A Wing and a Prayer
I have a heron. A gorgeous, mysterious Great Blue. In the mornings when the sun is bright, I pull back my bedroom drapes and look first thing. He’s an early bird, and often he’s already landed, punctual, a morning staple, like the newspaper waiting in the damp grass. From my window I have the slimmest keyhole view through my neighbor’s gate out toward the harbor, where at the end of a dock he sits. Regal, still, his pewter feathers nearly indistinguishable from the slate sky. He is my talisman, and when I catch him there, for some inexplicable reason my day feels charmed.
I pause and watch, admiring his quiet certitude. He knows just where he wants to be, honing awkward wings to light upon the exact same spot, day after day, on the sad, tumble-down dock left to fend for itself after a hurricane years ago twisted the two-by-fours into what now looks like a decomposing strand of DNA. He could land several feet over in either direction and claim swankier docks with smooth boards and flags waving in the morning breeze, but no, he opts for old, splintered wood, weathered to his same shade of gray. I don’t begin to know what draws him here, in my narrow line of vision, but I delight in his faithful presence. I choose to believe it has some meaning, that my heron’s regular dock hours hold some message, some wisdom born of wings that my steely angel brings just for me.
Some mornings his elegant S neck and head are turned toward the open harbor, his stiletto beak pointing eastward, sharp and intentional. Other days he’s hunched, balancing impossibly on one spindly leg, his long neck and other leg both retracted, folded into his body. I imagine his eyes shut. He’ll stay bowed down against the chill for hours. A monk with bad posture.
In the unsettling anxiety and media-amplified animosity of the final weeks of the campaign, I looked for my heron with increased frequency and urgency. I needed the reassurance of his dignified silence. I longed for the calming grace of his watchful indifference. Seeing him there gave me some hope that all would turn out all right, that a Presidential candidate with a heron-like settled core and inner compass might, just might, have a chance. Looking for my Great Blue became a habit, an automatic turn of my head toward the dock each time I got in and out of my car or walked by my bedroom window, much like the ritual gestures, the good luck genuflections, that athletes or obsessive-compulsive folks perform. Like the precise way Maria Sharapova approaches the service line, tucks wisps of hair behind each ear, bends over and gives a slow, steady bounce, bounce, before delivering a 115 mile-per-hour ace. How is it we jinx ourselves into believing our small, insignificant actions impact an outcome?
Maybe because our small actions are not so insignificant. Because that’s the only we way ever impact anything. One small vote. One unspoken prayer. One phone call. One bold letter to the editor. One look out toward the water.
A glance over my shoulder seeking a mysterious heron may be one of the saner things I do. Not because his presence or absence holds any real sway over events, but because I paused, I looked. Luck, I believe, is neither blind nor dumb. It’s awake, aware, active, intelligent. It looks; it patiently takes note. It quietly, or not so quietly, speaks up.
Election outcomes aside, my good fortune is the awe and gratitude I experience when my Great Blue beauty has appeared again. My sheer amazement that for some reason he has chosen this one spot in the whole expanse of shore and marsh to return to and sit and mull over warming sea temperatures, disappearing wetlands, or whatever it is a heron mulls over. In that quick glance I take flight from my small world of worries and share in nature’s quiet and incomprehensible offering. Hope, as Emily Dickinson wrote, is the thing with feathers. And last Tuesday, I watched those feathers gloriously take flight.