Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you.Annie Dillard
I had a marvelous summer adventure at the little rocky beach at the sea butt of Lansdowne (where it empties into and draws from Beach Drive). A small sign in the wild lot straight across Beach reads “beach access”—from there, a lane of commons between houses of the rich, straight through the fieldy lot and down a little hidden bush-tunneled winding path I walked my Bike #1. Out into the open in the glorious sun on the sheltered east side of this island.
Enwaffled in brown-gold seaweed scrolled in real salt water below the green-kelp line, green kelp completely covering the strip up to what I deduced was the high-tide line. The tops of some of that green kelp drying then to white since tide out on that lovingly warm high summer day. My recently departed parents' 2-masted Death sloop at anchor out there in direct close-middle distance. Beyond, humble happy arms of Gulf islands, and then the mainland. Above, perfect coolant, relaxed carefree summer cirrus. Blue sky day.
I basked shirtless. The right grip-shift on #1 bicycle (“King”), fixed (replaced) at last by an honest Christ at the shop on Quadra very close to and across the street from the Roxy theatre. King again after a stint with the consul, a sturdy and altogether admirable mountain bike I got for $50 at a yard sale around October 2002.
At first, geese pressed their precious brown and white presence into reflections in the tidal pool viewing screen [inner], necks curly and curved as the gold-brown seaweed of their Sargasso pond (inlet sheltered by a large rock island across 77% of its entrance harbor). There they S-curved their beauty among thick abundance.
For some reason I had clued out that geese were waterfowl, so it was fun to be outside conventional packaging.
But in the alturning (?) of things, next appeared a blue heron, on a serious but of course invested-with-the-hardwired-luxury-of-its-powerful-aerodynamics, flight south.
I turned from something else, perhaps pouring from my luxurious stainless steel .99 litre thermos the day’s first mug of fresh coffee ground from whole beans in my electric grinder just before brewing the litre drip-style through an unbleached brown cone. And a beautiful little blue tin cup I found that I had used for paint in some forgotten Jurassic of the last 20 creative years—which (cup and years both) I exercised assertive volition to clean up, scrubbing with cloth, dish liquid and fingernails (in the case of the years, digitalizing) until it (they) looked clean. With a smaller container, how many more cups of coffee I can have!
But Mr. or Mrs. Heron (I forgo using “Ms.” Because the “r” looks so much like a standing bird with outstretched beak), up til now I projected “he” was here for a performance. What a feed! I watched for perhaps 30 or 40 minutes, after filling in a long period of attention elsewhere. Come on—let us all go to this summer show. I watched from an ancient niche in the wide wild basalt balcony.
So the heron. In. A. Slow. Meticulous. Walk. Around. The pond. Roughly clockwise, precise as a minute-hand slant, lifting feet slowly, slowly lowering them, must have successfully snatched from a bay inches deep maybe 40 or more gulpdowns—none of which I was able to discern to identify, or none of which I ascertained, though one required quite a few jerks of the head, the thing apparently flapping, out old (or young, who knows? Old in story) Heron’s beak. Mechanistic, spare, scissorlike, parabolic, elongating.
The heron’s attention seems complete, precise, a geometric study, curves and purity of Dreamtime alert motionlessness, as if its models were geometries, line-drawings of ovals, crossbows, ranging from left to right and at a considerable catchment, considering the height of the upstretched head on a neck obscene at full stretch: it stuck its neck out, for me to toss over it rings of free creative thought.
Well over half an hour, this single pond-hunt and feast. Tossin’ ‘em back. The geese, obviously neither hungry nor energetic for activity, rest on the harbor entrance rock island. They leave Heron the entire pond to herself. Deference? Concensus? Would this always be the case?
