Four years ago, Jade Goodell found herself at a low point in her life. She was bankrupt in her mid-twenties and overwhelmed with life’s struggles.
“I went to college and did everything ‘right,’ but I was so inconsistent,” Jade says. “I spent many years making healthy choices and then in an instant, I made terrible ones. I had so much to lose, but I still made those mistakes. I realized I had to change.”
Jade wanted to get excited about life again. She tried crafting, woodworking, and other things but they didn’t stick. She distanced herself from others and spent most of her time alone.
“I started watching videos of eagles and owls sitting on their eggs. I would watch them for hours. I don’t know why, but it was fascinating to me. I devoured all the information I could about birds and decided I had to get close to them.”
Jade researched and found she could volunteer with the Ogden Nature Center, a 152-acre nature preserve and education center in the heart of Ogden, Utah. She came every Saturday to feed the birds, change their water, and clean up after them.
Jade loved being close to the eagles, the owls, and other birds but enjoyed the black raven Cronk, who has lived at the Ogden Nature Center since 1998. It is generally believed Cronk was taken from the nest as a chick and raised as someone’s pet. He was eventually released into the wild where he sustained a foot injury, was rehabilitated, but could not be released.
As Jade has worked with Cronk, her confidence in herself has grown. She even refers to her life now as “Before Cronk” and “After Cronk.”
“He literally changed my life. People talk about how you need to learn to love yourself before you can worry about anything else. The past three years have been all about that: figuring out what makes me happy and then running with that. I am happy with me now, and I don’t worry anymore about what other people think of me. It’s not common for someone to find a passion in their thirties, but I leap out of bed in the mornings to come here,” says Jade.
When Jade started, she knew nothing about training birds, especially ravens. She asked Bryce King (the former wildlife specialist at Ogden Nature Center) how she could get closer to Cronk. He told her the only way was to commit to coming every day.
“I don’t think he thought I would do it, but I didn’t miss a single day for over ten months. The only reason I missed was because I sick and couldn’t get out of bed,” Jade says.
Jade and Bryce learned quickly how different it was to train a raven versus a falcon. Bryce was a falconer and taught told her that if Cronk didn’t do what she wanted, then she should walk away and take the food with her because that is how you would teach a falcon to respond, with food orientation.
“I am pretty sure Cronk just laughed at us because he stashes his treats for later. He’s got enough treats in his mew to last him for at least three weeks,” Jade laughs. “He’s as smart as a four-year-old. He plans and anticipates what will happen. It is very different from falconry, where the falcon relies on its owner for food.”
Jade says her relationships with the other volunteers and employees at the Ogden Nature Center have also helped to boost her confidence and to help her overcome her troubles. “It is really cool because I work with all these other women that do the things that I want to be able to do.”
Heidi Christensen, the current wildlife specialist, is one of Jade’s mentors. “Heidi is fantastic,” Jade says. “She is a single woman like me who has been volunteering here for the last twenty years. She does something that she loves to do and lives a life that makes her happy. She handles eagles for hell’s sake! I would love to be able to do that, to have an eagle on my hand. It is exciting to see that. There is a lot to this place in general, not just Cronk.”
But Jade connected with Cronk on a different level from the beginning.
“Apparently that is not normal as he tends to not warm up to everyone, some even say he can be a jerk. When I first started here, another volunteer told me to be careful because if I didn’t connect with him right away he would mark me—meaning he would remember if he got a reaction out of me,” she says.
Jade says Cronk remembers everything. A volunteer screamed once when she was with him and she never wanted to go back inside his enclosure. After that, he would taunt her every time he saw her.
Disconnect. Decompress. I am no expert in telling people how to get through tough times, but I will say that the calmness I get from the silence right now is incredible! The news and constant rumors and worries is just too loud sometimes.”-Jade Goodell
“He knew if he could get her to come close enough that he could get her to scream. He would squawk at her as if to say, “Hey, come over here! You know you want to,” laughs Jade.
Jade learned she could not react to anything Cronk did, especially if he bit her. He would do it over and over to get a reaction from her.
“When he bites, it feels like you are getting cut with rusty scissors, but I had to hold completely still. He would grab a piece of my skin and there would be bruises underneath it. There were many times I had bloody hands,” she says.
Jade knew she was connecting with Cronk when he started to pinch her instead of bite. “He lets me pet him for a little while and then give me a little pinch to let me know that’s enough.”
Jade’s strongest bond was forged with Cronk after she lost her twelve-year-old Miniature Schnauzer. Her dog had had twelve seizures in a row and the vet thought he must have had a stroke because he was trying to eat his bowl and not his food. He also could not correct his paw when she turned it into the wrong position. Jade had to put him down. Jade let her beloved dog go on Saturday and then came in to spend time with Cronk the next morning.
“It had been a week of torturous hell,” Jade recalls. “I wasn’t crying but my entire persona had changed. My heart was broken. I came in and usually Cronk darts out of his area like he is saying, “Let’s go! Let’s do this!” But I swear to you on that day he came out and he paused and maybe he felt my aura. He stopped, looked straight into my eyes, and he put his head down for a pet. It is not unusual, but normally it is food first, pet later. I pet him, and he stayed that way. I sat cross-legged on the ground and he got up into my lap and I cried my heart out. He had never done that before nor has he done it since, but it was like he just knew that I had lost something close. I don’t even know how to express it. It was so powerful in so many ways and I just sobbed. Then, he bit me and then walked off.”
Jade says the moment was probably only five or six seconds, but it was what she needed.
When she first started working with Cronk she did not see much progress, but other volunteers commented how they could not let Cronk come out in the walkway in front of his mew, because they could not get him to go back in. When they weren’t looking, he would put a rock, a stick or a toy in the door so when they went to latch it, the door would bounce back. Cronk also has a tiny door above the main door that has a little latch on it, and he would unlatch it so it would bring the little door down and block the main door from shutting.
Jade taught him the command, “Clean up your mess and go to your room!” She points to his mew and then tells him to go inside. She gives him a treat (usually frozen corn and pinky mice) inside his mew.
“How did you get him to do that?” was the common response among the other volunteers.
Jade doesn’t really know why she and Cronk have connected, but she is grateful for it. During this time of uncertainty while dealing with a global virus, unprecedented unemployment, and overall stress, she is particularly grateful she has an outlet where she can experience peace.
Jade says, “I actually got to a point last week of being incredibly stressed, more stressed than I’ve been in a very long time. I finally said I needed a day off to refresh my mind. As cheesy as it sounds, I just had to hang out with Cronk, go back to my happy place. I spent three hours just sitting with him! Then I got myself some air and quiet, and that’s the best thing I can recommend to anyone right now is silence. Find a place you can get away from social media for a bit. Disconnect. Decompress. I am no expert in telling people how to get through tough times, but I will say that the calmness I get from the silence right now is incredible! The news and constant rumors and worries is just too loud sometimes.”
Jade hopes people will read her story and be inspired to make changes in their lives and forge connections that maybe they haven’t thought of before. “Not very many people pursue what they are really passionate about and they should! It’s huge!” she says.
She also says if your passion aligns with the mission of the Ogden Nature Center, you might consider signing up as a volunteer when the ONC reopens to the public, or donate to the nonprofit organization through their website .http://www.ogdennaturecenter.org All donations help provide exceptional learning experiences and inspire lifelong environmental and community stewardship.