John the Narrator’s introduction:
Trying to spot a blue heron frozen in place is a good test of one’s patience and perception. With their spindly legs and muted tones they easily blend into their environment. You certainly will miss them if you happen to be rushed on a quick lunch break and only gaze around in a hurried manner. Your eyes need time to adjust. Your mind needs time to decompress.
You may see them on the river bank or screeching overhead. But most of the time these birds blend in so well and are so withdrawn from public attention that you need time to train your eyes to spot one. First and foremost, this requires slowing down all the speed and distraction in your life and deciding to blend in yourself.
Most people are in too big a hurry to do that in this day and age. Few can match the patience of a blue heron in standing by the river’s edge to wait for just the right moment to make a decisive move.
For their sadistic patience is carefully calculated towards hauling in a big strike as hunters. They have no wasted motion.
Sometimes they are closer than we think and don’t require long boat tours into pristine wilderness areas to locate. Over the years they have become more plentiful in lakes and backyard ponds closer to people.
They really are quite miraculous as this story bears out. Whether spotted on a narrow creek or a wide river—whether they are stalk still on the shoreline, playing their waiting game while their skinny builds impersonated reeds of grass or tree branches—their mere presence returns us to a prehistoric time when birds ruled the skies and men had to think twice about wandering too far away from shelter.
Our Blue Heron
The particular Blue Heron in our story, with the handy rhyming name of Deron, was a regular at a commercial man-made lake in Northern Virginia stuck between several shopping centers next to a doctors building.
Deron the blue heron: “hold on a minute John. Let the record show I never approved of this ridiculous name.”
John the narrator: “duly noted.”
Moving on with the storyline. Deron commuted every day from his native habitat—The Potomac River. And, as you will soon learn, Deron was a conflicted blue heron.
This is the point of our story where Tammy Tensely began to notice him during her morning rush hour commute going in to work around 8 AM. As he was coming from the Potomac River going in a direct B line for the commercial lake at the shopping center.
On the flip side, Tammy also noticed Deron’s wide arcing wings flapping in the dusky sky around 5 PM going back towards the Potomac River again after a full day at work. The ungainly bird was so regular with his own commute time that Mrs. Tensely expected to see him dangle a briefcase under his feet, with a lunch box.
Well, let’s let Tammy Tensely tell us what she thought: “Thanks John. Yes I think it was about 2 years ago when I first saw him (the blue heron), while I was stopped in traffic on Route 7 at 7:30 AM at the intersection of Fuller Road. After several weeks of noticing this great big bird, I began to see how punctual he was for his arrival and departures. Deron became a sort of regular friend that I looked forward to seeing on my commute.”
At this suburban lake, close to where Doctor Deejay Singh ran his ACHIEVEMENT GED Tutoring Company for Potential Drop-outs corporate office, you can see our lone blue heron just down the slope from the parking lot and the gazebo. But most people looked over at the ducks and geese assembled out on the ice.
For those shrewd and perceptive enough to notice, this lone blue heron wouldn’t fit in at all, he was so spindly and quiet and hard to see.
This was how it was for Bobby Mudhead. He was one of Dr. Deejay Singh’s brightest and neediest students. Bobby was one of those rare artistic souls that was a devotee of scenery who never overlooked even the tiniest details. So while his classmates fretted during on-line exams and day dreamed for some place they would rather be; Bobby spotted our blue heron right away, the first week at school. He had taken his test studying materials outside to a picnic table on a spring day in April at the recommendation of Dr. Singh who noticed how distracted his pupil got by looking out the window. The school with its wide windows, sat right on the corner of the pond where Deron commuted to every day.
Just as Bobby was looking up from his notebook he noticed the stick-like outline of Deron the blue heron.
He was spellbound! Thus began the first of Bobby’s daily trips to visit and study this noble creature. He thrilled at Deron’s ability to blend in and be so motionless.
Bobby: “Well at first I thought the bird was kind of ugly but then he kind of grew on me. I was the only person at my tutoring school to notice Deron standing on the bank. Like you say, I am an artist and I see things that others don’t.”
