Off North Road

Great white heron

By Russell Hoxsie - September 21, 2006

One day last week after lunch, Ticker barked excitedly at the living room windows. Usually our two-and-a-half-year old springer spaniel is circling the couch at this hour and knocking away the pillows which bar her jump to comfort for an afternoon nap. Her behavior was unusual enough to draw me from similar activity and go to the windows. Nothing comes into view for a minute until I follow her muted gaze and see for the first time this fall a great blue heron, white form. I hate the addition to the name. I always think "great white" when I see this magnificent bird, no matter how the expert birders code their words. First she uncoils her long neck toward the sky and her profile cuts into the marsh grasses. In a moment a white flash of her wings blazes the marsh as if on fire and her yellow beak then points at 45 degrees to the shallow pools I know lurk there out of sight. A quick dart of the long neck and she captures one or more silver minnows now in abundance in the brackish waters streaming to the sound with the tidal rush. Then she is gone. Ticker sleeps on the couch.

I hope I shall live long enough to see the great white heron return more years and brighten the slowly settling marsh as it assumes its winter tans and grays. These days, changes in the natural world become sharper and accentuate the aging changes in me. Will I answer Ticker's barking at the window next year as I did today? "Thanks, Ticker, for showing me the signs of the season." Or will the silence of an unshared rush of arched neck and white wing-flash in a graying marsh betray my absence? I walk in woods beginning to thin. The miracle of their rebirth after destruction by the worm infestation of earlier last year proves itself in the dense foliage above. The goldenrod raises their arched and somewhat disdainful necks bearing phalanges of golden lacy flowers at roadside. Will they last until October? The otter along the brook has not shown himself yet this month. I want to see that he is encamped for another winter. I will wish for another fleeting glimpse of his sleek black coat among the spring greens next April as he rushes from my trespass of his private run.

My recent attack of Lyme disease has dulled my energy for long walks outdoors but not my enjoyment of the mother deer and two does out Ticker's window. However, three weeks of nausea and belly ache from antibiotic pills to cure me have kindled a deep wish that friend deer go elsewhere to drop those damnable ticks. This illness has sullied the prism through which I perceive all things. Imagine in this period that I received notice from the Internal Revenue Service that we owed a back account of $76,000! Of course this turned out an error, miniscule in its origin but profound in its short-term effect. (I sent IRS a check for $75.38 to pay the correct amount in full by week's end.) Will my spunk and clear thinking return before senescence sets in with a vengeance? Woe to all of us elders who undergo a trial of illness toward the end of our years. A strong mind and stubborn psyche are necessary to make these years bearable to those of us who may seem sissies.

September this year arrived with an abortive hurricane scare but, instead, pulled in brighter, crisper days and nights after a season of high humidity and temperatures approaching one hundred. But the world remains a chaotic and dangerous place around us. We reflect on the anniversary of the 9/11 attack upon our country and we honor the memory of those whose lives were taken on that date or forever changed thereafter. Will we greet ship-loads of soldiers descending the gangplanks from Iraq and Afghanistan next year in Boston, New York, and San Francisco? How many more will die or nurse traumatic brain injuries or struggle to train an artificial limb by next April green? How many restored homes will be built along the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf coasts? And will their electricity and good water supply be returned? Will children in Texas and Wisconsin ask to see pictures of their fathers whom they no longer can remember? Will children in Israel, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia continue to be taught lessons of hate? Are we prepared to ask serious and well-considered questions about good vs. evil? Can we consider why some of us ask, "Haven't the chickens come back to roost in our western world?" Can we abide to learn the answer to the parallel question why so many people in Asia, the Middle East, and South America hate us when we tell each other every day how much good we have done for so many? Can we give up simplistic jingoism? I sit each day in front of Bob Schwartz's sketch of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan as they stood guard massively behind the lovely American Revolutionary era Saint Paul's Chapel. I hope I live long enough to see another guardian rise in the same location. The great white heron has returned and becomes a visitation of hope, perhaps an expectation of a better world. I hope I shall live long enough to see her return more years and brighten the slowly settling marsh as it assumes its winter tans and grays.