The Poets’ Birds: Egrets

Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
fallen branches,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going. Finally
I could not
save my arms
from thorns; soon
the mosquitoes
smelled me, hot
and wounded, and came
wheeling and whining.
And that’s how I came
to the edge of the pond:
black and empty
except for a spindle
of bleached reeds
at the far shore
which, as I looked,
wrinkled suddenly
into three egrets —
a shower
of white fire!
Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that had made them —
tilting through the water,
unruffled, sure:
by the laws
of their faith, not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.
                   Egrets, by poet Mary Oliver

According to Billy Collins, “Love of language and a sense of gratitude would be two ingredients in the recipe for making a poet.” Few poets use language more lovingly or respond more gratefully to the world surrounding them than Mary Oliver. 

According to one critic writing for the Harvard Review, “Mary Oliver’s poetry is an excellent antidote for the excesses of civilization, for too much flurry and inattention, and for the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity, whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making.”

Like Annie Dillard or Pattiann Rogers, Oliver pays tribute to the intersections of time, presence, sight, and solitude, and she has learned how to pay attention. In a poem titled The Summer Day, she lays claim to her own gift, and challenges us to do the same.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Her questioning, gentle yet insistent, probes our intentions: our excuses. Why would we not, with the egrets, open our wings and lift up? Why not tilt through the world, unruffled: stepping over every dark thing?

Comments always are welcome.

107 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: Egrets

    1. If at first you don’t succeed, wait for the WordPress elves to finish coffee break, and see if they’ll get back to work. I had a comment slow to post this morning, too. I think the system has a hiccup or two, today.

  1. Ok, it works now. I would think that ‘stepping over every dark thing’ would be a good aim. A work in progress in my case. The demon that wakes at 3am is the hard part. Still, the contemplating of egrets in flight does help.

    1. I thought that image — stepping over every dark thing — was wonderful precisely because it raises so many associations: not all of them bad. It could refer to picking one’s way through a field of 3 a.m. land mines. On the other hand, it also made me think of family reunions, when the adults picked their way through children sleeping on the floor: stepping over a huddle of grade-school age “dark things.”

      I love watching bird flight: egrets, pelicans, the raptors. One of my favorites are the starlings, and their murmurations. They’re worthy of contemplation, too. They certainly can help clear the mind.

  2. I love that photo at the top! I’m fascinated by how white birds can remain so white. Just beautiful! We have Egrets and Herons in Michigan and one of my favorite, most mystical experiences was on a fall day when we happened upon a HUGE gathering of Egrets in a field on their way south. We parked the truck and watched them for over an hour. Thanks for the memory.

    1. They are beautiful, aren’t they? And when there’s sunshine and blue sky around them, they can seem to fairly glisten. There’s a bayou near here lined with large bushes and trees. A combination of egrets and ibis roost there, particularly in winter, and it’s wonderful to watch them fly in at night. Obviously, they fly out in the morning, but I haven’t made it over to see that, yet.

      I can well understand spending time just watching that field of egrets. I’m so happy to have raised that memory for you, Jean, and I’m happy you shared it.

    1. Mary Oliver is a treasure. This page contains several of her poems I suspect you would like. There are other sites with other poems, of course. I prefer some over others, but they’re all worthy of a read or two. I’m happy to have made the introduction!

    1. That’s part of Oliver’s gift: finding the surprising images that stop us, and make us consider.

      I didn’t realize how many of her poems involve both egrets and herons until I began searching for information about certain egret behaviors. Several sites dedicated to the birds use her work.

  3. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?”

    And a life goes by lived to a plan… I think I’ll go back to playing again, recapturing the childlike wonder at a blade of grass or a sparkle of dew on tree leaves.

    Thanks for the reminder to look again…

    1. Taking that second look can be worthwhile. Surrounded as we are by these muddy floodwaters, it’s easy enough to judge them unattractive — or, let’s be honest, ugly — and move on. But even the thickest waters can yield some surprises: like this. It’s hard to imagine the fishing birds being able to find their prey in the midst of this water, but they do. Perhaps there are times when they have to look again, too.

    1. Many people do. But there still are people who don’t know her work, and I enjoy making the introduction. Thanks for sharing your appreciation for her work.

