I love herons. Their elegance: long, lean, streamlined curves over water, poised, waiting. Their focus: totally in the moment, poised, waiting….to strike sharp and swift. I love their languid flight: long wings lazily beating, slow concentrated strength and grace.
We live in Glasgow, Scotland – UK city with the most green space. Our flat overlooks the river Kelvin which flows through the West End’s Botanic Gardens. On the riverbank, throughout the Gardens, all kinds of wildlife abound: amongst the over-fed pigeons and importunate grey squirrels the occasional kingfisher, an otter once seen on Boxing Day, sometimes a cormorant or two – and several herons taking up favourite positions along the river bank. The fish ladder by the weir is a choice spot of theirs. Another pitch is partly concealed by vegetation, right below the Humpbacked Bridge leading to steep steps rising to the upper, more cultivated part of the Botanic Gardens.
Most days, I take a well-travelled route down from our house – crossing the Humpbacked Bridge, up the steps, through the Botanics past the newly-refurbished Kibble Palace. This splendid circular, domed Victorian glass house hosts fine sculptures, elegant glass panels, a well-stocked pond – with some very old fishy friends adept at dodging the coins and wishes raining down on them on a regular basis – and a wonderfully displayed selection of plants and flowers from many parts of the world. It is a local jewel.
Strolling around those familiar, well-loved landmarks, I always enjoy occasional sightings of the heron. We can never decide how many herons there are of the same age and appearance. Maybe we are seeing the same one, over and over? Conversations like this weave together a very disparate, loose group of park regulars of all ages with a variety of views and opinions about the Botanic Gardens’ wild creatures. But the heron is a favourite; we always report sightings to one another.
We are inured to plentiful rain and bad weather as the default position for our local climate; stepping out into a pleasant, crisp, sunny morning is therefore an immediate delight, especially with the Botanics in full autumn colours, carpets of leaves everywhere – if you get out early enough, before the park attendants with their noisy leaf-blowing machines get going!
Whilst appreciating this beautiful autumnal morning, my head was also full of the usual thought traffic as I contemplated the day ahead. The Buddhists speak the truth: we are only ever partly here. In each waking moment of our short, precious lives, we are usually distracted by something or other from being fully present. Thus we rarely savour fully the Holy Dharma of this very moment which will never come again.
Suddenly, my attention was totally focused on a sight I had never seen before. The heron was perched in full view, half way along the left-hand side of the Humpbacked Bridge!
I stopped dead. Most unusually at half past nine on a weekday morning, there was no-one in sight. “Should I stay watching right here, or try to creep closer?” I wondered, full of excitement and apprehension. Deciding on the latter option, I tiptoed very very slowly onto the eight-foot wide bridge, veering to the right in order to edge along the opposite side of the bridge to the heron.
The wild creature seemed absorbed in his own surveillance operation, long elegant neck moving slowly from side to side, eyes glinting in the morning light reflected off the quietly flowing river. Whether he had spotted me or not, he was paying me no attention. Barely able to believe my luck, I inched along extremely quietly until – to my great amazement – I was level. We were only a bridge width apart. Never in my life before had I been so close to such a large wild bird.
The morning was still. The heron, briefly, was still. I was still. The Holy Dharma moved with the air currents across the bridge, the heron and me. All was One.
Hours might have passed. It was probably less than a minute. I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my left eye. A slender young man dressed all in black, carrying a rucksack, i-pods in his ears, was rapidly approaching the bridge. Stealthily, I crept forward a couple of feet, heading off the bridge toward the steps, still hugging the side opposite the heron. He still didn’t budge. For a fleeting moment I thought “Anne, that wild creature is tuned to you. He can feel your goodwill….” Then the rationalist dismissed such a thought. Still….
The young man was about to step through the gate onto the bridge. I held my finger to my lips, indicating silence; with my other hand palm up, I signalled to stop, waving him over to my side of the bridge – hoping this unknown young man might share a rare experience. But he ignored me. As he marched past us the heron took off, winging his lazy languid way downriver. Waving goodbye, I stood for a moment – partly watching the heron, partly watching the young man’s back as he tramped up the stairs.
In that moment I truly felt the force of life’s duality: on the one hand, such gratitude and joy that the heron and I had shared a pure, holy moment of Oneness. On the other, deep sadness that the young man, shut in with his technology, had missed it. Carl Jung’s comment, which comes to me often, came to me then: “Our task in this life is to reconcile the opposites”…..
….and a ps to this story….a couple of weeks later, I was strolling home through the Botanics by the river Kelvin on my way home, having spent the afternoon at my office writing the first draft of this article which was in my bag.There on the riverbank, in places where I had never seen them before, were – to my amazement and delight – two herons….
1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page
8 thoughts on “Holy Dharma with Heron”
We are all shut in with technology – some of us are shut in and some of us welcome its ability to free us as well as inform us about things we would certainly miss. I was that young man – once.
Across the pond, and yet so close!
your point taken – and I agree in general terms with what you say about the bright side of technology – how could I not, when running this site is such fun?!. But disconnection from the natural world – of which my encounter with the young man was a tiny example – has now escalated to the point that our survival is threatened….but more of this anon! Thanks for visiting. Anne.
thanks for your visit from across the pond – hope there are some herons where you are! Best wishes
Did you know that the collective noun for herons is “A Siege of Herons” and that three standing close together is said to indicate a change in the direction of your life? (I was told this by a woman from Canada).
I too live beside the River Kelvin and know your heron under the Humpback Bridge. If only those I-pod players would listen to the bird song instead of filling their ears with snap crackle and pop!
we know each other! Im married to Ian H and aka Anne H….thanks for visiting me in virtual reality as well as our friendly encounters in the actual. I certainly didn’t know the collective term or the piece of folk wisdom re life change. Hello to Mark, and do visit my site again.
I love herons too! This post is worth reading again and again. Thank you!
Much appreciated, Allison. Check out your site for my comment! Anne
Thanks for taking the time to comment over at Write Anything on my article on Nature Writing
I have to agree with those who have gone before me in comments – we as humans, on the whole have forgotten the true beauty in nature and in the simplicity of “the moment”.
I look forward to you visiting more often – and perhaps submitting your work for peer-group review on our weekly Friday Fiction http://writeanything.wordpress.com/fiction-friday
all the best
Thanks Annie! I would love to do that, very soon…..it is good to be in contact with writers of like mind. Anne