I’m becoming accustomed to seeing her in the mornings when I walk, tall and steel grey out among the gentle rapids of the river which winds along my trail.
She looks half prehistoric, half over-stretched long and willowy elegant swan, only blue. And her legs are so long that most mornings, she appears as if she’s walking on water.
One morning recently, as I rounded a bend in the trail, I took a small jut off to the left on a rabbit trail down to the edge of the rapids. A few large rocks stand not far from the shore, and when the water is down, they make fantastic sitting places. That morning, as I reached the edge of the water, I saw that she was only fifteen feet or so from me, but with her back turned. Somehow I had managed to sneak up on her without knowing I was doing so, and by the time she had turned, I was settled on one of those rocks looking for all the world like part of the natural furniture.
She came closer and I tried to be as still and silent as possible, wanting to take her in as best I could, wanting to learn her in all her glory.
I’ve come to expect her in the same place along the trail. She is like the storied aging faces of the morning walkers who I see every time I hit the trails, without fail.
There’s one man, a mechanic (he always has on his blue work shirt with his name and blue work pants) who is old enough to be my dad. He always has delightfully unusual things to say as he passes me on the trail.
There was one morning a few months ago when I hit the trails for the first time in a month after having worked hard in the summer for a friend, and that morning as he passed me speed walking, he said “hey stranger! I ain’t seen you in a long time! Miss seein’ your pretty face.” I think it was the first time I realized really that I was in a particular habit, and my habit was intersecting with others so that I became expected to be somewhere, a particular part of a particular landscape, and a particular ritual.
Now when I see him in the mornings, I study him from afar, like the heron, wanting to learn him and what is his glory.
There’s the quirky man with the too-short neon-yellow shorts, a runner with legs like a wild-game bird and an amazingly warm smile whose first lap around the trails takes place with a trash bag, not because he has to, but because he cares. He reminds me of my beloved fourth-grade teacher, another quirky warm man of the same build. Running or walking, I usually take my time, and so sometimes this man passes me six? seven? times during my half an hour or so along the river. But always he waves and smiles, every time.
There’s a middle-aged lady I see nearly every morning I’m out, with a kind and beautifully lining face. Her hair is in this beautiful stage between youth and age, naturally the color God gave her for this time of life. She has a mischievous glint in her eye and a gently smug knowing about her. She’s the kind of person one might seek out for her wisdom.
There are the doctors, a middle aged man who looks rather fit and classic, and his young apparently Indian woman friend who looks like she walked off the set of ER or some other medical drama. They talk quietly with an intimacy that tells they are friends.
There’s the other man, also middle-aged, with a great smile and this certain gait when he walks. He wears old-fashioned ear-phones (the kind with the head-band which resemble ear-muffs in the way they cover your entire ears). He sings and hums as he walks. Sometimes I can imagine what he looked like as a boy – his face still has that kind of innocence about it, but the innocence that comes from knowing, from having lived, from choosing a certain life. Or maybe innocence isn’t quite right – goodness, contentment, something…
These are blue herons to me, the spectaculars of a certain landscape of my life, unique in their humanity and yet ordinary.
This morning as I walked, I decided how I’m on the look out for more blue herons, the marvels of particular times and places, the way ordinary ritual and ordinary being lends itself to revealing glory if only we stop to study and learn, to really see.