I used to watch a great blue heron who appeared each spring along the river I first lived on in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, way up in the North Woods near the shore of Lake Superior. Suddenly one slushy mild day after a long winter I would see him (or her, but I will call him or her a him), gliding through the air upriver through the pine and cedar and birch. Then some lucky mornings or evenings I would see him standing stock still in the river just outside my house, where the river was a bit marshy, waiting for something to move in the shallows, and I loved watching, waiting for the quick movement that meant, usually, that the heron would eat. There were few fish in the river—it was mostly frogs, I think, that the heron went after. And I thought it a special, magical thing to be where I was along this river watching a great blue heron hunt for food.
Now, I see herons all over, sitting way up in palm trees and in vacant lots, and one late afternoon one flew into the electrical wires that are strung above my yard. I heard a commotion, went out on the deck, saw a great blue heron lying in the garden, the border along the brick wall. He was laid out on his side next to a large clump of bird of paradise. He lifted his head, his long neck snaking and undulating a bit; I heard a weak crawk. The head returned to the grass and I think that is when the heron died.
I was somewhat stunned.
I walked across the yard to the bird. Over on the road, on the bridge that crosses the barranca, about 50 yards or so away, two people were talking loudly and pointing. They had seen the heron fly into the wires and fall. I looked up. The wires were swaying back and forth. The heron lay still. Soon it was dark. It was a Saturday. I had been sick with a debilitating flu for near two weeks. It was the four-month anniversary of my arrival in California. All this begged for significance.
I went to my Animal Energies book to look up Great Blue Heron. No luck. So I went to the World Wide Web.
If Heron has come wading across your path; It is time to look deeper into aspects of your life that will bring out innate wisdom and show you how to become self-reliant. Are you grounding yourself regularly? Heron teaches that grounding yourself in the earth and your spiritual beliefs will help you discover emotional insights more clearly and more quickly. Alternatively he could be teaching you how how to become comfortable in uncertain situations and to be watchful of opportunities to arise so that you can quickly grasp them and move on.And:
The appearance of GBH indicates that it is time to assert our own authority and to follow our own unique path in life. We need to listen to the inner calling of our hearts and not the ideas of others. There may also be a great opportunity coming our way and to grab it quickly when it comes. The GBH is also a symbol for a jack-of-all-trades.
So I was going to write about this. I mean, how often does a great blue heron—so full of meaning!—fall out of the sky, into your yard, and die? But then the desire to attach meaning to and create a story out of every random event suddenly seemed in itself meaningless, reckless, perhaps even ridiculous. I mean, so what if a heron flew into some electrical wires and died? So be it. Beginning of story, end of story.
Overnight, some critter got to the body.
Then a guy from animal control came and took the body away. He picked the heron up by its big clawed feet and threw it in the back of his truck.
The day after, the taxidermist I had called about this perfect specimen of a heron lying in my yard returned my call. I was driving on the freeway. He told me that herons are protected and you can’t be stuffing them without a special permit, which he doesn’t have, and he told me he hadn’t been so sure that by returning my call he wasn’t dialing into some government entrapment scheme.
All in all, while in California, I have become less and less enamored with the great blue heron. Until today.
This afternoon Josie and I were walking through the vacant lot, a walk we have come to love. It starts with Josie pulling me through the lanes of our neighborhood, panting and lunging at the end of his leash, so happy, so excited, and soon we’re crossing the street that puts us on the edge of the lot, a lush field now abloom with yellow, daisy-like flowers. I unsnap his leash. We are happy. We walk the dusty trails which are wide and unkempt and meandering and there is simply room to roam. I usually don’t take the camera but yesterday there was a great blue heron walking around the lot and Josie got to chase it, so today the camera was in my back pocket, just in case. When I spotted a heron along the shore, I started taking pictures.
I realized the heron had a fish in his mouth.
He dropped the fish.
He picked the fish up.
He ate the fish.