Monday, October 1, 2012

once upon a heron

I get the most interesting emails. 

This one comes from Charlie Morgan. She works part-time at the nature center. And, yes, the Audubon print to the left is a whooping crane not a great blue heron but for the sake of this story, let's pretend it's the latter. 

Charlie begins, "For some time I’d thought of the great blue heron as 'my bird.'  It came to be, during a stressful bundle of life events, that the large but graceful bird became a symbol of strength for me. 

 Seeing one fly over my car on the way to work meant it was going to be a good day, a 'blue heron' day.

So I enjoyed a small swell of peace as I started watching a heron play with an alligator in the Everglades a few years ago.  I’m a lousy judge of distance, but they couldn’t have been more than about 50 feet away, just on the other side of the swale, close enough that I could see the baby alligators and hear their mewls.

Of course, the heron could, too.  And perhaps they sounded delicious, because he started to dance and dodge around mom.  

Now, it might seem unlikely for what we think of as such a vicious creature, but alligators are actually great moms.  They keep an eye on their eggs and are very hands-on, mouths-on actually, watching out for their babies.  When danger lurks or when she needs to move them elsewhere, mom gator gathers all the little ones, gently, into her mouth.  This gets challenging as they get a little bigger and a little wigglier.  They tend to squirm out through the gaps between mom’s big teeth.  

So at this point, mom was warding off the heron by lunging and snapping to move him away from her little ones.

Problem for her, though. The heron could fly.  As she lunged and snapped, he could quickly flap over and away from her and approach now-scattering babies.  I was amazed to be able to watch all this and I really began to feel tension mount as the confrontation escalated.  

The heron trying to distract mom to lure her away.  Mom lunging, snapping, chasing, then rushing back to herd her strays back to the group.  The heron seemed to be able to lure her farther away each time, making it hard for her to beat it back to the brood, until finally she didn’t make it back in time.

The heron had lunch dangling from his long bill in the form of a baby alligator.  Baby alligators are unseemingly adorable, and they mewl, and they cry.  I didn’t know they cried (or mewled for that matter) until that day.  

It was heartrending to watch as mom and baby cried to each other while the heron almost seemed to hesitate for what probably seemed longer than it was before doing the quick toss and swallow. And then it was over.

I had to really, really remind myself that this is all natural, all part of the awesome cycle of life.  And I felt unbelievably graced for seeing this horribly beautiful natural event played out so close before me, rather than on the TV screen.

It all unfolded like a dance and I wondered if the heron actually planned it all that way.  Wondered if mom gator grieved for the loss of the baby.  Wondered if any cognition or emotion was involved.  I know mine certainly was."

Thanks, Charlie!

 This is a baby alligator-eating great blue heron.

1 comment:

Marie said...

We are always so taken aback by the violence in nature...I wonder sometimes WHY when something happens, and yet I do understand with my mind. Just not with my heart. :-) This was so interesting...I'm glad your friend shared it!