the heron

The sun burst brilliantly over the trees, casting golden rays of light across the water. The wind chilled my face as I sped through the countryside on my bike. The tall marshy grass glistened with dew in the climbing sun and the ducks paddled lazily around the stalks rising from the water. A leggy, gray bird was tucked into the side of the muddy river bank, standing motionless and looking cross like all herons do. As I smiled faintly at the cantankerous bird, wondering if he ever felt lonely while watching the ducks pass by, the surface of the water broke, sending crystal droplets of water sailing. A long, thin chocolate-brown creature emerged, rolling along the surface, and then came to a stop bobbing in the center of the river. His bright, intelligent eyes found mine as I slowed to a stop on the trail. He should have darted away upon seeing me but instead another inquisitive head popped out of the water,  only long enough for the first otter to pounce on him. There was a spectacular splash and the two playmates were rolling and twisting in the water, heading for the bank, having completely forgotten the human standing dumbfounded just above them. Gaping, I looked around wishing for everyone to see this rare and joyous scene. I spotted a man jogging towards me slowly, eyeing me curiously and with just a hint of annoyance at the disruption to his routine. Ecstatic that there would be another witness to this happy pair regardless of his attitude, I smiled and motioned for him to come over. His curiosity turned to suspicion as he approached me cautiously and stopped several feet away. I held my finger to my lips and whispered, “OTTERS!” and pointed to the churning water. As if on cue the two sailed out of the river together, one tackling the other back to the depths in midair. I made a noise, unable to control my delight and glanced uncertainly at the man. My worry about his continued displeasure at my intrusion on his day dissipated as I watched a slow smile spread across his face, his body relaxing as he took in the lively scene. The otters had arrived at the bank and were wrestling through the tall grass, convincing the ducks to move with a little more purpose in order to avoid becoming a casualty of their roughhousing. One chased the other through the grass, loping through the mud with its back arched like a startled cat. Every ounce of his body language was playful and silly and I found myself unable to contain my grin as I wondered if they were friends, siblings, or if they had just met. Perhaps they had been unknown to each other earlier that morning. The man turned to me, sincerity in his eyes and said, “This is really special…I didn’t know there were otters in the river. Thank you.” I nodded and smiled shyly as I mounted my bike and gave a small wave. As I pedaled away, I thought about how unique it was to see two otters at play with so little concern for an audience and how much better it was to know that someone else had gotten to see it too. Fearing that he would miss something else equally incredible and hoping that he would pass on our shared experience to another, I hastily turned back to look at my companion and called, “There are tons of creatures out here. You just need to look.” He grinned and saluted me appreciatively before turning to continue his jog in the opposite direction. I felt bad for the heron.


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