Friday, September 21, 2007

Lesson from an Egret

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Algonkian Regional Park
Loudon County, Virginia

The Potomac loafs along beside me, a river without appointments to keep. In the woods, a crow protests indignantly. A man's voice crosses the water from three orange canoes. It's clearly Spanish, though the words are indistinct. Next a woman answers him with a voice like a vigorous fountain, its qualities magnified where its meaning is lost. An ember-bright leaf pirouettes in an eddy. The canoes round a bend and are gone. The air smells greenly of damp.

And still the egret stands like a statue of a bird, and not a real bird at all. He makes me think of a tall, gaunt wizard from a fairy tale, with a gray cloak and a nose of perposterous length. Fifteen minutes ago, he careened from the bank, beating his great, pinioned wings against the air like two silken battering rams, across the dazed black reflection of the trees on the Maryland shore. He came to rest on a shelf of rock, and there froze, unruffled as a photograph. He waited, ever so long, while I watched him peer into the mellow current.

At once he stirs and steps into the water, wading with imperial self-possession on his three-pronged, dragonish feet. The water could not tremble less at the passage of his stilt legs as he stalks his supper. His neck arches like the bending of a lithe bow, one of a piece with the snapping arrow of his beak. He gives a loud cry with no music in it, a squawk like a startled old man, a sound I must take for egret joy. He uncoils his neck. Like an idea in motion, too quick for my sight, he plunges his dark head into the flow and pulls it back with a writhing fish.

I want to be more like the egret, with the patience to be still without exhaustion, to never mind the idle currents or be dazzled by the glamour of light on water; but, knowing the good thing I wait for, to coil my hope in constant readiness, and to act in brave certitude when it comes.

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