Some experiences are difficult to express in writing. The facts are: I went for a pre-workday float on my tube early Friday morning along my usual stretch of the Roanoke River.
I’d considered a moon light float Thursday might but opted instead to go in the AM. I encountered no one— save the just waning full moon beaming in the sky— on my short walk to the river. It had been a warm night following a hot day, so even at 7 AM the water was like a welcoming bath as I nestled into my tube of solitude. I back-stroked a bit to keep in the flowing currents rather than languish along the banks, given that I had to be at work this morning. With a light touch of one hand as a rudder, I spun to face the approaching sunrise, just in time to savor the subtle yet glowing pre-dawn pastel sky. I snapped some photos and fell back into the float.
I was still absorbing the beauty as I glided under the Greenway bridge. Spotlit patches of foliage now caught my eye, as the sun crested the horizon and rays reached into the shallow valley made by the river. I rounded a few bends and suddenly full sunbeams were trumpeting through the trees like a clarion wake up call, all the more dramatically beautiful through the rising mist of the river. A few more photos and then a return into my river reverie.
Floating alone in the hush of dawn easily allows one to get in a semi-meditative state of being, calmly hovering, gently ushered forward by the current, no paddling, splashing or effort. It was in this quiet almost stillness that I noticed my regular compatriot, a great blue heron perched on a root on the right bank about 50 yards ahead. They're very wary and usually fly off when approached, often well before reaching this distance. They usually head out high over the trees, landing far out of sight. A pair inhabit this section of river (possibly the same ones I came to know a bit last year, but I’m not sure). As there are fewer humans in the river these days, they’ve steadily allowed me to get a bit closer. For several months each time I encounter one I make a certain soft clicking sound. I did today as I approached. It turned, hunkered its neck and readied to fly, but then it held fast and kept looking at me. They have great eyesight and a penetrating gaze which I felt pierce me. It looked straight at me, but instead of flying off, it cocked it’s head and looked more deeply into me. I was slowly floating toward it, transfixed. Words fall short. It was magical.
I came within 30 feet and still it kept eyeing me. Abruptly it jumped (their four foot tall frame requires a boost from their strong legs to get airborn) and finally took flight. But instead of flying away, it flew behind me, and then in a circle around me! As it passed it spoke a soft “Brrrraaakkkk” (much softer than its usual alarm bark at take-off). I got goosebumps. The massive wings stroked a few times, and it glided to another bank just ahead downriver. I had the uncanny, inexplicable feeling it was leading me. I can’t describe the sensations nor explain why, but all at once I felt very moved and teary-eyed. The water rippled ahead, and some cardinals chirped but the tiny slice of world I was wrapped within was dominated and defined by this heron. Again the current eased me toward it, and again it hesitated before taking off, then alighted just a bit further downriver. Again I “spoke” and as it looked at me, I felt its presence. It slowly turned a few times, tipped its head, then sprung upward and flew another segment In front of me. We replayed our ritual once more; after the final exchange it circled behind me, upriver but well within sight.
I can’t define what we shared. Nor are there words to pin down precisely how I felt (still feel), except to say a chord was struck within me that continues to resonate. It doesn’t make logical sense, especially as I try to relay this in writing, but it’s as if for those moments all else in my world became unimportant, every other thing became “small stuff.” I pondered over it all day, trying hard not to think too hard about it, but rather, allow it to seep into my soul.
I’ve been coming upon these beautiful creatures more regularly for the last two months. This week while working on a new job on a farm out in the county, twice another great blue flew across the fields and landed in the near creek within a stone’s throw of where I was painting. It’s very hard not to feel some sort of synchronicity is in play. I have no answers nor interpretations about just what’s going on, nor what this dawn encounter was all about. The only certainty I have is that I was right where I was meant to be, I received a gift, and I feel changed.