Friday, October 29, 2010

10.27 Great Blue Herons in a Quincy Marsh

10.27 Great Blue Herons in a Quincy Marsh
First, it was beautiful. More beautiful than it had been in a year.
Where wild low vines crawled over the earth, their leaves had turned maroon, charging the landscape with dark red patches. Where the marsh grass stood up, the late afternoon light had caught the bronze autumn coloring of the grasses and burnished them with gold.
And wherever the marsh cordgrass (spartina patens) lies flat – which is most of any salt marsh – on what is generally dry ground, water had submerged the surface, shining in pools amid the grass.
Maybe it was a recent rain, or the unusually high water level in the marsh, but all the colors in the marsh were shining. Along with pale yellow leaves in the bordering wood, reddish scrub and vines, bronzed two-toned marsh grasses consisting of waves of reddish-brown crossed by lines of golden-tawny.
And then the stick figure of the wading bird. For a bird its size, the folded-up stock-still version of the great blue heron can be hard to see. I am walking straight toward before its image materializes in my vision. Even then it looks like a sapling stick, a little bit twisted up besides the tall grasses. It’s also perched in an unusual place at very edge of the narrow walking trail, a normally dry surface. But today that that part of the marsh is half afloat.
Now the thing is, because the day was cloudy, the light unpromising, when I left the house I considered taking the camera but decided, no, don’t bother. So I have no camera. Now the sun, which has apparently been hiding itself by the shore, is gold-sharp and shiny with watery reflections.
Fortunate heron, free of undue stalking by me. But since the path is taking me directly toward him I have no choice but to approach. A few steps later, the bird uncoils his anatomy, opening his enormous wings to increase his body surface by about 800 percent, and takes off around the bend.
He doesn’t know the trail will round that bend as well and bring me straight toward his new hiding place.
This pas de deux happens twice more as the trail curves, bringing the out of sight intruder back into bird’s eye view. I approach, he looks askance, considers, then opens his lithe grey-blue sky-finders and glides away. At the third sighting I realize there’s another great blue, identical battleship coloring in the marshes directly behind him, about two hundred feet away. This one sees me first and even though I’m keeping a considerable distance is the first to extend wings and lift off. He/she (matey?) flies all the way across the marsh and is lost to sight.
The first bird takes a shorter hop, in response, but as I draw close once again a tall colony of marsh grass intervenes between his silent wading perch and my slow trail so I get within fifteen feet or so before he realizes someone’s popping up again. This time he takes off without a backward look, grabbing more air, and disappears from sight. I go back to marveling over the great color in the marsh grass.
It’s wet underfoot in places where I usually walk without fear of wet feet. After a little squishing, I take some detours, and finally get back on trail in the second half of the loop, well on the way to returning. Then the heron explodes, though silently, out from some trees and flies low across my path over the marshes before disappearing over a distant tree line.
I can’t count how many good shots I’ve missed.
So the next day, of course, I bring the camera, and the sun is shining. But it’s too much sun. The colors aren’t the same, beautiful by any standard and only failing to measure up the heights set the day before. And the marsh is no longer wet and shiny; maybe that takes some of the luster off. Whatever happened to the tides or the tide management at the watergate has drawn off the water.
I do see one of the great blue herons. It’s a long away off, though, across the flattened grass, a place not interesting to a fish-hunting wading bird because it now has no water, and even then gives me a fish-eyed glance as my trail comes round and leads me toward him. He’s still a long way off when he lifts off and I start clicking.
It’s too far. The perfect happens only when it chooses, and never on schedule.

The Perfect Moment

Great blue in the grass
Red marshes shining behind
Camera at home