Category Archives: Patience

Patience

Quirky Artist Stories Nbr 6: Be Still My Heart

© Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron South Lake B+W

Coming soon to a lake nearby?

A girl can dream.

© Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Tsunami Kayak at the Lake in Winter of 2015

When last I visited the lake, Ol Blue was snug in her winter cave, nearly buried beneath some of the 109 inches of snow that fell this season. Despite the stumbling trek over nearly four feet of snow blanketing the shore, it was heartening to see her label “Tsunami” peeking through that slash of an opening, as she hibernated within.

It was March 1st, and by any rights the two of us would be back on the water in a mere 30 days.

Or so I thought.

The snows of February extended well into March, with the lakes still frozen into the start of April. Even now, some mounds of snow border the sidewalks, yet the waves of migrating birds seem undeterred, as Nature awakens all around.

Including the Great Blue Heron I saw foraging in the small retaining pond last week.

Especially including that Great Blue Heron.

Be still my heart.

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This week’s photo challenge is Afloat. Thanks to Krista and WordPress for this topic. Soon, Ol Blue and I will be afloat on the lake. With the herons. Be still my heart.

Thanks also to Leanne Cole and Laura Mackey for hosting the Monochrome Madness challenge. It’s worth visiting Leanne and Laura’s challenge page to see other outstanding interpretations of monochromatic photography.
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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™

© 2015 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron, Kayaking

Quirky Artist Stories Nbr 4: Personal Best

© Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

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It was a grey, misty ephemeral-looking sort of day, and the Heron on the small lake where I lived was suitably elusive, standing statue-like atop a seventy-foot tall pine on the southern shoreline. It was the day before Thanksgiving, 2009, the latest day in the year I had ever been out in a kayak with the Great Blue Herons.

That is, until yesterday.

The bold sunlight cast twinkles before my kayak, an echo of the sparkling joy I experienced there all alone on the water.

Kayaking in New England in mid-December, a personal best in terms of the calendar alone.

A peak experience in terms of the sheer, sparkling joy of it all

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This week’s photo challenge is Twinkle. Thanks to Jen H and WordPress for this topic.

Thanks also to Leanne Cole and Laura Mackey for hosting the Monochrome Madness challenge. It’s worth visiting Leanne and Laura’s challenge page to see other outstanding interpretations of monochromatic photography.
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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™

© 2014 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron, Kayaking

What Empties Itself

The maple’s green hands do not cup
the proliferant rain.
What empties itself falls into the place that is open.

Jane Hirshfield
A Hand (excerpt)
Given Sugar, Given Salt

© Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron in the rain,

The squall snuck up on me – and the Great Blue Heron – without warning. One minute, a noticeable increase in the breeze, the next, the rains. The kayak scudded on small whitecaps before I brought her under control. The sun kept shining faintly through thin layers of clouds, and I looked for a rainbow, to no avail.

And the Great Blue Heron? She remained rooted to the upturned limb throughout, enduring wind and waterdroplets as the blue kayak and I danced on waves further out in the cove.

Instinctively, I dropped the camera below decks where it was dry, and watched the heron through (waterproof) binocs.

Surely she would go elsewhere in search of shelter? But no, she remained stoic, preening impassively, water sluicing from her feathers.

Just as leaves on a tree shed the rain.

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This week’s photo challenge is endurance. Thanks to Krista and WordPress for this topic. If the heron could endure the rain, so could I. My camera gear is not waterproof, but I had the next best thing – a DIY camera housing improvised on the spot. I placed the camera in a large zip-top plastic baggie, tore a hole that snugly fit the lens opening, and took dozens of photos during the rain, with occasional pauses to wipe water droplets from the lens.

This week’s Sue’s challenge is hole. Although this photo doesn’t show the hole, it could not have been taken without a hole for the lens.
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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™

© 2014 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron, Kayaking

The One that Didn’t Get Away – Weekly Photo Challenge: Curves

When the great blue heron resurfaced, her prize catch struggled mightily, the curve of its back straining left then right, scales and fins glistening.

The man in the hip waders put finger to his lips in the universal gesture of “ssssshhhh.”

I rounded the peninsula with smooth feathered strokes, and gave him wide berth. His casting looked slow and measured, with a little flourish as the fly arced out over the lake.

Fish were jumping that day, but not for him.

The green folding boat 20 yards away was having little better luck at fishing.

