Twenty minutes watching a great blue heron from fifteen feet away can teach you a few things.
I sideled up to the waters edge of Overpeck Creek recently after running in the large urban park, to see what I would see. Usually not much. A distant cormorant or a snowy egret on the far side in the phragmites. But this morning would be one I would remember. A great blue heron stood motionless on the kayak dock just a few feet off shore. Completely motionless. Statuesque. Immaculately attired actually.
And there it stood. I sat on a nearby granite rock and noted the time. It did not move, fixed in its gaze toward the water. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Than in balletic form it turned 180 degrees. And again stood still, now gazing at the water in the opposite direction. Another five minutes. No movement, until slowly the heron stepped off the dock and into the water, clearly a more strategic position. It lowered its head to within inches of the water, than looked up and moved away, crouching under the sloped gangplank of the dock, compressing its neck into a perfect S shape, its dagger like beak pointed, poised, primed to strike.
Then in one explosive action the bird uncoiled its neck, and in so doing buried its beak full into the water with nary a splash.
What happened below the surface, though, remains a mystery for it raised its head high, its beak empty. Had it caught something small and quickly ingested? Whether because of its success or its failure, the great blue than strode away.
I took away some lessons from watching the heron, lessons of patience, perseverance. Lessons of focus, stillness and, that solitude is often essential.
But I also learned that clear, cool autumn morning by the shore of the wide slow moving river that if you plan to survive hunting small aquatic wildlife near the water’s edge, you should arm yourself with a very long, flexible neck and a beak as lethal as a bayonet.
Howard E. Friedman