Wednesday, August 31, 2011
A Tall Grayish Figure (Part II)
The elegant gray figure has followed me here, or rather, there are many like him (or her) here in Oklahoma. They are far more reclusive than my Georgetown fellow. If they sense our presence at all they take flight.
We have one frequent visitor to the pond near our house. He glides in over the trees, drops low and working his wings, lands expertly along the edge of the water and resettles his feathers. After a few moments of reacquainting himself with his surroundings, he begins walking gingerly along the edge of the pond, his high, backward steps measured and slow. He looks like an old man walking contentedly through a park with his hands clasped behind his back. No rush, just passing the time, enjoying the view. But the heron is a hunter. His disinterested behavior only lulls the water creatures into a sense of safety. He studies the ground as if choosing among the offerings of tiny delicacies on a silver tray. The pond pops with mud-brown frogs no bigger than a thumbnail and small fish dart in and out of the shallows. He stops and stares hard into the water. Under the heron’s laser gaze is one of these frogs or a fish that isn’t paying attention.
One late afternoon as the setting sun lit the eastern side of the pond, a heron stood among the tall grasses at the pond’s edge and gazed into the still brown water. Suddenly his head darted forward and we saw a large fish struggling in his beak. With quick and careful maneuverings, the heron twisted the fish so that it followed the line of his beak and bit by bit, the heron swallowed his prey. It looked to be too big for even this large bird and for several moments we watched as the heron gulped, the shape of the fish clearly visible within the long neck. I was reminded of Carson McCuller’s story about the jockey who was so small and thin one could see the outline of a lamb chop in his stomach after he’d eaten it. The fish then was completely gone, down into the heron's stomach and he resumed his measured steps along the shore.
(The Carson McCuller’s quote, from her short story The Jockey, is: “Sylvester turned to the rich man, ‘If he eats a lamb chop, you can see the shape of it in his stomach a [sic] hour afterward. He can’t sweat things out of him anymore. He’s a hundred and twelve and a half. He’s gained three pounds since we left Miami.’ ‘A jockey shouldn’t drink,’ said the rich man.”)