. The snow crabs were absent altogether. Raven asked the people, “Where is my feast?” “This is what we have,” they replied. “Our salmon comes from farms and is genetically modified, pale and sickly. Our fruit is sprayed with a chemical so it will never decay, yet the fruit has lost its flavor. And the snow crabs…the White man says there is a heatwave in the ocean, which is something only the White man can say (for surely, there were no oceanic heatwaves before the White man), and all the crabs are dead.”

Raven wept for his people then. He loved his people, for he made them out of leaves. He could have made them out of stone, and people would have lived forever. But Raven chose to make the people out of leaves so they would be born and live and die and return to the earth and be born again. Raven loves all people, even those who make heat waves at the bottom of oceans.

Raven said to his people, “I will help you.” And that is how Raven returned to the World.


Raven Emerges Again

Ashes From the Fire


Now Raven wasn’t ready to go fix the world just yet. Raven was still hungry, and when he gazed into the lake to see if he could see any fish to eat, he saw a reflection of himself and he was very surprised to see himself looking as he did. You see, Raven’s true color is silver, not black as people have come to know him. He blackens his feathers so he can hide in the night, so nobody can see him. (It has been suggested by some people that it was the Old Man known as Petrel who turned Raven’s feathers black, but that claim is unsubstantiated and therefore not germane to this discussion.) When Raven is his true color, silver, he reflects all the light, like a mirror ball in a discotheque.

Raven had been sleeping so long, he had molted and regrown a full coat of feathers and his new feathers were silver and beaming light all over the world and everybody laughed at Raven as he danced around like a glittering gem in the sun. Raven was not pleased; he thought he looked like Elvis in his Las Vegas days. He hopped down to the beach where the people lit bonfires every night. He rolled in the charcoal left behind by the fires. It didn’t take long for Raven to blacken his feathers again. When he stopped sparkling like a star on a string, the people lost interest. They stopped pointing and laughing, and they went about their business and left Raven alone, which was how Raven liked it. Except when he was hungry. Which was nearly always.


Son of Land Otter

Raven didn’t want to go into battle without an ally, so he visited the kushtaka, the land otter people, who live where the breeze blows both ways. The land otter people were very powerful. In the beginning, when Raven named the birds and the animals of the forests and of the Underwater World and gave them their assignments, he gave the land otter the ability to change shape into that of any creature it wished. With this power came a responsibility: the kushtaka were charged with watching over the waters and the forests for those who are lost and near death from exposure or drowning. The kushtaka saves these lost souls and adopts them into their clan.


Raven went to the kushtaka, who live on the point where the breeze blows from either side, and Raven feasted them so they would join him in a united front against those who make heat waves in oceans–fierce and powerful and unseen enemies, Raven warned the kushtaka, that demanded the attention of all. Those land otters, they called the other animal spirits, and the others came, because the kushtaka was neither friend nor foe, and that’s why they came when the kushtaka called, because there was no guile in the kushtaka call.


Weird Adventure


Now Raven went down to the water and waited for a sign. He wasn’t sure where to start fixing the world and he wasn’t sure which direction to fly off to. And he wasn’t sure what to do when he got there, wherever there was, for there is always a there there. He was trapped in a quagmire of unresolved intentions. So he spread his glorious black wings and faced the water and he waited for a sign to be given by the Great Spirit. For in times of crisis, the Great Spirit will guide us.

Then the people came running down the beach, calling to him. “Raven, you must come right away,“ they cried. “We’ve found a magic box!” Now, Raven had always had good experiences with magic boxes, so he followed the people.

“I found the sun in a box,” Raven told the people as they walked on the beach. “I let it out.”

“Yes, Raven,” they said.

“The moon? The stars? I found them all in boxes. I let them all out,” he said.

“You are wonderful, Raven,” they said.

“You people didn’t even have any water until I gave it to you,” Raven says.

“Although, that’s a different story entirely.”

“Yes, yes, Raven.”

“So I suspect,” said Raven, “that this magic box will have something really magical in it that will help us solve the problem of our salmon not being red, our berries not having flavor, and our snow crabs who are dying in oceanic heat waves.”

The people were happy that Raven would help with their problems. They led him far down the beach and around the bend and to the place where few humans go. Raven could feel the magic of the box draw closer. And then they were upon it—a box, half a cubic meter, a latch securing a lid.

