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
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
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)