A naturalist’s climax approached. The Heron in its slo-mo raptor angle-act, crop full I assume, cake-walked out of the water up onto a narrow green-slime outcrop. There in a minute it flashed its wings open as if it were about to depart, but then seemed to change its mind. Then it spread both wings, did a single flap, like a flasher, and emitted a formal high croak. Closed its wings, then bowed slightly. I guessed, from my small file of heron memories, that the croak would signal liftoff—but no. The head honcho of the geese
—the heron was facing them from closeby across the harbor gap-- himself immediately stood, did a single wingspread flap-response, exactly the same gesture back to the heron--then immediately stepped forward and, with head low, walked down to the water. In tight procession, each other goose rose, shook itself, and walked, bowed, down to the water—one after the other. Then, one by one but close upon each other, entered the water and proceeded to paddle across the inlet mouth out of sight—no wings in use except for that one single semaphoric signal in all this—walking and paddling transport though free-range, freelance crows flew obviously close to the heron a few minutes before it stepped up to the greenslime jut.
Across the strait, a line of beachfront houses, some hammering and banging from over there, as per municipal-industrial law—there must be banging, a chainsaw, an airplane or a lawnmower at all times everywhere. Nowhere must the silence of a summer day with the punctuation of natural sounds ever be permitted to enter human consciousness.
Ten minutes after issuing the orders and the geese moving on, the heron still perches and grooms. A crow or two, and one gull gracefully angling in does a little taunting dance this side of the watchful heron, out in the open stage of surreal nature here with its audience of one, Mr. Man, nowhere near the Careful Watcher old Heron modeled, but nonetheless a stalker who had made his catch, and these words are the flapping of the tail.
Finally Man rose to its feet and stepped down to a rock to stand in full commanding view of the little sea-pond: that act alone sent the heron launching, swishing its big wings, exiting low over the water. A little while back I had told it, quietly, to go but it didn’t obey that verbal command. A physical gesture was obviously required. Standing there wasn’t intended as such a gesture, but was taken as one. Man didn’t even need to flap his miserable excuses for wings, though I was high on freedom and thought, and offer no more excuses. The airborne heron swung off north upcoast-- then a minute later returned, flying higher, maybe ten or fifteen feet up, followed by, or following, a mate—two blue herons passed southward. Four, including their reflections in the pond, and God knows how many in the reflections of the human. I was still standing there when one of them returned, flying low, outside the island—to check if I was still there.
Meanwhile a gull had crossed the very centre of the now liberated pond, and returned to stand on the shore and throw up its wings with a little cheer. I really do feel they are the Outdoors cheerleaders in this town bordered on three sides by the sea, a town where you can get drunk on oxygen.
Some kids, or two kids, might have been peeking at me, the sole human in that archaic anarchic scenario—thought I heard voices, thought I heard one say something like “he’s OK” or something with that meaning. Imagined myself a magical creature in the eyes of rich kids hiding behind a hedge in summer in their child-summer lives, hunting story. I sipped my superb coffee, and turned my face their way (leeward) a couple of times, sort of acknowledging them by a smile as I did so. No idea what affect this might have on two kids hunting story—could turn them right off. But me—I took implantation in the out-tide fecund beauty that belonged to me—even the two boats moored to a wharf way above the tideline in kelp zones—how the one lists, thus holds a human emotion or emotional mix not immediately nameable as I observed—leaning in to the farlanded wharf, perhaps, for comfort? Those boats and the wharf were mine. Whoever held any “official” title to ownership was in all likelihood not even thinking about the boat—but I was the sole human in a real relationship with the actual
boat in full summer sunshine right Now.
That the kelp, slime, rocks, sea, strait, headlands, sky were mine was amazing as we skim over these things, astonishing as we hit the sky!
I used to follow lonely 50-something adolescent males down into European cities, existential solitary thinkers, steppenwolfs of the lonely crowd, down the stairs of books, the stairs of text across pages. That was some years after following younger male heros into far dimensions of space-time. But that layer of literature, in fact, the very floor of literature in my house of reading is a couple of stories (sic) down now. I’ve read mostly nonfiction since 1979, commentary attending the one narrative that filled the celestial sphere, The Story Of My Life Within History.
And the summer afternoon? Here: I took it with me.Ted Hughes: The story begins in heaven, where God is having a nightmare. The nightmare appears to God as a hand. And this hand, in his nightmare, is also a voice - so it is a voice-hand or a hand-voice. And this thing comes the moment he falls asleep. This thing arrives and grabs him round the throat, and throttles him and lifts him out of his heaven and rushes him through his universe and pushes him beyond his stars and then ploughs up the Earth with his face and throws him back into heaven.