Pequeño – Daily Prompt: Stranger in a Strange Land

The spider web encircling his elbow stretched grotesquely as he reached to take the binoculars from my outstretched hand.

Great blue heron adult July 2012 © Babsje (

Great blue heron adult in stillness.

It was only after I had maneuvered in close enough to grab onto the strut of his pontoon – without t-boning my kayak against the point – that he came into focus, all gelled and spiky hair and tats, the silver bolts through his eyebrow and lower cheek glinting. He was sinewy and compact and – surprisingly – handsome for someone you wouldn’t want to encounter alone on the street after dark.

Before deciding to pull alongside the paddleboat, I had focused on the pilot’s gang colors and insignia, and hadn’t noticed the man with the spider tattoo. The pilot’s hat alone screamed to me of power and danger, and yet there he was piloting a four-seater paddle-boat into the southern lake, with three similarly bedecked men. Somehow paddle-boats and gang activity don’t go hand-in-glove, and they looked to be strangers in a new and strange land, for them.

Maybe it was the fact that one of his passengers was a young girl wearing pink shorts that emboldened me enough to approach them. She looked to be about ten or eleven, still innocent-looking despite the company she was keeping, and I guessed her to be one of the men’s daughter. Their women were surely back at the grills near the beach making dinner.

I had planted the kayak in the shade of overhanging trees along the western shore where the water gently lapped against my hull, picking up in intensity only when a larger boat rounded the point.

I heard them – boisterous and happy – before I felt their wake, and I felt their wake before I saw them, and when I saw them the first thing I was was the captain’s over-size gang hat.

And the second thing I saw was their telegraphed trajectory – heading straight for the small nesting island. There was no doubt about that, and no doubt that they would make landfall, and no doubt that the adult male would flee the nest and chicks when they did, for he is a skittish heron. I say this all from experience.

I paddled out from under the leafy canopy into the open water and shouted out a greeting while paddling quickly towards them, aiming to cut off their path in a subtle way.

They answered my greeting, a good sign, and so I called out to them and explained “You can’t go to the island. There are protected birds there in a nest with babies. Don’t go to the island.”

And I held out my arm with the binoculars, gestured with the binocs, and asked them “Would you like to see the birds?”

And closer I paddled, not knowing if we even spoke enough of the same language to understand each other.

They pedaled towards me, and I paddled towards them until the tip of my bow nudged alongside their right pontoon.

I handed off the binoculars to the man with the spider tattoo, and pointed to the nest and gave him the quick nature story talk about the herons and chicks and cormorants. As I was explaining that the heron is around four feet tall, he exclaimed “Beautiful,” and “Grande,” and something else that I couldn’t follow, but the look on his face was so soft and kind and he was clearly pleased to see the birds up close through the binoculars.

He handed off the binocs to the young girl, and all three of the grown men were solicitous of her, each wanting to make sure she could focus the binocs and see the nest. And when they were assured that, yes, she did see the nest and the birds, they each took turns with the binocs, and made big smiles and little exclamations about how grande and beautiful, and we talked about how the cormorants are much smaller than the herons and they taught me their word for small – Pequeño.

A new bird for them, a new word for me, and for all on those two small boats that day I think, a new understanding of how the beauty of great blue herons can bridge the gaps between us.

Thanks for the Daily Prompt nudge Michelle W. and WordPress.


(This took place July 5, 2012)


A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Five Crows is on FaceBook. To give the gallery a visit, please click here.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2013 Babsje. (

Great Blue Heron, Kayaking

Posted on July 17, 2013, in ardea herodias, Art, Birds, daily prompt, Great Blue Heron, Nature, Photography, Photography challenge, postaday, Weekly Challenge, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. I’ve seen them doing this. So bizarre looking, aren’t they?!

    • Yes, they’re fascinating! They do this to keep cool – anhingas do this as well – and it’s really neat to see the chicks in the nest doing it, too.

  2. This is a great piece of writing, Babsje – the tension of suspicion – the final goodwill exchange.

    • Thank you for saying that. It was a very intense experience, the scintilla of fear that I felt at first melted as the men showed their solicitousness towards the young girl, teaching her how to use the binocs, and their obvious joy at seeing the baby herons in the nest. It was a great day.

  3. What a lovely tale and a great outcome. I remember the first time I saw a cormorant (or anhinga?) airing out its armpits in Florida. I didn’t recognize the bird at that time, but looked it up when I got home to Utah. They look so comical when they do that. These days I see them quite frequently living on the Oregon coast.

    • Thanks for the kind words and the follow. It was a very happy experience, rewarding for us all. Cormorants are iconic when they cool their wings, aren’t they? And anhingas are beautiful,too. Glad to have met you via your blog.

  4. Your captures and captions are fabulous!

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