I’m home in Vermont now, but being in Portland and thinking of B put me in mind of the last time I saw a black-crowned night heron, which was in September in that fair city.
A most beautiful, exotic bird.
The first time I saw black-crowned night herons was many years ago at the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge. It’s a beautiful spot, but to a beginning birder, it’s heaven. You have the ocean and the brackish spots and the forest and the Wildlife Loop that is open only to pedestrians and bicyclists during the day—cars can circle at dusk.
I believe it was dusk when we saw them.
They were all juveniles, roosting in the trees for the night, just over a stream. There must have been at least a dozen of them. They looked like stocky little aliens sitting there, staring at us, just far enough away with the water between us that they seemed none too threatened. I felt like I was truly in another world.
Any time I’ve seen a black-crowned night heron, it feels like something magical has happened.
One night last September (it must have been September, as it was already cold), Tim and I finished up dinner, probably at the pizza place, and afterward he said, “You wanna walk out on the pier?” I usually do, but something of my old city self kicked in, as it was dark, and I wondered if we should be out there at this hour. There weren’t that many people around.
But, of course, we did walk out, and when we got to the end, there was a bird sitting atop a wood pile (or, as some may say, post). It took a moment for it to register that it was a black-crowned night heron. I hadn’t seen one in so long, and it was just sitting there, seemingly undisturbed by the few people who were around. We stopped not far from it and watched it. It watched us.
There were a couple of guys behind us who asked us what kind of bird that was. We told them. This started a long chatty conversation of some sort. I’m trying to remember if they were fishermen, which would be the most likely thing—it seems they moved around a bit to work. But a lot of this conversation is lost to me because I kept sneaking glances back at the night heron, who eventually disappeared.
S/he was soon replaced by another distraction, though: a voice, a laugh. Three people had come down to the end of the pier and were sitting there chatting away. I thought I recognized one of them. It can’t be, I thought. Ilaria? Of course, it could be. She lived in this town, although not nearby.
Ilaria was a stylist who had worked with Tim a long time ago. She’d worked with Roger more recently, before he joined Tim’s company. Roger had kept up with her, and when Tim and I and Roger and his family were all in Portland the previous spring, we’d met up with Ilaria and caught up a bit. She is a kind soul, and it was great to see her.
But was that Ilaria? Not enough light, and these guys—one of whom was from Pennsylvania, now that I think of it, as is Tim—were talkin’ up a storm. But Tim must have noticed too, because I think he nudged me and said, “Ilaria?”
We called over. Ilaria indeed.
Circumstances were sad. Her friends had lost a relative; they’d all just had dinner together after a memorial service. Again, these (possible) details are all swirly. Her friends had immediately walked off to let Ilaria have her reunion. It was great one. Such a strange moment in time, full of coincidences that so easily might not have happened.
It’s hard to know when to listen to those voices that tell you that maybe you should be afraid. Sometimes I have not listened to them and regretted it. If I had listened to them that night, I would not have had the magical evening of Ilaria and the Black-Crowned Night Heron.© But I would never have known that I missed it, just like all the things I’ve missed and don’t know it. Of course, this kind of thinking can make you crazy if you let it. I guess you just go forward in life knowing you’ve missed some good things and you’ve dodged some bad things, and you haven’t missed some good things and you haven’t dodged some bad things. And that’s how it’s going to go.
But it’s all better with birds.