“And now we will find the magic!” Raven declared, and he flipped the latch, and the box sprang open to reveal…

Nothing. Nothing was in the box. It was empty.

The people gasped.

“It is invisible magic,” Raven said, because magic, like gravity and electricity, is often entirely invisible to People. “Usually what’s inside just does its thing. Usually I don’t have to do much after I open the box. Like with the sun? I didn’t have to push a button or anything. I opened the box and the sun knew what to do. Maybe I should try again.”

Raven closed the box and opened it again. Still, nothing happened.

“It is a new kind of magic,” Raven said. “It was invented while I was sleeping, so I’m not entirely familiar with its characteristics and limitations…”

“Raven, Raven!” the people cried. “You must use the Invisible Magic to help us!”

“Yes, yes,” said Raven, scratching his chin and considering what kind of magic this might be. A magic box with a plastic liner. What kind of magic could it hold?

“Raven!” they pleaded. “Yes, yes,” said Raven. “This is New Magic. It has a special name,” he said.

“This is Yeti magic!” He said that because the letters Y-E-T-I were stenciled on the side of the box. “And it is Invisible Magic.”

“Oh, Raven!” they cried.

“Fear not!” Raven commanded. “The Yeti is a formidable force. I will do battle with the Yeti and I will take its tongue and then our salmon will be red and our berries flavorful.”

In a flash, Raven turned himself into a bird and flew into the box. It was necessary for him to challenge the Yeti spirit in the spirit’s own domain, for that is how a hero conquers his most powerful foes.

“Close the lid,” he said to the people, “so that I may do battle with the invisible Yeti master!”

Thus, the people closed the magic box and locked it, and they left Raven do to battle with his terrible foe.


At first there was only darkness and a world without form. Then Raven flapped his powerful wings and cawed his terrifying cry and then he was moving, and he felt that his energy had moved him, for he had purpose, he had intentionality, and he knew the answers would come to him soon.

On the beach, the people watched as the tide came in and carried the Yeti box out to sea with Raven still inside. They lit a fire on that beach there, and they kept it burning so that Raven would always know where to return.


Only Raven can be both asleep and awake, both imprisoned and free at the same time. Only Raven can be adrift in the ocean and yet with purpose in the universe. Raven prepared to do battle with the Yeti demon inside the box. A battle of spirits is nothing to describe, because the battle takes place in a dimension we cannot see, so Raven standing perfectly still inside a box floating in the ocean looked little like the epic battle of powerful spirits that it was. In our dimension, it looked like nothing was happening at all. But in the dimension where things happen, things were happening! It was an epic battle. Raven won that battle and tore the tongue from his vanquished foe. Raven saved that tongue, for the Tlingit believe that the spirit power of a creature is held in its tongue.

Raven goes through a hole in the ocean

Raven Goes Through a Hole in the Ocean

Now Raven had defeated that spirit and yet he was still in a box in the ocean and he had things he had to do, so he made a hole in the ocean that went straight down, and he put a ladder into that hole and climbed down to the bottom of the ocean, and he walked along the floor of the ocean until he got to the land–it was faster than drifting in the current. When he got close to the shore, Raven had to crouch down so he didn’t bang his head against the top of the ocean, and when he got closer, he had to lift the edge so he could climb out from underneath. And that is how Raven got back to the land after defeating the Yeti spirit inside the magic box.   Heh.

Tears for Healing the Waters

Raven Kept Crying

Raven went to find Petrel then, who is the old man who lives by himself in the woods and therefore must be considered both fascinating and suspicious at the same time, or, as the young people say: creepy. “Petrel always has a treasure or two that can come in handy,” Raven thought to himself. But when he found Petrel by his hut, Raven was surprised to find Petrel guarding his home furiously with a large stick. “Stay away, Raven,” Petrel warned, swinging his stick. “There is nothing for you here.”

Now it is well known among the Tlingit that when someone says nothing is there, usually something is there. And when the something that is there is disguised as a nothing, usually that nothing-that-is-something is a something of value, otherwise known as a something-that-is-something. So Raven knew by Petrel’s insistence to the contrary, that whatever Petrel didn’t have…was certainly something worth not having. Or, in this case, something worth having.

“I have not come for anything but your companionship,” Raven said because, he thought, why tell the truth when you can tell a perfectly good lie? “Verily, I am weary and sad that the world has fallen into such a sorry state while I slept.”

