I hold in my heart an absolute sorrow for birds, a sorrow so deep that at the first light of day when I shiver like reeds fluttering in a cold fall wind I do not know whether it is from the cold or from the sorrow. Whether I am even capable of feeling such kindness. Perhaps I am. The herons have taught me that.
One rainy winter dawn I stood beneath gray clouds with my arms up stretched, dripping in my cotton shirt (it was clear earlier, I did not heed the wind), staring at the sand at my feet, when I felt the birds alight. I first felt the flutter of golden plovers against my head, then black turnstones landing softly on my arms. The red phalarope with their wild artic visions, fighting the wind to land, prickling my shoulders with their needling grip. Their delicate bones denying the weight of anguish I felt from the journeys these birds had come.
Beneath the weight I recalled the birds of my childhood. I had killed a robin with a new BB gun. I thought the name of the kittiwake funny. Later, much later in life when my father died I wondered if the remaining uncles would want his fly rods. I coveted then in cold contradiction to my grief. Feeling watched I turned from his bed in the ICU and saw ravens watching me, perched on the bare branches of a cottonwood. They waited.
I became tired beyond the limits of what was capable, and lay on the sand, damp but warm.
When I awoke the sky had cleared. In the damp sea air I could smell cedar smoke, a cabin just up the mouth of the river. I felt from here I could see far, up to the headwaters. The plovers had told me what the herons do at night, what the tears they shed added to the mingled memories and guilt's of the people living along the river equaled.
The herons have tried to teach me, but I am still incapable of absorbing what they have to offer. I watch one across the river, just before the reeds on the other bank. Perhaps you know it is raining. The intensity of your stare is then not oblivion, only an effort to spot between the rain drops in the river, past your feet, the movement of small trout.
I know, your way is to be inscrutable. When pressed you leave, the dark grey of your wings fading into the mist. I wonder about the way you seem to brood about the water. Is it more than fish? Do you wonder what your tears have become, have transformed as they flowed downstream?
A dream, like all of my dreams, reveal something but not all. The dream told me that someday we will dance together. Before then I will have to become a trout, and bear scars from your stabbing, rare, misses.