Dr. Singh: “Can I say something John? The only reason that Bobby saw the blue heron was because I told him to go sit at that far away picnic table. Frankly, Bobby was a loner and I felt sorry for him. I figured the blue heron would cheer him up. So I was really the first person to see the blue heron.”
You may be also wondering too, how I, the author, first discovered our blue heron named Deron. That is easy. I first discovered him while walking my dog after doing errands like going to the bank before it closed at noon on a Saturday. He was on the far bank. Ranger (my dog’s name) and I, perched underneath the boughs of the willow trees, and I would study the slate blue, comical features of our very serious looking blue heron.
After that, I made it a habit to look for him on each visit. Sometimes I had a bit too much on my hands due to some gaps of being unemployed.
Either way I could sense that he was lonely and misunderstood. It was like he had no choice but to be what he was expected to be—a hunter. No one engaged him. No one called out to him because everyone figured he was wild and needed to have his space.
Deron: “I just have to jump in here and give my point of view. I saw John and Ranger several years before his account actually. John thinks he saw me first, but I actually spotted him first. He seemed particularly lonely and pitiful. I knew this because he kept on talking to his dog, who of course, could not understand a word of what he said. He had no idea I was there for the longest time.”
Ranger—“Uh, that’s not totally true. I could sense what John was saying by his vocal intonations. Especially when he rubbed my belly and made over me with baby talk. I knew what he meant then. He loves me you know.”
It is a lonely feeling to be so different and noteworthy. Years ago he must have made the decision to come on a daily basis to the commercial lake by the Safeway Grocery store, and not just visit occasionally. And each time my dog and I come to observe him, he seems all the lonelier. And he never made any overtures at acknowledging us or getting to know us better.
For when I took Ranger for walks by the lake, the lone blue heron could be found there more times than not. On one evening ask dusk was settling, I saw him suddenly, without any warning, launch himself off the ground and with great beatings of his wings, fly himself back towards the general direction of the Potomac River, for what I assumed to be his bed time back in his natural habitat.
Deron—“Wait–back up a minute here. I thought YOU 2 were the lonely ones actually.”
Can I finish? Ever since then I have seen the same awe inspiring sight around supper time, as the blue heron screech cut deep into the night air like some restored dinosaur from Jurassic Park, as he flew diagonally in the same direction across a faded blue sky.
THE GREAT HUNTER
REFERENCES FROM BACK ON THE POTOMAC:
Our Great Blue Heron may not have been viewed favorably outside of his wild habitat during the day while masquerading as a suburban pet. But back home growing up it was very different.
His family was well known in animal and fisherman circles as skilled fishermen. His Dad had the perfect set of equipment to make his job easier. His unusually long legs allowed him to wade through water as deep as 3 feet. Likewise, his Mom was infamous in animal shoreline circles for her dramatically sharp bill which was tailor made for grasping and spearing even the largest fish in the river. In short Deron’s Mom and Dad were hard workers who never wondered about a different way of life.
Our blue heron certainly had the patience to wait for a fish to come to him, and he looked the part–if it weren’t for the fact that while playing the part of the serious hunter, he had distracting thoughts that would take his mind off task. When he was still in school Deron had written a journal essay that got high marks as he wrote about his preference for frogs, snakes, mice and insects. The only problem was, he meant this in a NON eating way as a fan of the other species. This drew derision from his peer group and made his middle school years particularly painful.
This was a bitter pill to swallow by the time of graduation, because, while Blue Herons are expected to go solo as adult hunters and be solitary in their habits anyway—he truly felt alone with the teasing he got for being so different. In fact, even during breeding periods, Deron still felt like a wallflower as he was never approached by the opposite gender and was too timid to initiate the moves himself.
Deron the blue Heron: “Thanks for telling everyone John.”
John the narrator: “No problem Deron.”
Finally the pressure of not measuring up to the hunting legacy of his parents caused our blue heron to yearn for someplace else.
