I had a déjà vu moment last week that left me pondering the wonders of life. I was taking a walk at the Arcata Marsh, a place that holds so many great memories for me because it was one of my parents’ favorite spots.
My parents have been gone for a while now, yet I feel their spirit when I’m there. They spent hours birdwatching here either as a couple or with friends. I know what a special place it was for them, and I treat this place with reverence because of their feelings toward it.
My dad was a wildlife biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service. When I was starting high school, we moved to California when Dad became part of the recovery team for the threatened Aleutian Canada Goose, a subspecies of the much more familiar Canada Goose. Their recovery was a success, and the species is no longer on the endangered and threatened list. (I’ll be blogging about this another time soon.) As often happens, I see the geese (now renamed the Aleutian Cackling Geese) here, and I can’t help but think of Dad’s role in helping this species thrive.
One of my parents’ guiding principles was the notion that we should always be thinking of the greater good and what we can contribute to leaving the world in an equal or better place for future generations. I have that same belief, and it pains me when I see examples of those who act self-centered or selfishly. Lots of people bring their dogs with them when they’re here. That’s wonderful if they clean up after them when the animals do their business on the trails. Sometimes I see friends having a picnic or having a beverage together. Beautiful—as long as they don’t leave their trash behind.
As I walked one of the trails, I came across a majestic-looking great blue heron, frozen in place in the middle of a field. I made the mile loop four times, and each time I came by it was rooted in almost the same spot like a statue. It was fascinating to watch and seemed so focused on its task (looking for food) that it hardly paid any attention to me. It wasn’t until I approached it that I saw it move for the first time.
When I saw it, an old memory from long ago suddenly came to the forefront of my mind. (The brain is an incredible instrument that will produce these moments of recall that I haven’t thought of in years.) When I was teaching elementary school, I often was the first or second person to arrive as that was an ideal time for me to organize my lessons and gather what I needed for the day. Oddly, one of the other regular things I started noticing upon my arrival was that a great blue heron was often foraging in the big field next to the school that served as our playground. There was something magical about this beautiful bird roosting in a place that I knew an hour later would be a beehive of activity.
Other teachers who arrived early began noticing the bird too. One of my colleagues gave the bird a name—Bob. Much like the bird I saw last week, it would stay frozen in one spot. I suspected it was hunting, but I thought great blue-herons ate fish, so what was it doing here? In reading about them, I discovered herons eat primarily small fish (up to a pound in one day), but they also dine on frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes, insects, rodents, and birds. They are known to stalk voles and gophers in fields, and I suspect that’s what was going on with this bird.
After reading about the great blue heron’s diet, my brain retrieved another memory from long ago. I had a friend who put in a pond in his yard. I was with him when he purchased some koi for it. Not only were they beautiful fish, but they were expensive. I came over to visit him a couple of months later, and he had put netting over the top of the pond. Immediately, my curiosity wondered why. He told me how a great blue heron had flown into his pond and had been eating his fish. That memory became a scene in my children’s novel.
I don’t know if this is one of those things that comes with age or is related to the pandemic. I’ve got a greater appreciation for many of life’s simple pleasures—enjoying the beauty of nature, getting together with friends, taking a walk, and having conversations with random people who I meet on my travels are things I don’t take for granted.
While I appreciate the little things, I’m ecstatic about life’s significant events. Our son got engaged a couple of months ago, and I’m excited to have a daughter-in-law and perhaps some grandchildren. I suspect that our son will be a fabulous dad if they decide to have children, and I’m excited to see him in that role.
The past two years have been an enormous physical and mental challenge for all of us in the Covid world. I will not take these simple pleasures of life for granted.