      1. Oh, I was just rather too-blahly affirming, because I’ve seen only whatever others post of hers, not a book of her works. Each is a nice solid surprise, and I’m very thankful!

  4. Ah yes! Beautifully timed image of flight, and thoughtful poetry. I spent the morning immersed in wonder at Nature – and returned home refreshed.

    1. Even when accompanied by thorns, mosquitos, and necessary slogging, nature does have remarkable restorative powers. I’ve lived in cities, appreciated their opportunities, and still return to them from time to time. But, as the saying goes, I’ve been there and done that. Given a choice between Broadway and the bayou, I’ll take the bayou (or prairie, or woods, or…) every time.

      I’m glad to see you, and glad to hear that you’re getting out and about a bit: presumably with your boon companion.

  5. I can sure relate to that kind of poetry. I walked with her through the tangle of brush, as I so many times do alone. That’s the true enjoyment of Nature!

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? There’s a world of difference between a trip to the country with a group — pleasant as that may be — and solitary wanderings. Not everyone enjoys getting off-track, or dawdling: as you clearly do.

  6. In the Finger Lakes and near Lake Ontario, we see gray herons, and just occasionally an egret gets blown in. When the herons are roosting, they look awkward and sound like pterodactyls, but when they’re all returning to their rookery at sunset, they’re beautiful. They always seem to flap their wings so incredibly slowly, that it seems impossible they’ll stay airborne. It’s a terrific poem.

    1. That bird-dinosaur connection really is apparent with the herons, isn’t it? You’re right that the slow wing beats are a sure way to identify them in flight: along with the crook in their neck.

      I’ve never thought about it, but all of the herons and egrets around here have that raspy, croaking call, especially when they’re startled. They don’t produce the lovely, musical sounds we associate with birdsong. In fact, this Audubon page has some great examples of the sounds they make, down in the lower right corner. I laughed at the great egrets’ courtship croak. So romantic!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the poem. Oliver is terrific.

    1. Thanks, Yvonne. I took a series of photos of this bird the same day I found Mr. Grumpy Grackle on his perch. I was lucky I had the right lens on the camera, and turned around at the right time.

      Nature is such a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t world that even the people I come across with huge lenses, tripods, and wagons to pull it all along sometimes are grumping that they’ve spent hours without finding a thing worth photographing. I have some thoughts about that, but it is true that we can’t predict what we’ll see. Of course, that’s part of the fun.

        1. I purchased a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens.
          I took a look, and found the photo up at the top was taken at 220mm. I’m really quite pleased with the lens, although it’s clear that practicepracticepractice is going to be needed to get the best from it. Maybe one day it will stop raining, and I can get out again. A little drizzle is one thing, but we’ve been getting it four and five (or nine and ten) inches at a time.

          1. Thanks for info. I was going to get that same lens but did not get it due to money needed to help my daughter. I assume you are shooting auto because that is so much faster. I use auto because I wear glasses and cannot really use manual anymore. I can’t focus with my glasses on and I can’t see good enough for manual focus. All my latter photos have been taken with auto. When I was younger I used manual all the time- if I recall there was no auto camera. I’ve been taking photos since 21 years old and I love photography but this afib thing tires me out. Now, I only photograph my pets and butterflies mostly.

            1. I have tried using manual focus, but just now, there are so many other things to learn, auto seems best. And of course, for birds, there isn’t time to focus manually if they’re in flight — unless there’s still another trick that I haven’t figured out. That’s entirely possible. Compared to the Da Vincis of the camera, I’m still at the stick figure level.

  7. They are magical birds. I have one as a character in a story. Part ghost, part willow-the-wisp. Herons have their moments as well. I recall quite vividly one night beside a large storm drain that connected two playa lakes beneath a bridge. The playa lakes, the trees, the large storm drain that connected the playa lakes on either side of the street, and the apartment I was going home to no longer exist, but for a brief moment probably 30 years ago now, my headlights revealed a great blue heron posed by the Chinese moon gate of a storm drain at the edge of a playa lake. It was a magical moment. The memory is all that remains, but that is enough.

    1. You’ve described that moment so well, I can see it myself. I’ve always been intrigued by the way some memories endure, as fresh and vivid as the moment that produced them. The content can vary wildly, from sheer beauty to sheer terror, but they all serve as touchstones for the present.

