Tag Archives: herons

Chasing Herons

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We had a couple great blustery rainstorms this week, breaking the long sunny spell of late November. I love watching storms come in here on the coast. Each one is different, but there comes a time in the hours preceding the first downfall when I instinctively head outside to make sure everything is covered that needs protection.

The wind comes in so strongly here sometimes that any gate left swinging is in danger of being ripped off its hinges. Tarps covering stacked firewood have to be secured with something heavier than a log, even if the stack is in a secluded corner. Wheelbarrows can stay outside, but not much else.

Yesterday’s storm damage included a beautiful young hawk who showed up stiff as a board on my front porch. Without examining its body too much, I assumed that it broke its neck flying into my house. Once again I was faced with the choice of what to do with the body. Without more shamanic training of that sort I am reluctant to take feathers from the bird, even if I had a use for them (which I don’t). Chucking it in the bushes seems like a coward’s way out, but could be justified in a circle-of-life kind of way. If I knew anyone who wanted a beautiful specimen to stuff and use for educational purposes—or any purpose really—I’d happily give it away. But meanwhile it sits sentinel on my porch, above the level of my dog Vince’s inquiring nose, waiting for me to make up my mind.

Vince loves the aftermath of storms the best. He knows that he’ll finally get a good long walk in, and if he’s lucky part of that will be off-leash. The morning after a storm the road where we walk is covered with earthworms which have crawled out of the meadow to escape the saturated soil. Anyone whose beliefs instruct them to save life at all cost would be in despair looking out over this roadway. There is no way that one person could save all those worms from their fate.

Fate comes first in the form of magnificent great blue herons that amble along the road after a storm. I don’t know how they choose which worms to eat and which to pass over, but they certainly seem to be in no hurry to find the choicest ones. They stand motionless in the roadway for a good long part of the time, and as Vince and I start our walk I first do a careful scan to see how many of them there are.

While they remain still, Vince doesn’t seem to notice them at all. But as soon as one of them dips down to pick up another worm, or takes a step away from us as we approach, the chase is on. Vince takes any sign of movement as a starting gun and takes off after the heron. He is quite breathtaking in motion, bounding low over brush and hollows, his body gliding smoothly over the ground, eyes intent on his goal, legs pumping in a long, vigorous stride.

The heron reacts in just the opposite way. It casually unfolds its wings, extending them tip to tip as it gives a little push with its spindly legs. Its wings catch the air and for a few strokes it sails low over the ground. Then just as Vince gets near it rises to four feet, five, maybe twelve feet high in its slow survey of the ground below.

Though it seems to be using only a fraction of the energy Vince is, the heron quickly outpaces my dog. But that doesn’t stop Vince, who at this point is almost possessed with the desire to catch the heron. He will continue running until it disappears from sight, and my only hope is that the heron disappears before Vince jumps the fence into the cow pasture, where he can run through the muck for hours while I call him in vain.

The window for optimal heron dining is fairly small, fortunately for me and my muddy dog. The second and ultimate face of Fate for the stranded earthworms is the sun, which doesn’t need to be all that bright or strong to dry out those worms and leave them darkly crisped and curled on the road by late afternoon.

At that point they are not delectable eating for any animal that I am aware of. They are merely sad commentary on the infinite brutality of Nature, and how inseparable her twins beauty and destruction.