Across the lake, the tall wading bird plied the shore leisurely, biding her time.

Soon the flycaster in the silly hat would give up.

Soon the green boat would motor back through the channel to the lower lake.

Soon the cove would be hers.

Soon the fish that got away from Men, would be hers.

We waited together, she and I.

I let her take the lead, and soon enough she did.

Taking long purposeful strides, she passed the turtles lazing on the log, and parted the reeds.

Up and over the half-submerged pine trunk she climbed, all the while stalking something beneath the surface.

She stopped.

For more than 5 minutes she stood stock still in water up to her hips. She stared just offshore with an unceasing focus.

The only movement was a slight tilt to her head, first to the left, and then an almost imperceptible extending of her neck, up up higher higher until she was staring straight down.

Great blue heron landing large pike.

Great blue heron landing large pike.

Whoosh, as arrow beak pierced the surface, and her body lunged fully beneath the surface, energy exploding into water. Massive blue-grey wings half-unfurled broke the surface, rippling body muscles straining between wings and water.

How long she was under, I cannot say, I lost track of time, but when she resurfaced, her prize catch struggled mightily, the curve of its back straining left then right, scales and fins glistening. It was an epic fight.

And when she struggled to shore under the weight of her prey, I’m not sure whose eyes held more surprise — mine, hers, or the one that didn’t get away.
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Thanks to Sara Rosso at WordPress for the inspiration of this Weekly Photo Challenge!
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 (This took place October 7, 2007)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Fleet of Wing, Nimble of Foot – Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting

Focusing higher, there he was… On a limb twenty feet farther out from the nesting tree… At the tip top, fifteen feet higher than the nest… Which itself was at least seventy feet above the island floor.

The great blue heron nestlings were learning to fly. For a few weeks they had been stretching their wings, furling and unfurling feathers in the tight confines of the nest. They went through a stage of climbing from the nest to nearby branches by extending their legs and reaching out with their toes, but now they were using their wings instead. Up and down, hop-flying up to a branch and then back down to the nest, practicing.

I had been watching for an hour, then was momentarily distracted. When I glanced back at the nest, only one chick was in the nest. The other? Scanning the branches just above the nest for him with binocs, not there. He had been there a few minutes earlier. Focusing higher, there he was… On a limb twenty feet farther out from the nesting tree… At the tip top, fifteen feet higher than the nest… Which itself was at least seventy feet above the island floor.

Great blue heron fledglings practice flying.

Great blue heron fledglings practice flying.

This was more than a practice hop up from the nest; the fledgling had fully “flown” to the tip of that branch.  It was thrilling. Fearlessly, fleet of wing and nimble of foot, he practiced take offs and landings from the tip of that branch. 

My heart was in my throat as I watched, because it was such a long way down and he was still a beginner. And his nest mate? I imagined him thinking, “My turn, I want my turn now!”
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(Thanks for the photo challenge nudge, WordPress!)
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 (This took place August 11, 2012)

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Fearless Great Blue Heron

“Fearlessness is not only possible, it is the ultimate joy.”

Thich Nhat Hanh,
FEAR: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm 

What an insouciant look this great blue heron had as it sauntered, and preened, and fished inches away from an owl decoy on the dock one Sunday morning, utterly without fear. 

Great blue heron and owl decoy. No fear here.

Great blue heron and owl decoy. No fear here.

Wherein he Gets the Girl

Saturday at the lake with herons.

I barely could keep my eyes open as the photos downloaded, and then wasn’t awake enough to pay proper attention and look at them all, but one thing jumped out right from the start. The male. The male was missing the finger end of his wing…

Injured young great blue heron in territorial stance.

Injured young great blue heron in territorial stance.

The first outing of the year each May is mostly about getting back into the elements, feeling the water flow beneath the kayak, tuning muscles that had been idled winter-long, and exploring the lake to inventory the changes over the winter months. Any expectations for great blue heron sightings are low; if lucky, I get to see a solitary heron foraging along the shoreline, but at this time of year, half the population is generally sitting on eggs wherever they nest, which isn’t very near this lake (or at least isn’t visible from navigable waters).

This year, true to form, I was the first to put in at the boathouse, and had a leisurely solo paddle along the north shore, then delving into a tranquil remote cove, and back up again to the farthest reaches north. Lovely. No herons in sight, not even a high-altitude flyover, but such a sweet paddle. Winter was mild here that winter, there had been no big snows, so not much had changed along any parts of the shoreline, and there were no new recumbent pine trees that had crashed down since the previous autumn. It was so very good to be back on the lake, even if there were no herons about.

