It was one of the few days in October when the weather was perfect. Mild. Azure blue skies. White fluffy clouds. And what was even better – I felt well! Hardly any pain. It had been so long since either of those events had happened!
I was going to meet my friend for lunch. The plan was to head for one of our favorite outdoor restaurants – a little place on the dock of a Marina. We would watch the boats, listen to the fishermen tell their stories, and eat the best hamburgers anywhere. Enjoy each other’s company.
She called an hour before. Feeling sick. “Sorry. Just can’t make it.” It wasn’t unusual. Both of us had been seriously ill all year. The time we spent together was precious. I was disappointed. More than that – lost and lonely.
In that moment, something happened.
Ordinarily, I would shrug my shoulders, stay home and read or watch TV. But instinct told me to get outside. It seemed important. A realization that beautiful, pain free days were few and far between. If I could walk, I couldn’t afford to waste the time.
Without thinking, I got in my car… the need to be outdoors, to be part of the day, pushing me. And mysteriously, I knew just where to go. A County Park I had been to only once before. It has a lovely lake surrounded by trees and fields. Best of all, it has flat walking trails. I could do this.
It wasn’t crowded. I stepped on to the path, cane in hand, unsure about my balance, and headed out. It only took a moment before I realized I was exactly where I was meant to be.
I walked slowly. The pleasure of simply moving was one of the best feelings I ever had! I listened to the water wash up on the sandy bank beside me. Birds were singing. Mallard Ducks and Snow Geese swam together, quacking and honking, like neighbors gossiping. It was more than peaceful…it was as if I stepped into a Monet painting.
And then I saw him. A juvenile blue heron. His plumage pale, not quite the color of an adult. His legs like toothpicks. His beak far too large for his face. He walked calmly along the shore. He didn’t appear to be fishing; just perfectly content to stroll leisurely, taking no notice of me.
I froze, not wanting to disturb this wonderful creature, afraid he would fly away. He turned, looked at me, and stood still. After a moment, he turned back and continued his walk. It was as if he was inviting me to join him.
I moved a bit closer, carefully reaching for my camera. He remained calm.
The heron and I walked together along the lake for nearly an hour. Occasionally a runner or people out enjoying the day would pass by. Some stopped, surprised to see the unusual couple. We continued on, a strange companionship evolving. We walked in the sunlight and then under the trees, the blue sky reflecting on the lake, turning our private world into something magical!
Finally, he took flight.
I stood alone, reluctant to leave, not wanting the magic to end.
It has been almost two months since my walk with the heron, but the memory of that day is vivid…a photograph etched in my mind. A feeling of peace lodged in my soul.
Why, I wonder, did such a brief encounter with a bird, mean so much to me?
I have always loved herons.
I see them occasionally on the stream behind my house. I know all the legends about them.They symbolize grace, strength, independence, self reflection, longevity, calmness and solitude.
I believe there was a reason I felt compelled to go to that Park that day. Call it G_d or Spirit, or the Universe – something beyond my understanding. Whatever the cause, there was a lesson I needed to learn.
It is not easy – this growing old. My health is deteriorating, friends are dying, I am frightened and sometimes ask myself “Why am I alive?”
I found an answer that day.
I am alive because there is still beauty to behold, grace to be shared, people to love and the strength to go on. It doesn’t have to be big things, or planned. It doesn’t require youthful vigor or money. It can be simple, even unexpected. Magical.
Like a walk in the park with a heron.
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published in Jewish Sacred Aging, Jewish Women of Words, Starts At 60, Navigating Aging ( a Kaiser Health publication), Women’s Older Wisdom, Time Goes By and Next Avenue. Her poems, “Father Time” and “Carole’s Debate” were selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthologies of poetry, New Jersey Bards. Her photos have been featured in Mart R Porter Nature Forum.