Yesterday, I received a big ole serving of humility, provided by a two-foot tall bird. My daughter came running down the stairs, shouting that a baby heron was sitting on the fence. As we are conditioned to do, my family sprang into action. We do not like the balance of our serene outdoor homestead to be disturbed by aquatic predators.
Our ponds are filled with fish, frogs, and turtles. The kids rarely agitate them. While other children might want to catch and domesticate these animals, my four prefer to observe them from the dock. They feed them and marvel at the colors of the koi. They try to count the sunnies. They watch the tadpoles develop and grow, and congratulate themselves if they spot a turtle.
The wildlife in the pond are revered pets. Baby #2 received some of the koi as birthday gifts throughout the years, and beloved cousins provided the sunnies. The frogs and turtles came with the property when we bought it. This self-sustaining ecosystem is not only a source of entertainment but also a science lesson. Bats feed off the bugs hovering above the surface. Runoff from our well provides a steady stream of water. May different native plants grow here, and birds have made their homes in the birdhouses nestled in the reeds.
There is wildlife around the pond, too. These animals are typically spotted by the kids, commented on, and studied. The deer, especially the young, receive respectful ooohs and aaahs when they emerge from the brush to frolic or rest in the shade of the treeline. The foxes draw a crowd to the window as they trot across the open field, and guesses are made as to what they might be hunting. Groundhogs are laughed at for their blobby shapes and distinct way of running, and squirrels are chased from the yard before they can clean out the birdfeeder. Rabbits are held in high esteem, thanks to the World’s Most Loved Rabbit, Bun-Bun. Hawks circling for field mice have become as commonplace as the other native birds.
Other birds, that is, except the great blue herons. They stalk our ponds and are not good neighbors. The kids and I are in agreement: if they would eat a fish or frog here or there and simply take only what they needed to be satisfied, we would be more understanding. The conflict between us and them is that they kill creatures bigger than what they can eat, and leave them to rot in the grass. The kids find this behavior unacceptable, bullish, and cruel.
Our decoy does nothing to deter the herons, even though they are territorial birds. One afternoon I looked out the window and was confused, because I recalled purchasing only one statue. A living heron had flown in and perched next to the decoy. I’m not sure if he was looking for love or trying to blend in, but it was insulting nonetheless. It also confirmed that I had wasted $40.
This baby heron moves silently and with self-assurance. When Baby #1 sounded the alarm yesterday, I moved quickly. I ran out the back door with a hockey stick, smacking it along the fence. The bird took to flight, serene and confident that I wouldn’t harm it. (Of course I won’t harm it, but I wish it didn’t know that.)
It flew into our tree and watched me, seemingly curious to what my next move would be. I launched the hockey stick up into the tree, it hitting a branch a good 10 feet below where the bird perched. I took a kickball and tossed it into the air, attempting to swat it with the hockey stick and launch it towards the heron. (That failed, all three times I tried, mainly because I never connected with the ball.) Flashes of Dan Aykroyd and the Caddy Shack Gopher began to infiltrate my mind.
I cussed and swore while shaking my fist. The bird didn’t move, didn’t care, and didn’t acknowledge my rage. Finally, I picked up the ball and threw it as high as I could, completely missing the tree. As I retrieved it, the kids threw open the door and ran out of the house, shouting and screaming with intensity. The bird flew away, the kids erupted into laughter, and spend the rest of their day telling me how utterly ridiculous I had looked.
Maybe it’s silly to go up against nature. Maybe I should sit the kids down and have an honest Circle of Life conversation, or at least a “herons are God’s creatures, too” talk. Maybe it’s all a metaphor to explain how we can only control so much of nature, and sometimes you have to admit defeat.
I can’t do that, though. It’s the same with being BRCA2 positive and having breast cancer. Never did I think I would see a parallel between protecting the pond and my cancer fight, but once you are a cancer patient, it’s hard to separate your reality from anything else in your life. Some days the heron is going to feast, and some days we will chase it away before it can. I’m not going to give up, for the sake of my children, for the sake of what we love and hold dear, or for the small amount of control I can exercise over what makes us happy.
Or, maybe we just need the laughs.