      Your memory brought Annie Dillard to mind, again. I recently read a review of “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” that was written by Eudora Welty in 1974. Welty wasn’t entirely approving, particularly of Dillard’s writing style, but the conclusion to her review is on point:

      ‘But how much better, in any case, to wonder than not to wonder, to dance with astonishment and go spinning in praise, than not to know enough to dance or praise at all; to be blessed with more imagination than you might know at the given moment what to do with than to be cursed with too little to give you — and other people — any trouble.”

      1. Eudora, you wicked lass, to praise Annie with faint damning! Thank you for posting the review – I hadn’t seen it before and liked it very much. I’m delighted with all the poetry flying about with the egrets today. Mary Oliver never misses.

        1. I do enjoy reading writers writing about other writers. There’s often great fun to be had. My favorite is a quotation from Mark Twain that greatly offends many Austenites I know:

          “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” (Twain, in a letter to Joseph Twichell, 13 September 1898)

          1. What I like most about that particular bit of Twain’s grousing is that he felt compelled to read many of Austen’s books–some of them many times! I wonder why . . . :)

    1. If I had to be limited to one bird for my sightings, this wouldn’t be a bad one. You’re in a great spot, though, because what might seem to be a great egret could be a great white heron: a subspecies (some argue for species status) of the great blue heron that is limited to south Florida and the Keys. Here are some great photos.

      I’m not sure I could tell the difference between the two, but for purposes of enjoyment, I’m not sure that matters.

  8. One thing we’ll be doing late this morning with our wild and precious lives is passing through Joplin, Missouri, which I just learned is the birthplace of Pattiann Rogers.

    1. Your route’s famliar. I traveled Tulsa/Joplin/Kansas City (and back) often when my mother was alive: so often that I could leave now and drive it without a map.

      Speaking of Mom and Joplin, it was at the Waffle House on Range Line Road there that an older gentleman took to flirting with her. I don’t know about precious, but it was clear that, for just a moment, my eighty-something mother felt just a little wild.

  9. I prefer brother Walt Whitman. He always and eagerly stretched out his strong arms to gather us up together. From delicate flowers to the most troubled soul, he saw us all.

    1. As a Whitman fan, you might enjoy this archive, if you don’t already know of it. It contains letters, manuscripts, and other writings, as well as his poems.

      It’s always tickled me to remember that his first work was self-published. He had confidence in America, but he had confidence in himself, as well.

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that you enjoy Mary Oliver. She has a light touch that’s very appealing. As for the beautiful egret, you’ll see him again — in a context that I suspect will delight you as much as it surprised me.

  10. Your photograph is marvelous, especially with the legs and feet (?).
    Oliver’s question at the end of your post reminds us all to make the most out of our lives instead of frittering them away. Au revoir!

    1. That’s an interesting question mark, Cheri. But, yes: those are legs and feet, and they do trail in flight. I’m sure someone’s done an aerodynamic analysis of it all, and I’m also pretty sure it boils down to “legs dragging behind reduce drag.”

      Unless frittering results in fritters, it is a bit of a waste. Better to spend our time with books, or attempts at writing and photography. Perhaps we could chronicle our attempts and call it, “The Read and the Hack.”

  11. Your photo is spectacular. It’s very hard to catch a bird in flight — bravo!

    I never knew about Mary Oliver until I entered Blog Land. She’s made an impact on so many, me included. But of course she has a huge body of work with which I’m not familiar so I’m always glad when I see a post about her. Both of the poems you shared speak to me — the but Summer’s Day most of all.

    And on another note, thanks for the call — I’m having it checked out on Monday!

    1. I’m glad you like the photo. One day, I’ll be able to capture a view like that, and have it all in focus — at least, I hope so.

      When I looked again at the list of Oliver’s publications, it was astounding. Many have been published and re-published so often — and are so compelling in themselves — that it’s easy not to push beyond the familiar. There’s no question that exploration of her lesser-known poems yields real rewards.

