Still life

 

Great blue heron

The great blue heron is a patient angler (Photo: S. Pisharam, Creative Commons license)

.

Racing past a nearby pond, I mistook the bird for an art installation.

I realized my error quickly enough once I downshifted. Then again, there’s just something so painterly about a great blue heron (Ardea herodias). The graceful, sinuous lines; the aqueous blues and grays; the plumage, evocative as a brush stroke. The unhurried disposition that creates a pose of every posture. The stippled scene was realism and impressionism all at once.

Slow, prehistoric wing-beats call to mind the cave paintings of Lascaux and Altamira. The great blue is one of the more easily identified birds in flight, partly due to its size—a 6-foot wingspan is hard to miss—and partly because of its silhouette, reminiscent of a textbook pterodactyl: neck folded back on itself in a compressed S; a contrail of long, slender legs.

Statuesque as an adult, the stalk-and-strike hunter spends much of its life standing still as stone.  Balanced as bronze armature, this is a kinetic sculpture that moves imperceptibly, and yet, as you watch… you can feel the potential energy of that cocked, cursive neck building in your own musculature, grown taut with anticipation. Patience personified…

waiting…

waiting…

waiting…

and THEN…  the spring detonates with blinding speed, blasting the javelin bill through the water’s surface and into the target!

The spear is dragged back from the depths as a squirming fish-kabob. Or, perhaps, a canapé of frog, salamander, crab, or crawdad… would you prefer a vole, garter snake, duckling, or dragonfly? Heron menus include far more than seafood. On occasion, large prey will be consumed bite by bite. A tedious process and, as every angler knows, if you want to increase your catch, you need to keep your line in the water. So, more often, there’s a flip of feathered head and neck, then dinner is swallowed whole. Or not. That narrow neck can accommodate a surprisingly wide load, but in the hurry to put the catch in the creel, herons have been known to choke on a too-big meal.

I know the feeling. I gobble down the items on my to-do list—even tasks like “take a walk.” I channel surf when I should take the time to savor the canvas before me. Taking a deep breath, I tried to quiet my mind, and settled down to watch… and wait.

Dining, fishing, or appreciating a living, breathing work of art—these are pastimes that can’t be rushed.

Email your wildlife questions to NDN and the answer may turn up as a future blog post. And don’t forget to “Like” NDN on Facebook!

© 2011 Next-Door Nature— no reprints without written permission from the author. Thanks to Len Blumin, who made his “catfish dinner” photos available for use under a Creative Commons license, and who reports that this particular bird’s eyes were NOT bigger than its stomach, or its throat, and it lived to fish another day. S. Pisharam’s original photo can be seen here.

4 thoughts on “Still life

  1. I love reading your posts – your words paint a canvas of beauty and life.

    The Great Blue Heron is one of my most favourite birds and spotting one always brings me joy. They are so beautiful and speak to me of freedom and light.

    walk in beauty.

  2. Pingback: Still life (via Next-Door Nature) « Crowing Crone

  3. Pingback: Hops-itality « Next-Door Nature

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s