Hence the daily 9 to 5 routine of seeing Deron flying from the Potomac River to the Willow Glenn Shopping Center and back again to the Potomac at dusk. In fact he seemed to time his flight patterns to match the highest intensity of rush hour traffic commuters driving east and west, to and from their jobs.
THE MOVE TO THE SUBURBS
In the morning, the lone blue heron would return again to reclaim whatever side of the lake he wanted with unquestioned authority. The more he did it however, the more it changed him on the inside. Sure the eating was easier here. There was less competition. The fish were easy pickings in the lake compared to the river. But something was gnawing at him.
He was tired of being solitary in his habits. He resented the view from passing pedestrians, that he was merely taking advantage of the poor, fat Koi and other fish in this suburban pond. Most of all, Deron felt that it really wasn’t fair and that he had done nothing to warrant this kind of distrust.
He especially felt the resentment and hostility from the other birds on the suburban pond. They were rightfully concerned that Deron might completely empty out the entire lake of all food and therefore, upset the delicate ecological balance of the food chain.
His wild instincts were being replaced with loneliness and a keen awareness that he was missing out in friendship and a better social life. The mallards with their pretty green heads, the geese with their arrogant black heads, they all accepted each other and interacted out on the ice. The ducks quacked loudly with great audacity towards people when they thought there was a chance for some easy food. The geese honked indignantly as if to assert their superiority.
The other birds were scared of him of course. This was very true. But they also seemed to rub it in that they were happier and better connected. They played together and fought like close families fight; full of great feeling, and without any bad feelings afterwards.
He heard comments from some bird fanciers who talked in very quiet and dignified tones so as to not startle him (like TV announcers during golf matches), about what Blue Herons were like and how they preferred solitude and used it to their advantage. He wanted to scream out—“How do you know that I don’t want to have friends and do other things with my life!”
DERON the blue heron: “John how can you know what I was thinking? Actually they were right. Most of the time I was just grumpy and didn’t want to be bothered. Plus the fishing was easier at the pond than the river.”
JOHN THE NARRATOR: “I disagree Deron. I think there’s more to you than that. Can I get back to my story?”
But instead he just absorbed all the information from the experts which just served to make him even more of a BLUE heron as he grew more alienated. Deron also resented the implied failure that the so called bird experts used to describe his regrettable behavior in sinking so low as to be a regular at a suburban lake.
One day, one of the HOA commercial shopping center wildlife specialists came by and hammered in a sign by the commercial lake. “Please do NOT feed the Blue Heron.” The sign went on to elaborate: “as long as he knows he can get a meal from a pond he will keep returning. Given free reign he can clean out a small pond in a matter of days.”
Deron wished the wildlife/shopping center guy would mind his own business. This new sign was just another obstacle that kept Deron isolated and unable to get closer to people.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME
But day by day, week by week, Deron flew off from his home on the Potomac River over to Willow Glenn Shopping Center. Deron fantasized about flying in V formation with the geese. He wanted to call out “Follow me boys!” as he led the other birds on swooping adventures over the town towards the mountains. He wondered what it was like to flap his wings with a group to accompany him.
He longed to join the ducks and clamor noisily up the grassy bank to honk for bread crumbs to be dropped his way.
The ducks were the stars of this little suburban pond. They were noticed for their adorable mother and all those charming baby duckling trains. They were the ones that were hand fed and brought in the crowds. Lunch time strollers always had their hearts warmed by seeing these processions of duck families as they took out their cell phone to take pictures to share.
They also had the most theatrics. Take the klutzy duck who always made a spectacle out of sticking his landing properly. For several years this duck caused quite a stir by not being able to stick a proper landing while hitting the runway of the lake. Instead of smoothly hydroplaning on to the glassy surface, this duck would pull up his landing gear at the last second and skitter like a water bug, and either crashing against the bank or pull back up and resume airborne flight. In the process this specially challenged duck had attracted quite a group of followers over by the bank and the doctor’s office as bets were placed to see if the duck might one day slam into the side of the brick building.