Upon hearing Raven’s seemingly sincere plea, Petrel put down his stick and offered Raven a cup of water, which Raven drank greedily.

“Ah,” Raven exclaimed ravenously. “Your water is so sweet, so cold, so clean. I have not tasted such delicious water since the time Before. Since the Old Stories.”

“It is true,” Petrel preened. “My water is the sweetest and best.”

“Where do you get this water?” Raven asked. “Surely I would like to taste it from its very source, as that water must be the most exquisite water on Earth!”

At this, Petrel retrieved his stick and swung it at Raven.

“Never!” he cried. “Ha-ga!”

“Relax Old Man,” Raven said, dodging the blow. “Keep your spring a secret, as long as you give me another cup of that delicious water.”

And so Raven drank and Petrel told him that his was the last source of the purest water on Earth and if people learned of its source, they would desecrate it.

“I agree, Old Man,” Raven cawed. “The only thing Man has contributed to our Earth is his foul stink and his excrement. And funky music played by white boys.”

Raven told Petrel of his adventures in the Waking World and how the water everywhere had been turned bad with chemicals and microplastics and all the living things on Earth were feeding their bodies and their souls with tainted water that was becoming a part of them and soon people’s bodies would freeze solid because of the chemicals and the microplastics. And Petrel laughed so hard at the idea of people freezing solid like plastic, like little toy soldiers frozen mid-stride, he laughed so hard that he farted. And then he laughed so hard that he cried. Raven cried too, then. He fell to his hands and knees and cried tears of joy and tears of pain, tears of elation, tears of despair and these tears rolled down his face and splashed on the ground where they gathered with Petrel’s tears and made a stream, and that stream ran to the river and purified that water so it was clean again, and the river ran into the ocean and purified that water as well. And lakes and rivers that mixed with the oceans of the Waking World were made pure by Raven’s tears and the tears of Petrel. The waters were made clean by the anguish and the ecstasy of the Spirits.



Petrel’s Fog Hat

When it came time for sleep, Petrel made a bed out of moss in one corner of his hut.

“You sleep here, Raven,” said Petrel. “And no tomfoolery!”

“I don’t know Tom Foolery, but I hereby banish him from all future conflagrations,” said Raven.

And so they slept.

Now before Raven fell into his R.E.M. sleep, he had many thoughts, and one of those thoughts concerned one of Petrel’s hats, which sat on the ground opposite Raven, mocking Raven. And if you say a hat cannot mock someone, you are a tomfool.

This hat was a mocking hat. For it was Petrel’s Fog Hat, which Petrel often used to torment Raven. He used it once to follow Raven for days and days on end, trapping him in a dense fog. When you are in a dense fog you see nothing but yourself. You hear nothing but your own breathing and your own thoughts. And people cannot see you! You are invisible inside of your fog. It is very bad for spiritual growth, which is dependent upon the kindness of strangers.

“Well, now,” thought Raven, pretending to sleep. “That’s a something to be had. But how?”

Now Raven had fooled Petrel before, when he stole the water, which he immediately gave to the people so they would stop whining about being thirsty all the time. That was a good one. He used the old Dog-Poop/Your-Poop Switcheroo. Maybe that would work again. George W. Bush famously said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me—uh—you can’t get fooled again!” an actual mockery of a travesty of a cliché. And yet Petrel voted for George W., so…

Raven left the hut in the dark of night. He found a mound of ripe dog poop near where the dogs slept. He smeared that dog poop on Petrel’s behind while Petrel slept, and in the morning, as the sun was also rising, Petrel awakened to an awful smell!

“Old Man, your immense fart last evening was the calm before the storm!” cried Raven. “The storm has landed! You have soiled yourself in the night!”

Petrel saw that he had, indeed, soiled himself in the night. He leapt from his bed and ran to the river to wash off the excrement. While he was washing himself, Raven took that Fog Hat. He took it and put it on his head. He turned himself into a bird then and he flew away.

“One day, Raven!” he heard Petrel shout at him as he flew away. “One day, Raven! To the moon!”

Raven always said: Petrel shakes a mean fist, but his sting is like butterfly’s kiss.



Raven’s Compassion


Now Raven still didn’t know where he was going, but he had the tongue of a Yeti to give him power and he had Petrel’s Fog Hat. So Raven walked down that road and into the woods, around the mountain that overlooks the river and back around to the other side where the roads come together until he reached a great meadow of lushness and growth, with grasses and wildflowers and butterflies and bees. Raven marveled at the wonder of the meadow and the large broken building which stood nearby.

