The Blue Heron
by Aaron Paul Lazar
Recently I was able to resume my lunch-walks at work. Aside from getting drenched on one particular excursion—and I mean wringing, dripping, soaking wet—I was able to get away from the office for an hour or even and occasional two hours each time. This is the time during which I plan the next chapter in whatever book I’m working on, and it’s exactly how I wrote my newest release, Don’t Let the Wind Catch You, which features most characters outdoors on horseback, cantering over farmer’s alfalfa fields or in the deep woods. Mind you, I am also fully immersed in nature when I walk, and each of the details that surround me end up in one scene or another in my mysteries.
It’s not planned…it just happens. Sort of a process of osmosis, I guess.
You might wonder how I slipped away from work so easily. I know, it sounds terribly irresponsible and unlikely. But chalk it up to me finally making up for numerous skipped lunches. I was due. Overdue. So I took advantage of these late June days that hovered in the low eighties to change into my shorts and tee shirt and get with nature.
Yesterday, I ran into a blue heron. Almost literally. Quite opposite to any bird behavior I'd ever seen, he stood just ten feet from me on the trail—simply staring with round yellow eyes.
I walked closer, scuffing my feet.
Why doesn't he fly away? Can't he hear me?
I scraped my sneakers against the gravel again. He slowly turned his feathered head and looked directly at me.
"What are you doing here?" I asked. (Please don’t judge me, I always talk to animals.)
He continued to stare, his eyes the color of Black-eyed Susan petals. I stepped a little closer and took a dozen photos with my camera phone. Oh, the quality is terrible, but I captured at least a faint image of him. I meant to bring my good camera that day, but in the haste of that oh-so-urgent need to escape the world of technology and feel the sun on my face, I left it on my desk.
He stood regal and aloof. His gray blue plumage seemed healthy, full. He stepped with confidence, swinging his head slowly from side to side.
I spoke to him, again. "Aren't you afraid of me? Why don't you fly away?"
I moved closer, but he only walked a step or two along the path, as if keeping pace with me.
"Are you ill? Do you have a nest around here?"
I didn't dare close the gap further, since his beak looked long and sharp. Instead, I took a path into a pumpkin field and marched along until I hit the woods. On the return trip, I looked for him, but the bird had vanished. Relief whooshed through me.
He must be okay.
My mind started to spiral.
Was it a sign? Was this rare and close encounter perhaps my father's spirit, come to visit?
It's been sixteen years, but I still long for my father's company. I imagine conversations with him. Okay, I’ll admit it. I hold conversations with him. I know he listens, and I often sense his presence. At risk of embarrassing myself, I will admit that I love letting my mind wander in these preposterous ways, even though I know deep down it's farfetched. But walks alone in nature tend to foster such thoughts in me, and I enjoy the fantasies. Not that I'd admit that out loud to anyone. (Except you, of course.)
Today I returned to the trail, camera in hand, hoping to see my friend. I found him, but not as I had hoped. The poor bird lay on the trail, curled and still.
It saddened me. I considered taking his picture, walked past him, covered another hour of dirt roads, and returned.
Should I? Could I? Wouldn't it be disgusting? Gross? Crass?
But I did take his photo, and it was almost a reverent thing. Because even in death, his form held beauty and elegance.
In a very strange way, it was almost like closure.
In my usual self-comforting ritual, I started to imagine that perhaps this was a wise old bird whose time had simply come. Perhaps he'd led a full and resplendent life, soaring over lakes and swooping down to skim the water with his feet. Perhaps he'd caught a thousand silvery fish, balancing on long spindly legs while catching his handsome reflection in the mirror surface of the creek.
How fortunate was I, to have been graced with his startling presence in his last days on earth? I was blessed to have met this feathered friend, in spite of his untimely demise.
I imagine he’ll show up in one of my books these days. But I think I’ll let him live. Maybe he’ll find a mate. And maybe they’ll have babies. Okay, the wheels are turning. I’d best get back to writing that next chapter.
Remember, try to get outside as often as you can. Soak in the beauty that surrounds you. Every aspect of nature is a gift from God, and as I often suggest to my readers and friends: when life gets tough, take pleasure in the little things.
Amazing, isn't it, the things that inspire us writers?