      Here’s a thought that occurs to me. You’re one of the very few people I know who use illustrations by Bouguereau from time to time. He’s one of those artists whose paintings I either like, or emphatically don’t. But many of them, like “The Nut Gatherers,, are appealing in a way similar to many of Oliver’s poems. There’s a simplicity and straightforwardness that I enjoy. I wonder if you see a connection?

  12. What a BRILLIANT poem. As much as I’ve loved my herons and egrets, I can’t believe I’ve never seen this, by Oliver! I just adore it. I’m saving it, for sure.

    The “white fire,” and my absolute favorite — as you note — how we should learn from them to “unruffled: stepping over every dark thing”. I go to Nature and her life to learn and to remind myself, always — and Ms. Oliver here coveys one of the most lovely lessons, I think. (So beautifully and with grace, as she always does.)

    1. See? There’s always a new, delightful “something” to discover. It might be a bird, a poem, or — in the case of Mary Oliver — a poem about birds.

      Here’s another one, about a great blue heron. It reminds me of the heron who has huddled near my place for three winters, happy to have a stern platform where he can get out of the cold north wind. I can put out breadcrumbs, or sunflower, for some birds, but I’m always a little short on fish. Sometimes, I apologize to him.

      1. WOW I haven’t seen that one either, and I really do love her poetry. I really need to buy a (physical) book of hers, and just keep it handy. I’m so accustomed to our Southern herons, that when I see them up north, I forget that they can really brave those frigid temps!

        1. They are hardy birds. I know one who lives in Michigan, through a blogger friend, and he hangs on up there until very late — often October or even November.

          I used to worry about all the birds more than was necessary. Finally, I got it through my head that just because I was cold, it didn’t mean that they were. Those feathers do insulate — against heat as well as cold. It’s no wonder a down comforter can be so snuggly-warm in the winter!

  13. What a stunning photo, Linda! It really captures the essence of Mary Oliver’s poem.

    One interesting thing about poets is their use of description. I’ve never thought of mosquitoes as “wheeling and whining” or of egrets as “bleached reeds.” And the question she poses at the end of The Summer Day — “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ” — just begs for contemplation every day!

    Are you surviving all that rain? We’re being inundated today, but complaining does no good when there are so many areas in much worse shape than we are.

    1. The phrase “wheeling and whining” seemed comfortable and familiar to me, since I grew up hearing the sound of mosquitos being described as a whine. There’s nothing more irritating than one making that noise — unless it’s biting me, of course.

      That line of hers about deciding what we’re going to do with our lives reminds me of another line from Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Both seem to suggest that grand plans are fine, and long-term plans are necessary, but there’s value in getting up each morning and resolving not to waste the few hours that lie ahead.

      Rain? Oh, that. It has to stop, eventually. A friend and I drove over to the Brazos river this afternoon, and found many of my favorite spots inaccessible because of flooding and road closures. By now, the state highway we traveled to get there will be closed; they were in the process of shutting things down late this afternoon.

      Two weeks ago, the willow trees in the middle of this photo were on the bank. Today? Not so much.

      1. My thoughts and prayers are for y’all. I can’t imagine the critters that much rain will bring in — snakes, mosquitoes, alligators, scorpions *shudder* Your photo really drives home the message!

        1. Scorpions aren’t so much of a problem, but believe me: I’d take the mosquitos over floating rafts of fire ants. Maybe I’d take the snakes and gators over them, too. At least when the ants are floating on top of the water, you can see the danged things. They do provide some benefit (they eat ticks and chiggers, for example) but generally speaking, I’d be just as happy to see them go back where they came from.

  14. Thanks, Linda. I’m always deeply moved by Mary Oliver’s work. She has a way of coming at you sideways, leaving you breathless…as in

    “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?”

    That question cuts to the absolute heart of the matter…

    1. That’s exactly right: coming at us sideways. it recalls Emily Dickinson’s fine advice to tell all the truth, but to tell it slant, and stirred a memory of some lines from another of our favorites:

      “Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
      Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
      Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
      Cannot bear very much reality.
      Time past and time future
      What might have been and what has been
      Point to one end, which is always present.”

      it’s good to see you. You’ve clearly made a choice to engage ever more deeply with social media, while I just deleted my LinkedIn account. No matter — I can still keep up with you, at least a bit. I’m still resisting FB, though: and without apology.

      1. where would we be without T.S.E. I love those lines.