“What is that building?” Raven asked aloud, and a flicker in a nearby tree answered him because flickers see everything, and they love to talk and talk and talk.

“That is the Institute,” the little bird told Raven.

“What does it do?” Raven asked Flicker.

“Nothing for a long time,” Flicker said. “But before (not long enough ago some say), it was a place to send the Indians to make them White. Kill the Indian, Save the Man (they say they said), but if the Man can’t be saved (the saying went, or so they say), then Kill the Indian and the Man-in-Him Too (they said they say), for no one needs a Man Who Is an In-di-an.”

“You are a cipher, little bird,” Raven said. “Say what you mean, or I will eat you for lunch, for I am powerfully hungry.”

“They took the children from their families,” Flicker chirped. “They forbade the children to speak their native tongue or practice their native beliefs or grow their native hair. There is great power in Native hair.”

”Oh, I know that!” Raven agreed vociferously.

“They broke open those children (you see),” said Flicker. “They emptied their minds and their souls (we saw them, we see) and then they built them back as White people (all who see, see) and those they could not build back, they murdered and buried here, in this field.”

Raven looked around him.

“I don’t see any graves,” he said.

“They left the graves unmarked,” Flicker said somberly. “Because they thought no one would see. But we see, Raven. Those of us who live here, who were born and raised here, we see the souls that are buried beneath this meadow. The souls that haunt us. (We see. We see.)”

Raven felt them then, the souls. He felt them grabbing for him. Children crying, weeping, calling out to him, trying to grasp his talons, his wings. Raven felt the mournful souls grabbing him, pulling him down. He suddenly flew up into the air over the meadow.

“My children,” he said. “I am overcome with sorrow for your condition; I will be swallowed by it. Let me go now so I may avenge you. Meanwhile, I will leave you with this.”

Raven took the Fog Hat from beneath his wing and held it before him. In his other hand, he held the tongue of the Yeti spirit. And with a magic known only by Raven, he imbued that hat with a haze of sorrow, and then he buried that hat in the garden next to the Institute, where it would take root and grow in somber intensity.

“When people walk by your meadow, they will know,” said Raven. “They will feel the sorrow of a thousand lost souls bearing down on them. They will fall to their knees and weep in despair.”

Raven flew off because he was already too sad to stay any longer at the meadow where the Native children are buried in unmarked graves. People who go there now are sad as well. People walk all the way around to the other side of the mountain to avoid the meadow now.

This is true.



Blue Light Spirits

Communicating with Spirits

Fighting Hat

Raven went home then, and he retrieved his most powerful fighting hat and placed it on his head, for he was ready to do battle with any demon necessary. His fighting hat was in the form of an eagle, which made Raven look fierce and powerful and tough. When Raven left his hut with his eagle fighting hat on, the young children who saw him were so frightened, they hid behind their mothers’ skirts. Dogs cowered and whined. The bravest of men wavered in their stride. Raven was a fearsome fighter!

“I will call for my spirit helpers,” Raven proclaimed. He built himself a sweat lodge using branches and limbs. When the lodge was finished, the people built a fire and heated the stones and when the hot stones were ready, Raven went inside.

He sat in the smoke and intense heat of the sweat lodge for hours. The stones grew cold and were replaced with hot ones by Raven’s people. He sat in the sweat lodge for days. And as he was nearing unconsciousness, Raven had visions of lights, blue lights dancing all around him. These lights were the spirits of the ancestors who had come to give Raven guidance. The blue light spirits danced before Raven and told him things he should know. And Raven called his spirit animals, his friends, and they came to him, they gathered, they imbued him with their power and Raven ascended and ascended until he was everything around us, he became all things, and his love for all things exuded from his whole spirit.

In the sweat lodge, the stones were cold. The people looked inside. Raven was not there. He had vanished into another dimension, because when the Dream World and the Waking World mix, things like that happen.


Frozen Knowledge


In his dream, Raven was asleep in the river. But Raven was not asleep, he was frozen. The river had ceased flowing. It was ice.

