Sunday, June 13, 2010

Night Fliers

Sometimes the pad is half-blank. And I get a reproachful look from June 11 and June 12 as they rotate by, as if to say, "Wasn't we eventful enough for you, Blink?" (That's what they call us: Blink.) "Couldn't you find sup'm almanac-worthy to write about? Like maybe Jacques Cousteau's 100th birthday?" Sorry, boys.

Anyway, I doubt if they really care whether I commemorate them or not. It's me—fine, I—who feels the responsibility to fill the blanks. Even when all I have is a Bird and a Dream. Kind of like Walter Lantz.

The bird is the dashingly-named Black-Crowned Night Heron. ("Night" as an adjective confers a rakish, 40s radio, air of mystery. "I am. . . the Night Heron." [SOUND: Heavy wingbeats. Sinister music up.])

And of course the best place to see night herons is Mystic Lake. From the patch of woods where the lake becomes the river, you can count them along the Arlington shore: 2...5...8...10...14... A couple of brown juveniles, but mostly adults: dress white below, black and pearl-gray above. Mostly hunkered. Some on rocks. Some in trees. Some in the weeds. One or two in the water. It's faintly unsettling, if you didn't know, like the gathering of crows in Hitchcock's "The Birds." Day is not their active time, but now and then one will open its wide wings and change trees—more startling, maybe, than a Great Blue, for its smaller size. And briefly, you are a wildlife photographer on the Xingu River in Brazil, having discovered a rare colony of Black-Crowned Night Herons! [SOUND: Squonk!]

The following day I paid a visit to Meadowbrook, a tiny wetland tucked between a cemetery and a roadway along that fringe of shoreline. As I was leaning my bike, a large bird flew into a tree in front of me. I sidled carefully behind an intervening bush. Searched the tree. Nothing; then, out on a bare limb, to the left— there it was, silhouetted, broadwise. The night heron. Fixing me with a red eye.

Some encounters with birds are kind of otherworldly. I seem to have stepped into a Japanese folktale. Heron, cagily moving along the limb, lifting giant feet. Oversized head, compact body. Turning toward me, suddenly going slim as a hatchet blade. Supply dialogue. It flinches, flies away


I made a vow to a woman at a party that I would never be the kind of blogger who wrote about his dreams. But this is too good to forget: The Flying Boy and Blanche the Mousse Queen. It starts with a group of old men, including me, who live in an underground cavern (but roomy) in Nebraska. There is also a young boy, maybe ten, who has a flying machine, brown, boxy, kind of old-fashioned, which he practices flying in every day. We are kind of his doting uncles. One day he breaks through the ceiling of the cavern into the outer sky. A search ensues and becomes widespread, set in a large city, like New York. We are trying to find him, but keep focusing on the wrong flying machine. There seem to be a lot of copycats buzzing around.

While the other uncles are waiting on a skyscraper, I am driving around. Everyone knows about the missing boy. This guy I fall in with, a gumshoe, suggests we take a break to get a mango mousse at Blanche's. I opt for banana. We talk about the boy. It's not certain he wants to be rescued. Where is he going? At some point, Blanche the mousse queen morphs into a small square hand-held object, like a pocket calculator, except made of wood. She demonstrates her "permeability" by inviting me to poke her exterior with pencils. Eventually, I fit her with a metal outer jacket, and tenderly let her heal.

Good night, Blanche; good night, flying boy; good night, heron

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