KLUTZY DUCK: “Hey I was very young and wasn’t used to the place yet.”
Or how about the daredevil duck that stood on the roof of the 5th story bank building for no apparent reason than he was just bored and needed a change of pace?
Daredevil duck: “No no no. You’ve got it all wrong. I was protesting the end of summer and was trying to make it come back!”
At any rate, no one could figure that maneuver out. The duck simply decided to perch up on the roof and that was all there was to it. The daft bird refused to be dissuaded and act more sensibly. Passing errand runners on the sidewalks below secretly wondered if it meant something dramatic like a big earthquake coming or maybe the end times were at hand.
Eventually the Shopping Center management time forced the duck off after realizing the potential fallout if they did not return things to normalcy and get all their ducks in a row.
But nothing ever resulted from it except the duck just kept standing on top of Willow Glenn Shopping Center’s darn 5th story Clock Tower bank building.
It took nearly a week for the other ducks to convince this silly, contrarian roof sitting duck to come back down to the lake and join everyone else. Deron had no chance of competing with this kind of attention getting display.
Our blue heron saw all these stunts and wandered what their motivations were.
Deron: “No I didn’t I was watching the nurses through the windows of the medical building.”
John the Narrator: “Yeah but I bet you must have wondered……wait a minute I’m not going to allow you to get me to lose focus.”
Back to my story:
Deron dreamed of being trusted and wished he could shed himself of the reputation for just being a hunter. He gradually was becoming removed and withdrawn not for practical reasons of preference, but out of deep insecurity. Deron was even afraid to look into the waters reflection to see his spindly legs. He was becoming self-conscience; which is never a good thing for a hunter.
He longed to have someone give him a name. He was tired of being a National Geographic spectacle for the few that bothered to notice him. He wanted a tame, respectable reputation like the green headed mallards with their distinctive features. He heard the businessmen peering over from the gazebo calling out nick names to some of the ducks as they called them over for feeding. Deron longed for accessibility.
He just couldn’t get any satisfaction. The other suburban pond birds were wary of his hunting reputation and felt him to be an oddball since he did NOT travel with any of his own kind, like they did.
The scientists and the building tenants and landlords likewise, wished he would just go away. He was not cuddly or pastoral and would only get more spoiled by feasting on such an easy suburban pond.
Here is what Game Warden Reynolds from nearby Algonkian Park had to say about the arrangement: “It just wasn’t natural for Deron to stay every day at the suburban pond. Believe us, Blue Heron’s like to be at state, regional and national parks which our textbooks say is their natural habitats in the wild. Anything else is unnatural and might have serious side effects.”
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
The problem was—Deron the blue heron had, over time, grown weary and ceased to feed on this suburban pond or any other one located in the greater Sterling/Sugarland area. He ate when he needed to, but generally he had chosen these suburbs as a place to escape the competitive past he had known on the Potomac River.
Deron mostly wanted to study the people going by and get himself lost in their daily dramas. He was as haunted by the hustle bustle sight of cars and electronically distracted pedestrians just as he was overloaded by the harshness and limitations he faced from his own kind back home. He was also haunted by the fact that he was past his prime and still felt so misunderstood.
And so Bobby Mudhead made sure to visit Deron the Blue Heron during his breaks at his tutoring school. While his teenage peers talked of dating and career options, Bobby turned his thoughts towards all things nature. He continued taking notes and consulting the internet to become more knowledgeable on blue herons as a species.
Bobby: “That is so not true. I only went outside a few times a day to watch Deron. I talked to plenty of girls.”
Narrator: Let’s not split hairs and get back to my story.
As Bobby did his personal research a funny thing happened. The prevailing research on blue herons didn’t seem to quite match up to the habits and personality of what he saw in this particular bird—Deron the blue heron.
So he started writing more of his own thoughts and leaving the internet trivia behind. And as the weeks turned into months, Bobby began to suspect that Deron was on the verge of doing something splashy—something totally unprecedented in the entire history of blue herons.
