I was admiring this photo of a great blue heron and its shadow when I remembered the poem “Heron Rises from the Dark, Summer Pond” by Mary Oliver:
So heavy is the long-necked, long-bodied heron, always it is a surprise
when her smoke-colored wings open and she turns from the thick water,
from the black sticks of the summer pond, and slowly rises into the air and is gone.
Then, not for the first or last time, I take a deep breath of happiness, and I think how unlikely it is that death is a hole in the ground, how improbable that ascension is not possible, though everything seems so inert, so nailed back into itself –the muskrat and his lumpy lodge, the turtle, the fallen gate.
And especially it is wonderful that the summers are long and the ponds so dark and so many, and therefore it isn’t a miracle but the common thing, this decision, this trailing of the long legs in the water, this opening up of the heavy body into a new life: see how the sudden gray-blue sheets of her wings strive toward the wind; see how the clasp of nothing takes her in.
I am a Collection Manager at the American Museum of Natural History, an author, and a photographer. I live in New York City. I recently published my first popular science book, Field Guide to Urban Wildlife, an illustrated collection of natural history essays about common animals. I update my blog, Urban Wildlife Guide, every Sunday.
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