After finishing that circuit, I turned south, venturing deeper to pass under the tunnels and beyond into the only part of the lake where water skiing and fast powerboating are permitted. It’s a dangerous place for kayaks and other people-powered things, but the high season wouldn’t start til the following weekend and the lake was very quiet just then. It was worth taking the chance of the kayak getting swamped.

Not far beyond the last of the tunnels is a very small island with very tall trees. Cormorants roost there in numbers, and a mute swan pair nest beneath the pines. Great blue herons had a large nest there that had been used for generations. Four years ago, though, they abandoned the nest mid-summer due to human encroachment. It was a very sad sight, the abandoned nest. Then, three years ago, a fierce storm took down the top of the nesting tree. It didn’t look promising on the island for the herons for a few years. Two years ago, though, just before the high season started, I paddled down to the island area and was excited to see a young heron on a branch of what remained of the still-tall roosting tree. He was snug against the trunk, preening. Had he been born on that island? Was he waiting to attract a mate? Would they start a brood there? I wondered.

So, that Saturday, I went back there to see if he was again in that roosting tree. Binocs up. Focus. Focus again. Wait for the powerboat wake to subside and then focus yet once more. Several cormorant nests with birds in them, nests that weren’t there last year. Focus higher in the tree. A heron, ten feet above the cormorant nest. No, wait – two herons, very close together.

I watched transfixed as they preened, and then one peeled off, soared over my head, and landed in the pines across the channel from the island. A few minutes later, he reappeared – carrying a stick in his beak – and soared back up to his mate.

I have often said that I would never photograph nesting herons up close because I wouldn’t want to interfere with their breeding by getting too close, and a suitable telephoto lens would be too expensive and too heavy for use in a kayak. Plus, it wouldn’t be the same traveling to one of the rookeries that get overrun by photographers. So, I was content knowing I’d never photograph them, myself.

But here they were on my lake that Saturday, nesting – no travel involved, no expensive telephoto needed, no interfering with their mating attempts, no crowded rookery.

Goosebumps erupted at the realization that these weren’t just any herons, they were birds that I’d been watching for seven summers. Each year, if lucky, I’ve been able to see fledglings from that year’s crop, but have never seen the actual nesting. Until that Saturday.

I watched from a safe distance for about an hour as the male flew off and returned, back and forth, with sticks for the nest, and then as the female wove them into the nest. It was a very new nest, probably not more than a couple days worth of building so far. Mostly the female did the weaving, and sometimes the male helped before flying off to gather sticks and boughs.

What a thrilling scene, to watch these herons nesting on my lake. Curiosity was intense as I wondered exactly which two of the birds I know so well were they. I could guess through the binocs, but wouldn’t be be able to tell for certain until I downloaded the photos afterwards.

I was exhausted when I returned home after kayaking for more than four hours and could barely keep my eyes open as the photos downloaded. By then, I wasn’t awake enough to pay proper attention and look at all the shots, but one thing jumped out at me right from the start: the male.

The male was missing the finger end of his wing – it was the same two-year-old male who had suffered traumatic wing-end damage the previous summer, and who had tried valiantly that autumn to seduce the older female heron. I had been apprehensive about his odds for survival with that injury, and was elated that my fears had been unfounded. He had survived migration and the winter with his damaged wing, and he had found a mate and was building his first-ever nest.

Gorgeous in his now-adult plumage, he got the girl.

(This took place May 19, 2012.)

And in the end, then, I was mistaken about never photographing nesting herons, wasn’t I? Thanks for the nudge, WordPress.

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

The Lesser of Evils

Drifting slowly towards the mouth of the creek, I saw a heron feather, a grey-blue blur bobbing against the green waters along the north shore.

Wedging the nose of the kayak into the mud under the old oaks, I scooped up the feather with my paddle blade. I had just bent forward to secure it under the deck bungee when a large shadow passed overhead.

A burst of feathers exploded onto the shore a couple of yards to my east. A great blue heron, so close. He obviously hadn’t seen the kayak under the tree canopy on his landing approach.

As I fumbled to get the camera out of the dry sack, another larger shadow cruised over my head, and a second heron swooped in about eight feet from the first.

