The Heron Rookery

Now that the storm clouds have settled like sleeping dogs above the pasture
and the water spilling from the leaf-full gutters pours onto the grass like hot glass
          to be molded,
and now that the only bottomland road into town sleeps on the floor of a small
and the steam rises thick as gauze from the earth, I step outside into bone-chill
and though my breath is visible, I am twenty-two again, three weeks hired,
leading a group of spring birdwatchers to a place I have never been.
The lone strand of hair in a brush, we snaked miles through thorned forest to
          the rookery.
Cypress knees. Dead sycamores.
We arranged ourselves in a crescent moon around the beaver-dammed swamp and
          saw nothing.
I felt I had failed them, and it seemed no hand-swipe or air stream would cut the
          fog that morning,
so I crawled off and compiled my list of excuses: early in season, herons are
          most active at dusk;
a crowd as large as ours, with increases in the use of scented deodorants and
          body sprays,
will frequently repel wildlife; I have no idea where we are.
                                                                                                    There is a myth in
which people are drawn to an element of themselves in fog—hint of
wakening night, maybe a spirit pinned to an oak’s low trunk meant to settle our
          restless lives.
As a boy, I thought I could run a series of wide-arcing circles through a storm
          without one raindrop
touching my skin, as if I could outrun the clouds, or more importantly,
that there was something in them to be outrun, something giant that spoke of
Curly-haired, bird-chested, I’d return from every gallop with a shirt for wringing,
          feeling pulled
toward the rain—how a beam of sunlight knifing a billow of dark clouds could be
          the cane
an old man had propped in his front-room corner and wandered off again,
He’d make it across town before coming-to or forgetting everything on a park
an old man in rainfall, lonely as I was in that thick of water trees wreathed in mist,
the herons’ S-curved necks and trailing feet veiled from fifteen pairs of eyes
          on me, whispering:
God of wetlands, God of the upturned glance, bless the Trade Winds, endow them
          with the strength to push or pull,
to lift or sink this front from our eyes and return this mating ground to the
          splendor of your name.
Upon my mumbling, nothing happened. We ate lunch. I apologized.
And as we turned to crouch and wriggle our way back,
the vapor engulfing our vision whirled and rose as if escaping a flue.
Cedars and pines, wind through their limbs, played the thin wooden music above
this great blue colony held like a closet of wire hangers, like one hundred
turning back toward release, like motionless buoys anchored in the gale, signaling
          the flight channel home.

Author: Timothy Shea