It is becoming blustery. I am sitting on the porch watching a great blue heron in the field, willing myself to be as still and patient as she. Mostly she is motionless, but occasionally I am rewarded by a shake of the head, a turning, an opening and closing of the bill, a stretching or contraction of the long, sigmoidal neck. The bird’s long legs which allow her to wade through water and tall grass look fragile and awkward through my binoculars. When she flies from one spot to the next, they dangle underneath her like an airplane’s landing gear, tucked up close against her body only as an afterthought. But now she is standing still as a tree, head slightly cocked, watching for movement in the grass. The royal cascade of grey feathers from throat to chest and the cape-like hood over her muscular wings gives the bird a mythic, godlike quality. A bright yellow eye in the middle of a black stripe. A soft grey cap of feathers shoots backwards from a streamlined head adding to her fabulous style.
Clouds move high and fast across the sky. Shadows pass over field and forest like a time lapse film. Shape shifting as the light changes, valleys, hummocks and trees are illuminated. They seem to rush by as the heron stands still, at the center of the stage. When the sun hits her, she gleams.
The chokecherry tree in the field underneath which I buried my old cat, Daffodil, is clapping the last of its golden leaves. The forest beyond the beaver ponds is warm with orange, scarlet, pink, and copper.
Animals like the heron that are born to bide their time: what does she think as she stands motionless and waiting? What poise and concentration is needed in order to detect a scurried movement or a glimmer of scales? What is time to the heron? Does her mind wander? I find it challenging to watch and wait alongside this creature. I am a part time, partial observer: I fidget, I write, I read. I think of other things. I look up to find my subject has moved. Now there is only a disembodied snake like neck poking up above the shoulder deep field grass, her head turns one way and then the other. Is she listening?
Yesterday my daughter Atalanta found five-year-old Itzel standing stock still in the middle of the kitchen, his eyes were closed. She left him to himself until he opened his eyes and began to move about. What were you doing? she asked. “I was feeling what it is like to be dead. Now I know.” He has been talking about wanting to know what it is like to die but without the staying dead part.
The crickets are still singing but their music has reduced from a symphony into a series of quiet songs. Last night the katydids still sang at dusk. The children and I notice bats at sunset, and a long line of geese high in the sky just after the sky turns a soft scarlet gold.
A chickadee has landed on a branch just above my head. She is singing a “who are you” song. Short trilling bursts. A black squirrel chitters as he approaches me, fingers splayed, descending the maple, jumping onto the porch railing. Down in the field, a porcupine follows the stone wall. Her gait is stilted and deliberate. She grazes among the brambles. I look up to see the heron take off. She circles in slow, beating flight then heads off down the valley.