        Yes, I ran out of steam with, and time to devote to, the Twelfth House blog; its companion Facebook Page allows me to post other people’s work which I truly appreciate, celebrating our connections with ‘mystery, meaning, pattern and purpose’…the same remit as the blog, but much less time consuming. Links to posts from your blog have appeared on that Page more than once ! Ys, do keep dropping by my astro blog. You should have a look at the post on the 11-12 year Jupiter Cycle – one I suspect you are plugged into.

        1. The only cycle i’m plugged into just now is the rain cycle. We have some sunshine now, but it’s been quite a gloomy time, and so many of the places I dearly love are either under water or inaccessible because of flooding. Even worse are the losses of the people who actually live in those areas. it’s always hard to witness such events.

          I’ll keep peeking, just to see what you’re up to. The time constraints, I understand. It’s well past time for me to move on to some other projects. Now that I have the tools, I need to put them to some use. At least I’ve figured out how to change line spacing in Word. It’s the usual story — people who are famliar with the program say, “Of course.” People who are new to it tear their hair out.

  15. My photography is missing a great telephoto lens to capture these magnificent creatures. And yet, everywhere I go I find something worthy of my camera and time. Even the ever-present dandelion is beautiful, often brightening a dull scene with a touch of brilliant yellow. And:

    “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
    with your one wild and precious life?”

    Precious words to all of us as we allow the minutia of things and society to define who we are and how we spend our time, failing to stop and admire a beautiful egret soaring into the air, or a grumpy grackle.


    1. Your photography certainly isn’t lacking, Curt. it’s a good part of what makes your blog so enjoyable — the interweaving of images and words.Still, I figured out early on that my original lens wasn’t going to cut it for bird photography, so I made the move. Now, we’ll see if I can catch up to my technology.

      As for how we spend our time — the point isn’t that A is better than B, or that both are better than C. The point is that we need to decide for ourselves how our time will be allotted: just as you said. It’s not always easy to resist the pressures around us, but it can be done. Heaven knows you’re a model of that: bears, bicycles, and Burners prove it!

  16. I had not read Mary Oliver before, but am very glad for your introduction. It’s a wide world out there with so much to miss and then discover.

    You mentioned Murmurations above. They are a favorite of mine also. It is truly astounding the precision which they are able to move in such concert without some tragic encounters.

      1. Thanks! As I mentioned to Gallivanta, it’s one of a series, and the series will show up eventually, with some very interesting detail — at least, interesting to me.

    1. It’s true, isn’t it? There’s always something or someone new to discover. People who think they know it all miss a good bit of life’s pleasure: particularly, the twin joys of curiosity and surprise.

      Murmurations aren’t just interesting on their own. It intrigues me that the same sort of behavior can be seen in fish, bees, and probably other creatures I don’t know about. When I’m at work, if the water is fairly clear and not muddied by flooding, it’s great fun to watch fish large and small wheel and turn just as the birds do in the sky. I suppose it’s akin to fluid dynamics, with the same principles applying whether it’s water or air that’s at issue.

      1. I’ve only seen fish schools do this in films or television programs but have witnessed birds doing the maneuvers. It is really mesmerizing. Another example of just how much we don’t know and the fact that there are unique qualities to all living things.
        No one knows everything, but those who know the most realize just how little they know. :)

        1. Earlier this morning I was listening to a fishing guide who often says of people, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” That’s pretty much what you said in that last sentence, expressed a bit differently.

          1. I have to give credit where due and, while not certain, I am pretty sure I got that the first time from Einstein. Fair source. But, of course, it makes all the sense in the world.

            Just for fun, I am also reminded of this cartoon.

  17. I must admit I don’t know Mary Oliver, but as always I learn about new things on this blog of yours. I don’t know how I will use it, but you always learn something new. – every day. One thing I do know is that the old can become new again, and be seen with new insight. Tamara

    1. When I think about the things I didn’t know five years ago, it’s almost breath-taking. One of the best things about life is that we’re always able to discover and learn, if we wish to do so. It was only in 1999 that I got my first computer, and the learning process speeded up exponentially. I’m still amazed by how that changed my life.

