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  • In wildness is the preservation of the world.

    - Henry David Thoreau

    His name, in Latin, is Ardea herodias. He is shy and mysterious. I never know when he is going to show up, or how long he will stay. Months can go by, and I will not see him at all. Then, one day I will look down into the creek, and he will be there, patiently waiting for just the right frog or fish. He is also partial, when luck permits, to snakes, turtles, and rodents. He is extremely fond of bright red koi, but rarely has access to them. My neighbor had to put a screen over his koi pond to prevent midnight raids on his pricey fish. I call him by his proper name: Great Blue.

    Great Blue is a solitary feeder. He usually dines standing in water at dawn or sunset, preferring to hang out at water’s edge, but capable of wading farther out than other herons because of his long legs. His habitats are many: fresh and saltwater marshes, flooded meadows, shorelines, mangrove swamps, and creeks like mine. On those rare occasions when he chooses to speak, it is a harsh croak, and then he will lapse back into a regal silence, as though he wishes he had a voice more congruent with his physical beauty.

    Great Blue seems to know he is free to come and go in my life, and that he is welcome down there in my creek. We give each other space. I think he knows I will not intrude on his sanctuary. I believe he feels safe here. I do not try to capture him, contain him, interfere with his enjoyment of my meadow and stream, or tell him where to dine.

    Others might try to claim him and clip his wings, consigning him to a miserable life leashed to a barbeque in a backyard, an “exotic pet.” But Great Blue is wondrous in his freedom, his beauty, his graceful demeanor and exquisite style. To make a prisoner and pet of him would be demeaning, and would consign him to a life of servitude to other people’s vanity and need to be “close to nature.” For those who seek to learn from such wild creatures as Great Blue Herons, he is a teacher of Taoist love, the open handed love that continuously lets go, lets go, lets go.

    He knows a great deal more than I do about what works for him, and I respect that. We exchange long appreciative looks. I make sure I do not cross any invisible boundary, marked in the space between us by a primal instinct on his part as to what is safe and what is no longer safe. When I am watching him, I sit very still.

    Once, a few years ago, Great Blue spent a week standing motionless on the roof of a tall shed. I never saw him going back and forth to the creek, though at night he must have taken time outs for snacks. He was magnificent, like a heron in a rare, Japanese painting. Every so often, he would spread his wings, as though to fly away, but something about the rooftop vantage point appealed to him. Maybe he could see where the mice were, who knows.

    He seemed to enjoy looking down into the house, watching me come and go. I felt that I was being honored with a visit from a sky god. I was careful not to do anything that might disturb or frighten him. I made sure that he felt welcome, but also safe. I gave him space. I think he was enjoying himself, up there. Maybe he was indicating his trust. I wanted to take a picture of him, but somehow, that seemed like a violation of the bond between us. For that week, he owned the shed.

    He was here for awhile last month, and now he is gone again, off to some other stream, or lake or marsh. I like the way he comes and goes. There is surprise in it. There is a kind of indefinable inter-species camaraderie. There is also a certain intimacy and affection: he seems to know that he is always welcome, and that he will not be scolded for being about his mysterious, necessary Great Blue Heron life. He knows that it is all so OK, or at least I like to think he knows. Love may mean never having to say you are sorry, but I believe it also means never having to apologize for who you are and what you have to do.

    It is perhaps a fantasy to think that there is any real understanding or communication between us, and yet, the fact that he comes back here again and again, seems to like hanging out here, and never seems to mind my observation of him is perhaps a vote of confidence. Who knows? I am, in these reflections, reminded of the words from Poet David Ignatow:

    "I should be content
    to look at a mountain
    for what it is
    and not as a comment
    on my life."

    I never know if I will see him again, and experience his calm, wild, extraordinary and deeply healing presence in my life. Great Blue is, after all, a wild heron, meant to explore many horizons, many ocean shores, many woodland streams. I should not think too much about this, or miss him, or even hope that he may one day be back for a hello. But there is a quiet joy in hoping I will see him again. And again. Isn’t this, after all, what the best friendships, and unconditional love, are all about?"

    (Photograph by Alex in Costa Rica, in the 3-D virtual world of Second Life)
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