Two herons, so close. So close!

The larger, alpha heron immediately puffed himself up to full size, feathers fiercely framing his neck and head. He bolted up the shoreline, running aggressively after the first, while I watched, momentarily unseen.

And then they both saw me.  When they skidded to a stop, the smaller heron was a mere three feet away from me, the alpha heron about six feet farther beyond.

The smaller heron looked to his left at the alpha, then swivelled that graceful neck back towards me, glancing about furtively. His cap feathers were erect, extending straight up – a blue and white shock of feathers pointing skyward.

He clambered down from the fallen birch and eased closer to me.

The alpha glared at us both, and lept up on the fallen birch trunk, fast on the heels of the small heron.

The small heron glanced again at the alpha, then eyed me, cautiously, apprehensively. 

Great blue heron weighing avenues of escape from alpha heron.

Great blue heron weighing avenues of escape from alpha heron.

The alpha glared at us from his perch on the fallen birch.

The small heron turned back and forth, from alpha heron to human, weighing, weighing the greater of the dangers, the lesser of the evils: alpha heron vs woman.

And then he made his move.

With one last glance over his shoulder at the alpha, and one last look straight into my eyes, imploring me to be the safe choice, the small heron made his move. He lowered his head, fully parallel to the ground and slowly eased to the front of my kayak, mere inches from my bow.

Slowly, slowly forward, inch by inch.

And then in a sudden blur, he bolted across the shoreline in front of me to safety.

Once two yards beyond the kayak, the small heron stopped and looked back at me. Safe.

The alpha heron glowered on from his perch on the fallen birch.

And me? That day, I was the lesser of evils.

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September 2, 2007

© 2013 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

The Silence was Absolute

I went for a long walk late Sunday afternoon along the sidewalk that follows the contour of the reservoir. In places, the path is right next to the rocky shoreline, and in others the terrain between the path and the water’s edge is thinly forested with old growth pines and cherry, apple, and dogwood, and oak and maples, all blanketed by tall ferns and ground foliage. At this time of year, the ground plants are just beginning to sprout and the leaves on the bushes and shorter trees have not yet started, so there is a clear view through the woods to the water.

Many creatures live there, and every walk I take seems to reveal more of them. Last night, it was a large cottontail rabbit. Saturday night, a lone goose that had gotten stranded on the wrong side of the path and needed some encouragement to dip beneath the guardrail to safety.

Sunday, as I was walking, something made me stop suddenly and drew my attention to the right, into the woods and trees. From where I was at that moment about fifteen feet of thin, tall trees and underbrush sloped gently downward to the shoreline, and there, not ten feet away, stood a great blue heron.

They are usually very shy and erupt into flight at the first sensing of an approaching human, but for some reason this heron remained stock still. We stood there, staring eye-to-eye for a long, long time, though it could not have been more than twenty seconds. His eyes, doe eyes almost, soft eyes, like those of a deer. His long break, the orange-yellow of Aztec gold. His cap feathers, pure white. It felt as though I was looking at a being of kindness and intelligence, and an equal.

The silence between us was absolute.

We stood there, eyes-locked, watching each other, absorbing in full stillness, and then he leaned forward and lifted skyward in absolute silence, not an audible rustle of feather in the unfurling of exquisite wings – just soundless, effortless flight.

Suddenly, I wished I had brought a camera, and then just as quickly, I dismissed that wish – had the camera been there, I would have missed that experience. Instead of sharing stillness with the heron, I would have been absorbed in things like aiming and focusing and f-stops and bracketing and all of the composition things we do; by then the heron would have flown away, alarmed by my fidgeting with the gadgetry, and I would have missed the moment.

So, what does this story have to do with these photos? I used to do a lot of photographing in the mountains near Santa Cruz, with the vistas of mist-shrouded hilltop after hilltop marching to the Pacific, and along the Pacific Coast at sunset – hundreds of hours seeking to capture the perfect moment, until one day I realized I was missing the moment IN the moment by working so hard to preserve that moment for future viewing. Technology had gotten in the way of experiencing the moment in the now.

What does this story have to do with these photos? It’s a lesson in our choice to be present in the moment, as I was with the heron that afternoon, instead of focusing on the technology of recreating that moment for the future. It’s a lesson in mindfulness.

And the herons? They’re a study of Patience and Grace.

April 20, 2004

© 2004-2013 Babsje. (Http://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

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