      And you’re right that what we learn can lead us to reassess things we already knew, and sometimes to understand them more fully. Revising history to suit our preferences, for example, isn’t good. But revising history because we’ve learned new facts certainly is appropriate — even necessary. Heaven knows I’ve learned that with my family. Not everything that was going on around me when I was a child was precisely as it seemed!

  18. The poem is beautiful and the photo works perfectly with it. The description of the thorns and mosquitoes also really resonated with me. My arms are currently scratched from briars and have several mosquito bites.

    1. Let’s see: rose trimming, or blackberry picking? Or perhaps you’ve just been doing general yard work. in any case, you have my sympathy. I haven’t met many thorns or mosquitos yet this year, but fire ants and chiggers have paid me some visits. The poem doesn’t mention them, but the sense of things is the same.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think it’s such fun to find images and words that fit together well, whether my own or someone else’s. I was delighted to find Oliver’s poem to fit with this photo.

  19. Oh I love love love Mary Oliver. If I could just ramble with her or Wendell Berry (or at least with them in my head) life would be grand!

    1. A ramble would be great, wouldn’t it? I wonder if they’d prefer egg salad or chicken salad? Who knows? Maybe even PB&J would do — espeically if there was a homemade oatmeal cookie and lemonade to go along.

    1. You’re most welcome, Dina. There are so many wonderful artists in the world, of every sort. if we didn’t help one another fine them, we’d be far poorer, don’t you think?

      I will admit I found the egret especially appealing. You’ll see him again.

  20. Wow, what a lovely photo – so perfectly framed. It softens the eyes and prepares them to ponder deeply the invitation to take a look in life. Boy, isn’t that a piece of advice in need of iteration in our time.

    Walking home today I thought about how an hour long walk was about the best way I could invest my time at the end of the day. I just get lost in my thoughts, and have nothing to show for my time aside from a smile on my face.

    1. There are too few spontaneous smiles abroad in the land today, Allen. If your walk home brings one to your face, you’ll be better for it, but so will the people around you. One of the best experiences in the world is smiling at a grumpy someone and having them smile back — often with an obvious degree of surprise, as though they really didn’t expect to be smiling at anyone.

      I’m really glad you like the photo. It’s one of a series, and will pop up again, in a different context. Look at Robert’s comment, just below. As soon as i read it, I thought, “Of course!” He saw the bird as the dancer, Martha Graham. What a perfect analogy.

  21. I’ve returned several times to this post to admire the photo. It is a beautiful shot. It also gave me that persistent sensation, that it reminded me of something, and finally the penny dropped. I’ve searched so I could send the link, but failed, but somewhere out there is a b&w photo of Martha Graham, I think, with huge pleated sleeves, arms in the same pose. Maybe she was consciously basing her costume and positioning on egrets. Now I’m released, and can move on, and look up more Mary Oliver poems! Thanks for an interesting post.

    1. Robert, as soon as I read your comment, I thought, “Of course.” Even an image search for “Martha Graham” made clear the resemblance. The sweep of the dancer’s arms, and her creative use of costuming, give her that egret-like look. I hadn’t noticed it, and thank you so much for both thinking about it, and sharing your conclusion.

      Isn’t it something, how such associations can nag at us? I have the same experience from time to time, and it’s always such a relief when I can say, “Ah, ha!”

      I’m glad you like Mary Oliver’s work, too. She’s far more than the prototypical “nature poet.” There’s a lack of sentimentality I find refreshing.

  22. I haven’t heard about or read anything by Mary Oliver, so thank you for introducing me to her. The poem is lovely—and so is the photo. But then egrets are quite special birds, I think.

    1. They are special — with feathers so beautiful they nearly were hunted to extinction for the sake of them. Thank goodness that’s over now, and they can flourish. I like them all, but the great egret is both dignified and elegant.

      It’s patient, too. A friend set out to photograph one fishing, and spent hours watching the bird watch the water before it made a catch. In a bit of wonderful irony, she missed capturing the capture, because she glanced away for a second.

  23. I also came to know Mary Oliver through this blog. The egrets are very majestic and masterful hunters. One of them shocked me once. I was photographing some flowers, and suddenly I heard this horrible shriek. It was a white egret which pierced a field mouse with its beak. I’ll never forget the shriek and and how long it lasted. So they eat small mammals also.

