“The achieve of, the mastery of the thing!”
In my daily walk to the Post Office of our village, I often stop on the bridge that crosses Wheeling Creek. Sometimes I can see muskrats in the water; often I’ll see a Great Blue Heron standing motionless in the water, fishing. Herons are common along our creek, and I love watching them — for me they’re an image of stillness, focus, simplicity. They don’t like to be seen, and this one will usually fly away, showing his magnificent six-foot wingspan, when he notices me.
Not long ago, as I crossed the bridge I noticed “my” heron in his accustomed spot in the creek. Instead of standing upright (herons are perhaps four feet tall when erect) he was crouched down, his head tilted slightly, looking intently into the water. After holding this position for what felt to me like a long time, he stabbed his head into the water and emerged with a large fish, maybe ten inches long, in his bill. With a few precise movements he maneuvered the wriggling fish until its head was in his mouth, then swallowed it whole. (A heron’s neck is probably no thicker than this fish — herons must have flexible gullets.)
It occurred to me that, for all the years that I’ve spent watching these magnificent creatures, I’d never actually seen one catch a fish. I went home satisfied and thankful.
The title of this post is from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “The Windhover”