Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hooked on Heron

Some days when I walk Otto to a park near my house, I see a Great Blue Heron. Solitary, aloof, but elegant--a stunning creature. He stands in the shallows of a stream skewering fish and mice.

There's a passage I love in Charles Frazier's novel Cold Mountain that describes a blue heron, and I just had to look it up:

They stepped slowly toward the river edge and the heron turned to look at them with some interest. He made tiny precise adjustments of his narrow head as if having trouble sighting around his blade of beak. His eyes seemed to Ada to be searching for her merits and coming up short.

-- What are you doing up here? she said aloud to the heron. But she knew by the look of him that his nature was anchorite and mystic. Like all of his kind, he was a solitary pilgrim, strange in his ways and governed by no policy or creed common to flocking birds. Ada wondered that herons could tolerate each other close enough to breed. She had seen a scant number in her life, and those so lonesome as to make the heart sting on their behalf. Exile birds. Everywhere they were seemed far from home.

The heron walked toward them to the river edge and stood on a welt of mud. He was not ten feet away. He tipped his head a notch off level, raised a black leg, scales as big as fingernails, the foot held just off the ground. Ada stared down at the strange footprint in the mud. When she looked up, the bird was staring at her as at someone met long ago, dimly registered in memory.

Then the heron slowly opened its wings. The process was carried out as if it were a matter of hinges and levers, cranks and pulleys. All the long bones under feathers and skin were much in evidence. When it was done the wings were so broad that Ada could not imagine how it would get out among the trees. The bird took a step toward Ada, lifted itself from the ground, and with only a slow beat or two of the immense wings soared just above her head and up and away through the forest canopy. Ada felt the sweep of wings, the stir of air, a cold blue shadow across the ground, across the skin of her face. She wheeled and watched until the heron was gone into the sky. She threw up a hand like waving 'bye to visiting kin. What would that be? she wondered. A blessing? A warning beacon? Picket of the spirit world?

Charles Frazier, Cold mountain, New York: Vintage Books, 1998, p. 192-193


  1. That was a beautiful extract. What vivid imagery! Thank you.

  2. Yes, isn't it great? I love that about Cold Mountain--such beautiful nature imagery.


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