    1. I’d not considered mice as potential prey, but it makes sense, since they eat frogs, crawfish, and crabs. During certain seasons, the docks often are covered with crab claws and shells in the morning, and I know that the birds ate well the night before.

      It can be distressing to witness the eat-or-be-eaten dynamic in action, but it’s a fact that everyone has to eat. In fact, in this poem Oliver considers that necessity from the point of view of the egret’s prey.

    1. The great egret secret is that this is one of a series. More will appear with a post later. In truth, the boy egret was showing off for a girl egret — or for a whole flock of them, I suppose. Luck plays such a role with bird photography. In this case, I was very, very lucky.

    1. Isn’t it, though? When I came across it the first time, it stopped me cold. It seemed a sort of conflation of “scrambled” and “stumbled.” But, in fact, when I looked it up, I found it’s a real word that means “To soften the colors or outlines of (a painting or drawing) by covering with a film of opaque or semiopaque color or by rubbing. Or, to blur the outlines of: a writer who scumbled the line that divides history and fiction.”

      I can’t believe I’ve never come across the word, but I suspect the artists among us know it well.

        1. I wondered about that word too! Interesting information. You never know when a poet might use a word of his or her own devising or if just an unfamiliar one to the reader. Very cool!

          1. The whole thing was quite a revelation to me — and I always wonder how people who use words like this come across them. The discovery of words can be as interesting as their creation.

  24. I believe this is a great western egret? In Southern California, we get the delicate snowy egrets – known by their diminutive size and marvelous bright yellow feet. I love these creatures and feel nothing but gratitude for the various acts passed in the early 20th century, banning ‘plume hunting’. The ladies would have to find something else to decorate their massive hats.

    Not long ago, I was very depressed. And suddenly, a voice sounded in my ear: “I think you need to buy a book”. As simple as that. Therapy and rescue using the power of language.

    1. I was unsure about “western,” as I’ve only known these as great egrets. I couldn’t find anything confirming that name on the birding sites, although it’s entirely possible that “great western egret” is a common name for them in your locale. And I agree, about the snowy egrets. There’s no mistaking those “golden slippers” that they wear.

      I saw a few in breeding plummage this year, and wholly understand the desire to possess some of those feathers. But, like you, I’m glad that the practice of gathering them was stopped. I’ll have to content myself with the single feather I once found on a dock.

      Language does have the power to comfort, heal, inspire, and move to action. As far as I’m concerned, the move toward emojis is a move back to the cave. Of course, I could be growing crotchety in my old age. Still, I’ll continue on writing my own words, and reading wonderful words like yours.

  25. Oh, gee the words of the beautiful egret are lovely, but I find myself attracted to those so perfectly describing being noticed by another winged creature;
    the mosquitoes
    smelled me, hot
    and wounded, and came
    wheeling and whining.”

    So perfect! If you live in Florida and get anywhere near the glades in the summer time…you will be hot and wounded and they will come like a thick black cloud of buzzing bodies after yours.

    1. And after our wonderfully mosquito-free spring, the rains have come, the water’s still standing, and the larvae have hatched. I went over to a local nature center Sunday afternoon, and walked straight into a swarm of those nasty creatures. I’m afraid the quick trips are over. Gearing up for the preserves now will be quite a process. I don’t mind the long pants, long sleeves, and all that, but the heat is on, and it’s only going to get worse.

      Well, we do what we can — right? I’ll take mosquitos over alligators or hurricanes any day. Over chiggers, too. I guess this is going to be the season to learn Lightroom and etc. It’s too danged hot in the afternoon to either work or go out photographing. Everyone is beginning to disappear into the shadows — even the birds.

      1. For me alligators are preferable to mosquitoes!! Patrick Smith in his book ‘A Land Remembered’ has a striking scene that occurs after a long drought and the advent of torrential rains afterwards. The rains caused a rapid eruption of mosquito development all at once. A black cloud rose from the marshes with the insects in such numbers as to kill cattle and mortally endanger humans. I won’t forget that scene ever I don’t think.

        1. And then there was that summer in El Dorado, Arkansas, when unbelievable swarms of locusts interrupted a family vacation. I’m thinking… Maybe I would take the mosquitoes over those locusts.

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