Standing with a Heron

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By: Lisa Steele-Maley

I took off my shoes when I set out on the trail this morning. My transient thoughts were easily replaced by the simple pleasures of wet earth beneath my feet, changing seasons in the air, and glimpses of butterflies. While the river on the horizon and vast field in front of me suggested a far-away place, the hum of the freeway and the horn of a passing train reminded me that I was just outside of town. I was just stopping by for a quick walk between two obligations. 

Rounding the bend that turned me back towards the parking lot, I found myself staring at a heron. He was standing just a few yards off the path in a muddy patch of the field. He was not hunting; there wasn’t any water nearby and his gaze was loose, not fixed.  He was just standing, the way herons do — strong, silent, still. Motionless, he beckoned me to join him.

Grateful for the invitation, I knew I would stay as long as he would have my company.

I reached for my phone, hoping to capture our shared time, thinking I could save the experience to appreciate again another day or share with someone else. I took a video of his graceful and sturdy presence until my phone ran out of storage space. When it did, I put my phone away quickly, knowing it could not possibly capture this moment and a little embarrassed that I had held my little screen between us.

With relief, I gave myself fully to the heron, to my standing, and to our shared stillness. Meeting his quiet presence with my body, mind and heart, we stood in stillness together until we were no longer two creatures standing in a field. We were, clearly, one with each other and with the field. We stood, in this oneness, for several minutes (or maybe it was several hours).

Finally, the heron turned to walk away. He took a few deliberate and patient long-legged steps toward the river before pausing again for just a slight moment longer. Maybe he moved because the sun was in his eyes or maybe it was lunchtime … or maybe he had heron business to attend to elsewhere. Whatever the reason, his movement brought me back to my human body, standing in a moist field on a mid-September morning. I needed to be moving along also. After all, I figured I had human business to attend to. The day had promised to include dozens of the concerns, questions, and conversations that a human life carries in this time and place. I had not planned for it to include long moments (or was it hours?) with a heron.

As I turned to continue along the path, a pale purple butterfly flew off my left foot. Apparently, she had joined our meditation too. Her delicate levity offered perfect balance to the heron’s gravity.

Walking away, I was grateful for the invitation to pause and join the heron in stillness so fully that the mirage of our separateness dissolved completely for a moment. I was grateful for the presence of creatures who remind me that we are one. And I was grateful that these moments, though always with me and within me, come to find me when I need them most.

As I stepped off the trail and into my next commitment, I held gently to the heron’s stillness, the butterfly’s levity, the wet earth at my feet, and the gentle breeze. May I carry their clarity and presence into my work and relationships. May I invite others into that peace that connects us all. May the embrace of stillness forever delight.

Aram Mitchell

Renewal in the Wilderness, 20 Roberts Street, Falmouth, ME, 04105