A periscopic stretch

FIVE a.m. The morning is crisp and clear. Perfect fishing weather, according to my husband -- but then, he fishes in any weather. I sit groggily in the car, watching dawn unfold over a dew-glistening countryside as we jostle down a single-lane road heading toward the lake. We are silent; it's too early to talk sensibly. Besides, I'm certain that visions of fighting bass compel his attention. I think sadly of the warm waterbed I reluctantly deserted to embark on this fishing foray. We proceed slowly, ever mindful of the darting deer and occasional stray cows we've encountered along this road. Although still sleepy, I gradually become aware of the ephemeral beauty of this moment -- not so much a purely physical beauty as a dawning of inspiration. Grogginess now gone, I notice nuances of earth wakening and revel in the beauty revealed by dawn's first light.

I catch my breath suddenly and say in unnecessarily hushed tones to my husband, ``Look, there, in the creek.'' He edges to the slight roadside and turns off the engine. There, in the majesty of morning light, is a Great Blue Heron standing statuelike in the shallow water. We are completely captivated by this serendipitous sight and can only stare in wordless admiration.

The bird stands so still I begin to wonder if it's perhaps a cousin of the plastic pink flamingos flocking on our neighbor's lawn. My uncertainty is resolved when I see the wisp of black feathers centered on his cream-colored head quiver slightly in the wind. Then, as if to shake off the morning chill, the heron ruffles his feathers, revealing intermingling flashes of steel gray and blue, black, and white. He uncoils his neck in a periscopic stretch and cautiously resumes his morning routine. Towering on lanky legs, he gingerly paces the rippled shallows and with his long, dagger-like beak thrusts time and again into the water in swift, measured motions, intent on satiating his hunger.

All too soon, the heron takes to flight, shattering the tranquil stillness with a raucous, rasping screech that sounds like a rusted, oilless hinge being opened slowly. In flight, the heron's size is starkly prominent as large, powerful wings like feather-covered steel lift him out of sight. We hear one more harsh screech echoing in the morning quiet and then all is silent except the mellow murmuring of the creek.

We linger for a moment, hoping for another glimpse of this seemingly prehistoric spectacle. For an instant, it seems we are an anachronism in this time and place; our presence and that of the blacktop road taunt the otherwise pristine terrain. It's as if we've stumbled on a place untouched by the centuries. I feel as if I've stolen a peek at Eden. The distant rumbling of a tractor breaks the spell and we drive onward to the lake.

We leave our fishing gear in the car and sit at the lake's edge. This morning it seems appropriate to just look at the sky, the water, the earth, and celebrate the bounty of life that surrounds us. For today, the bass are safe -- and can thank the heron for our magnanimity.

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