Sunday, April 4, 2010


While lying back on the hood of my car in the warm, pine-filtered sunshine of the parking lot at Habitat, the local Audubon sanctuary, waiting for friends Anne and Peggy to arrive, I thought about new lyrics to Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues":

When you're lost in the sun in Belmont and it's Eastertime too...

That's as far as I got, and a good thing, too, because you don't really want to rewrite an ironic blues about negativity into a feel-good paean to temperatures in the high seventies (septuaginta!) on April fourth, and the day of the Red Sox home opener too....

It was a weekend when there was no wrong place to be and nothing you could do that wasn't emblematic of how to spend the time best, as long as you were outside: take a walk and you were the fortunate walker, ride a bike and you became the opportune biker, shoot baskets in the driveway, sit on a bench at Spy Pond with a book, write banalities on your laptop, and you were to be admired as one who knows how to live, baby.

Recounting it is not so easy. As I said last time, the seductions of spring don't lend themselves to dutiful reportage. They're about melting into the moment and all that jazz. And if you do try to reconstruct the events after the fact, it's like sharing snapshots. Easier when you have cold, rain, and misery for contrast.

Or is this balking just another symptom of spring fever?

Well, if I were going to save a few images, I'd definitely include the six basking painted turtles on a log in the rain-swollen pond at Habitat, probably at that exact moment when three mallard drakes swam by behind them all in a row, green heads iridescent and military-looking.

And I would have to record the phoebe, my first of the season, high in a red-budding tree, preening its feathers.

And I promised Carol I'd say something about the heron. This was on Friday, a degree or two cooler (sexuaginta!). We were ambling through Mt. Auburn Cemetery, which will become a common venue in this space as the birding heats up. But for now, enough to say that the scylla lay under the beech and we were walking along lower Auburn Lake, which is very small for a lake, smaller than Willow Pond, where the daffodils laugh and the willows weep.

"Oh, look," says I and Carol takes a sharp breath. It's a great blue heron, her favorite bird. And very close, maybe twenty-five feet away, wading along the shore. Combined with the view through the binoculars, it was close enough to see the texture of the blue-grey feathers in spiral layers down its neck, and the elegant black ribbon off its fine head, and its pitiless, calculating, fisherman's eye.

It was a field study or rude voyeurism, depending on your point of view. We watched it shake its open bill a few times, and it brought home that animals are essentially mobile weapons, among other things. Unlike us, herons do not carry the spear; they are the spear. Or it's more complicated than that. They are the bird-spear, or spearish bird.

In any case, we saw how as it extended itself in exquisite tai chi, infinitesimally fluid, and suddenly shot forward, one movement, and came up with a large golden fish. Which it maneuvered neatly lengthwise and swallowed whole. This is called eating. Herons do it regularly, if they are to be herons. Yet seeing it happen seems so rare and wonderful and aw-poor-fish, and stop-the-presses, that it's no wonder we tend to see nature as "Nature," if we see it at all. But if we see it enough, then we become nature, which is really rare.

Playing out its haiku, the heron unpacked its magnificent wings and flew across the little lake to a spruce on the opposite shore. Heron in the tree. We watched it walk around on its mezzanine perch, probably feeling as pleased with itself as herons do, when interpreted by children's book writers. And then we ourselves moved on, all agog, as if we had swallowed a big fish.

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