Strange Things as These

Okay, you need to know that this photo was not photo-shopped. It's the real deal. That's my neighbor's house across the street at around 7:00 a.m. on this past Tuesday, May 19, 2015. At that moment, smackdab in the middle of suburban St. Louis, perched this amazing bird on the pitch of their roof. I was managing a groggy slog toward my truck  and just happened to look up and see this . . . this Great Blue Heron?  This Sandhill Crane? This! Here? WHAT!?


So I do what I'm apt to do when angels appear. I panic. Swing about, mouth open. Look to see if anyone else sees what I see. They don't. I dig into the jeans pocket, fumbling for my cellphone, hoping to get a picture. End up triggering the key fob that sets off the car alarm. Squelch that blare after forever and a half. Still the bird remains! That's when I take this picture too quickly from too far away, just before the amazing creature takes flight. I had to enlarge the image quite a bit before the bird could be seen, hence the ghostly sense. Did I see what I saw?


We're lucky if we get just one shot at beauty. I can say this with confidence because every encounter with someone or something beautiful is a momentary event, a fleeting conspiracy of how the light lands and what it can do with our mind and heart and all that conditions their compliance--age, need, gender, intuition, desire, circumstance, digestion, etc.--all these myriad filters that shape our life's aperture at any given moment in time and space. That's what makes my sighting of this mystery bird such a miracle. I'm not a morning person. Heck, I was lucky to be up, let alone look up. Surely I've missed many sightings of Great Blue Herons and Sandhill Cranes in my day, especially those who have chosen to sashay by bright and early. That's the irony of beauty: it happens only once, again and again. Beauty is all around us; yet each time we catch it in the act, or it catches us, the occasion is unique and fleeting--a sheer gift not unlike the very presence of God.


I'm now moving in my mind's eye back to a familiar scene in Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek. You might recall that Zorba is awake to the mystery of things, and the "boss" is a no-nonsense British businessman. They meet a peasant riding a mule. Well, let's let the boss tell the story in his own words:


"One day, I remember, when we were making our way to the village, we met a little old man astride a mule. Zorba opened his eyes wide as he looked at the beast. And his look was so intense that the peasant cried out in terror: 'For God's sake, brother, don't give him the evil eye!' And he crossed himself.

I turned to Zorba,

'What did you do to that old chap to make him cry out like that?' I asked him.

'Me? What do you think I did? I was looking at his mule, that's all. Didn't it strike you, boss?'


'Well . . . that there are such strange things in this world as mules!'"


There are such strange and wonderful things to see in this world, instances beautiful beyond measure. Yes, horrible things too, so terrible to behold, even harder to endure, but these do nothing but up the ante on beauty. The horrible has a way of hamming it up and hounding us not matter what, but the truly beautiful seems shy as a deer at the wood's edge, or that Great Blue Heron on my neighbor's rooftop, quietly watching, calling no attention to itself, but apt to be, as we are for now, in this world together. How do we open ourselves up to such visitations, epiphanies? Maybe Zorba said it best, it has to "strike" us. Or maybe God loves to surprise us most when our guards are down with gracious ambushes from out of the blue. Or just maybe we heighten the odds when we slow down and keep awake, quietly leaning into the day step by step. Maybe we need to practice walking like a heron. At least that's what poet Jack Ridl suggests. So I'll leave you with a fleeting glimpse of his poem. Quick, before it becomes a ghost!


"Practicing to Walk Like a Heron"


My wife is at the computer. The cat

is sleeping across the soft gold cushion


of my chair. Last night there was a frost.

I am practicing to walk like a heron.


It's the walk of solemn monks

progressing to prayer on stilts,


the deliberate cadence of a waltz

in water. I lift my right leg within


the stillness, within the languid

quiet of a creek, slowly, slowly,


slowly set my foot on the dog-haired

carpet, pause, hold a half note, lift


the left, head steady as a bell before

the ringer tugs the rope. On I walk,


the heron's mute way, across the

room, past my wife who glances


up, holds her slender hands

above the keys until I pass.


~from Practicing to Walk Like a Heron  (Wayne State University Press)

Write a comment

Comments: 9
  • #1

    Andrea Missey (Thursday, 21 May 2015 19:27)

    So, did an expletive escape your lips when you accidently hit the car fab? Funny story and yet you were still able to capture a picture of that great bird. Speaking of cameras, Darrell and I have been stuck behind camera lenses as we film significant events, particularly the recitals and concerts when the girls were younger. Just not the same as experiencing the beauty of the moment sans device.

  • #2

    Violet (Friday, 22 May 2015 07:39)

    I think God reads your blogs Terry. That last one where you wrote of finding meanings in the little everyday places in your garden an and around your house. Sent you something special just for a change, just to widen your Zorba eyes. I'm off to practice walking like a hero a!

  • #3

    Violet again (Friday, 22 May 2015 07:43)

    I meant a heron of course

  • #4

    Carolyn Fillingham (Friday, 22 May 2015 07:44)

    We have herons in front of our lake house most days. I will now look at their "waltz" a little differently. God speaks to me often through the beauty of nature. Thanks!

  • #5

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Friday, 22 May 2015 08:28)

    Andrea, you're right about that--and about how technology continues to creep between us and raw-boned experience. Congrats to Rachel! I have a little something to give her.

  • #6

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Friday, 22 May 2015 08:30)

    Violet, you are so gracious. Thank you. I'll join you in this "practice" and we'll see what we can see! (I knew you meant "heron" but it was a great slip!

  • #7

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Friday, 22 May 2015 08:32)

    Carolyn, what a beautiful gift to behold at your lake house! Here's to the waltz! (He said, lifting his morning cup of tea!)

  • #8

    kenewatkins (Thursday, 28 May 2015 14:24)

    Glad you had your head and eyes up. I wonder how much I miss because I'm busy studying the path, fearful of falling,

  • #9

    Terry Minchow-Proffitt (Thursday, 28 May 2015 16:41)

    I know what you mean, Ken. It's good-hearted and wise mentors like you that keep me looking up! I'm so glad you're reading my blog posts.