Learning to hunt

From across the bay I see it.

Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing near shore across the bay (2009_08_15_028344)

Eyes half closed as if drifting somewhere betwixt waking and sleeping.  Standing amongst the verdant splendor that defines the confluence.  Facing into a summer morning with the same lazy feel that defines my walk.

And as it sits still, I kneel and watch it, let its stoic stance become me, feel its calmness as though it is my own.  Fifteen minutes pass before I realize neither of us has moved.

Finally, with not too small a bit of regret in my heart, I stand and continue my walk.

Much sweat and time pass as I journey along the creeks and away from the lake.

The floodplain feels lonely, a barren green world circumnavigated by people busy with their runs and bike rides and walks and other human affairs.  When a cottonmouth sunning in the grass slithers toward the brush as I approach, I stop and watch, the camera forgotten momentarily so I can see—truly see.

No one else would notice.  The snake deserves at least my full attention, its dark gray form punctuated by a light belly that shows when it turns, an underline of chalk for its blackboard form.

When at last the reptile vanishes and the reeds close upon its escape, I move on.

Crossing over Dixon Branch and turning back toward the lake transports me to a different world, a place where sunshine struggles to reach through the trees, where ligneous arms and vibrant foliage hold back the morning.

I let my feet carry me slowly along the bank, above the water, and I focus on little save enjoying a universe of splendor meant just for me.

Barn swallows flit about and speak a language I do not understand.  But I listen anyway, watch them, allow them to lull me to a restful place.

Titmice and chickadees scamper from limb to limb chattering all the while.

Somewhere in the distance a red-shouldered hawk calls out, a piercing cry slicing the day asunder.

I am barely aware of the passing horde of people, the comings and goings of those who do not see and do not hear.  Somewhere in places they travel but do not touch lies that realm that so enamors me, that can so fully occupy my mind and soul that I lose myself in it.

The raucous yammering of a kingfisher wrests me from my dreamworld, its voice approaching then receding as it flies past me traveling along the waterway.  I turn in time to see it race around the edge of the woodlands and back toward the bay.

Moving along the forest wall that is so familiar to me, I pause to enjoy the interminable descent of an evergreen bagworm, its slow falling on a strand of silk so mesmerizing and deceptive, as though it is an unmoving thing around which the rest of the world crawls.  Each simple breeze pushes it to and fro like a gale, and yet it keeps going, keeps moving toward a ground it cannot see, a forever journey from tree to earth.

Then movement far away catches my attention, something seen yet not seen, something in the periphery of space, a dance of shadows and light.  So I turn and look.

Juvenile yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing in the shadows (2009_08_15_028388)

It is the same but different, a child of that which came before.  It wears the colors of youth.

It takes me but a moment to find its parent, the guide on this journey to learn, the protector and teacher for one so young.

Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) standing in a field (2009_08_15_028424)

Together they hunt the bounty of this field: ground skinks and green anoles, garter and grass snakes, grasshoppers and katydids, leopard frogs and Texas toads, and a laundry list of delectable tidbits that any heron would enjoy.

An adult and a juvenile yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) walking through a field (2009_08_15_028413)

They seem not to mind my approach.  At least not too much.  Though I admit I understand them, know what they fear, comprehend their behavior such that I minimize the threat I pose by invading their feast.

Yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) hunting in a field (2009_08_15_028408)

All the while, the unaware masses saunter by oblivious to this shared hope for offspring, this example of parenthood manifest on a sunny day in a field where so many will pass without seeing.  For what hope does nature distill in every parent save that for the safety and longevity of children?  Yet humans fail to appreciate it when it comes from anything other than another human.

Juvenile yellow-crowned night-heron (Nyctanassa violacea) hunting in a field (2009_08_15_028427)

So I alone witness what should be celebrated.  I alone…

And my thoughts wander back to that heron across the bay.  Suddenly its drowsy appearance makes sense, at least in my mind.  I tell myself that it spent the night tending to the child and found in the quiet of the morning bay a bit of solace as its mate took the child under its wing so it could learn to hunt.

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Photos are of yellow-crowned night-herons (Nyctanassa violacea).

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