In his dream, Raven could see People walking by, but they could not see him. He told the People things. Things they needed to know. But they did not hear him. When they gazed into the river, instead of seeing Raven, they saw their own faces reflected in the water. Raven was so close to them. But people only saw reflections; they did not see Truth; they saw only themselves. They believed the water was a mirror with no depth. They do not understand the nature of dimensionality; they will never see the Truth of what is below the surface.


Supernatural Food

Salmon Chief


Now Raven was very hungry by this time because he still had not feasted and he had done much work in the meantime. So he gazed into the river and watched the salmon swimming merrily downstream, and he said, “Oh, my little Salmon, I thank you for your service to the World, and now I will eat you.” But try as he might, Raven was not quick enough to snatch a salmon swimming by. As he contemplated how to fashion a net out of dried grasses, the great Salmon chief came to Raven in the river. “I have come to give thanks to you, Raven, for restoring order to the World,” said the Salmon chief. “Yes, yes,” said Raven, preoccupied with catching a salmon, for he was very hungry! “I did all that,” Raven said. “And you are very welcome, though I still have work to do on the berries and the snow crabs.” “Each thing in its time,” the Salmon chief said, though Raven wasn’t paying attention.

“You seem distracted,” the Salmon chief said.

“I haven’t eaten in a very long time,” Raven said. “I would really love to feast on one of these lovely salmon swimming by, but it seems they are too clever for me.”

“Ah,” said the Salmon chief. “But Raven, we Salmon are so grateful to you, you may feast anytime you like. You simply must ask with gratitude in your heart.”

“I see,” said Raven.

He gazed into the river where abundant fish were swimming by.

“Dear fishies,” Raven said, and several fish stopped to listen. “Dear fishies, I love you so. I love your gills; I love your scales. I love your fishiness and your eyeballs. Furthermore, I love your integrity, your tenacious spirit, your ‘never-quit’ mind set. I ask only that I may nourish myself on one or two of you so that I may continue to make the World a safe place for Salmon to run free.”

By now, a whole group of Salmon had gathered in the river and were listening.

“That’s actually pretty good,” said the Salmon chief. “I didn’t know you were a poet, Raven.”

“And yet,” sighed Raven, “I am a hungry poet, alas.”

“Alas!” echoed the Salmon chief, and first one, then another, then another of the salmon leapt from the river and flung themselves on the riverbank, wriggling and flapping on the ground.

“A Salmon can never refuse a genuine, heartfelt request,” said the Salmon chief. “But take only what you can eat now, Raven, and more will come when you need it. If you are greedy, the salmon will stop listening to you.”

Raven built his fire and roasted only enough salmon for his feast but not so much there would be food left over. And Raven ate his fill of salmon, and he leaned his back against a very tall and welcoming cedar tree, and he slept a sleep without dreams.

Ancient World of the Future


In the darkness, Raven asked the moon for light, and the moon gave him light, and the thick belt of stars across the sky lent its light and Raven could see. He saw the bank of a river. It was the Ghost River that carried the spirits of people along their journey to be reborn. And, as he saw in his dream, Raven saw that the river was frozen. Raven could see fish frozen as they swam. He could see long wispy tendrils of white frozen thread. These were the frozen souls of people, not moving, not flowing as they should.

Raven built a fire on the bank of the river. He built a strong, raging fire. But the river would not melt. So Raven flapped his great black wings and created a powerful wind that blew hot air across the river, and the river melted. The river melted and the fish wiggled to life and the souls gathered and slowly all things began to flow again. The spirits and the fish swam freely, and the river flowed, and order was restored to the World.

Wolf Sitting on a Rock

Wolf Sitting on Rock

When he got up to relieve himself—at his age, Raven had to wake up to pee every night—he heard the cry of a distant Wolf, and Raven’s mind flew away and then he was running at full speed through the woods with the Spirits of the animals coursing through his being so intensely that he cycled through their forms as he ran: an elk leaping over logs, a bear galloping through the brush, an eagle soaring, a hawk diving, a fox sprinting… When he finally stopped running to survey the land, the valleys, the rivers, the seas, to see all the World as it was laid out before him in all its majesty, Raven saw what he saw through the eyes of a Wolf, for that is the spirit he would need to lead the People to the Future World: observant, cunning, ruthless, merciful.

Raven leaned back and opened his throat.

Raven howled.


All images copyright Preston Singletary (c) 2024
All text copyright Garth Stein (c) 2024
Also check out
A novel by Garth Stein

Comments are closed.