I am interested in this picture. I am so used to working for good pictures of birds – sharp focus, good light through their feathers, good wings in flight. But I used a higher ISO and so this picture had greater depth of field – good focus on the trees as well as the bird. Maybe it was the way the shapes in the heron’s wings mirrored the shapes in the reaching branches. It made me feel that the heron was in its natural home, that this landscape and this bird fit together, that their lives were entwined, inseparable.
The camera allows me to see much more than I can see with my own eyes and this is how I come to these conclusions… this heron’s tongue for example. I never imagined it would be shaped like that. What a delicate tongue to be protected inside that long beak, to poke into the mud. How perfect to wriggle out those little morsels.
The heron settled into its tree in its classic heron pose. I waited with my telephoto lens at what I hoped would be a non-disturbing distance across a little pond. I was preparing to stay, like scores of other mornings, with a heron who wasn’t moving and who might not move for hours. I’ve always admired the ability of birds to wait. I think it is important to their survival, as important as their ability to hunt or fight - their ability to rest, to wait, to collect their strength. So as always, I sat there, trying to match her, wondering what she saw and thought and felt, wondering what was it was like to live her life.
It was a cold morning, but I could feel that spring was coming. I considered this. I mean, after I forgot all the extra stuff, like the fact that taxes were due in two days, after I forgot all the other things in my constructed life, there was how it felt after a long winter when the air was cold, but the sun had just risen and I could feel it warm on my face. I thought, “We all know this. We know it across the human race. We’ve been knowing it, whether we’re humans or other creatures. We’ve been knowing it together for hundreds of thousands or millions of years.”
The heron and I were at the hatchery together, she with her instincts and I with mine. So we waited and I want to tell you that what happened next was something I’ve never seen. The heron reached, turning and craning her neck, tracking something across the sky. I turned also, and there was an eagle circling. The eagle passed and she immediately settled down, groomed her feathers, and went back to her rest.
Then my dogs began to tussle and the heron turned and looked at us. If you ever have a large wild bird look at you, something will happen. I’ve felt this a few times, once with a hawk, once with a snowy owl and now this time. Something in the oldest part of my brain woke up. There is no word for this that I know of, this I’m-being-studied-and-measured-and-thoroughly-seen-by-a-large-wild-bird feeling, but there it was.
There have always been dozens of heron at the fish hatchery, but I’ve been there all week and I’ve only counted three. It could be the exceptionally difficult winter, or it could be the eagles are eating them or driving them away.
I learned some things this week: (1) That the heron have pointy tongues. (2) That everything reaches, that the trees reach and the birds reach in very similar shapes and for very similar reasons. (3) That the heron and the landscape are inseparable from each other. (4) That it’s important to rest, to really rest, to practice resting as a necessity for life. (5) That the heron reach first with their eyes, like photographers do, and that their whole bodies follow. (6) That now that the eagles have come the heron might be gone from the fish hatchery, and soon.