And it turns out that young Bobby was on to something. Deron the blue heron DID harbor a radical idea in his little bird brain. He decided he would stage his own ROOF sit down strike just like that duck had done some years back on the same bell clock above the same office building.
Daredevil, building sitting duck: “HONK, HONK. Deron wasn’t being original at all John. I already came up with that idea remember?”
Narrator: “That is not the point I am making if you will let me go on with the story.”
So on this sunny, fateful day in the suburbs, Deron flapped his gray wings and willed his skinny legs up, up, and further up towards the roof. He was now OFF script and totally into a new world of exhibitionism never attempted by a blue crane. Heads of workers and shoppers craned up to see this great, lanky creature’s shadow overhead. Just as the UPS driver and the pizza delivery drivers got out of their vehicles. Deron let out a mighty SCREECH!!! That tore through the ears of all those below.
It was as if Deron was finally visible to the Willow Glenn Shopping Center community for the very first time.
Tammy Tensely: “Don’t forget John, I saw him every day on my way to work.”
As I was saying, Deron was now crowned majestically on the top of the 5 stories tall, Clock Tower Bank Building. His uncommonly skinny legs, which no tube sock could ever support, dangled partially over the eaves to capture more attention. There was so much finger pointing and craning heads that bank costumers trying to rush in by noon to make their transactions pulled up short and failed to make into the doors in time.
And there Deron remained motionless—his inscrutable eyes staring blankly ahead. Only this time there were no fish or turtles for him to spot through the waters reflection.
It was just cars and humanity.
And the legend goes that Deron the blue heron stared so long and stood so long on that building that he eventually turned to STONE and became a gargoyle building mascot for 5 story Clock Tower Bank Building until it was eventually bulldozed down to make a bigger building in 2033.
But he didn’t do it to escape the drudgery of group life like the daredevil duck first did. He did it to transcend his circumstances and to stand out in the world at large—free from scientific research and predictions and liberated from the practical PREDATOR label.
And the people and animals of the Willow Glenn Shopping Center embraced this legend and passed it on to their offspring. Dr. Deejay Singh adopted Deron as his official logo for his ACHIEVEMENT GED Tutoring Company for Potential Drop-outs Company.
Deron the Blue Heron: “Wait a minute. I hate to ruin your story John but how can I still be talking if I was turned into stone? You’re telling everyone that I just stood there until I turned to stone? I never ate or went to the bathroom? No one would believe that.”
Narrator John: “Have a heart Deron I am trying to end this story in a way that will be entertaining.”
Bobby Mudhead: “But it’s a stupid story. I always figured that Deron would fly back to the Potomac River and rectify his past with his new found wisdom!”
Narrator John: “Listen who’s the writer here? Bobby you barely got your GED.”
Ranger the dog: “John loved me best and give me biscuits!”
Dr. Singh: “This ending is not realistic.”
HOA commercial shopping center wildlife specialist: “I just wish our group had been allowed to read a draft of this story before it was released. This story in no way reflects the typical habits and inner daydreaming thoughts of Blue Herons or Ardea Herodias (scientific classification).
Game Warden Reynolds: “I concur.”
Editor’s notes: Finally all the character voices from John’s imagination reached a crescendo in his head—all the arguing and counter positions were too much for one narrator and author to bear. It was nothing but white noise and static.
Suffix to say John dreamed up the story while napping on the Willow Tree side of the lake while perching with his dog Ranger. He was finally waken by the clambering voices inside his head which forced him stand up and grab his head with both hands. The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was that same Blue Heron staring in a detached manner back at him. Eye witnesses reported seeing a middle aged man swatting his arms in the air and arguing with himself as his dog led him back to his car. The characters in his story had just plain disagreed with him like a bad case of indigestion after a late night Italian dinner.
Further analysis on his Deron the Blue Heron children’s book, reveals that the lead character, Deron, actually represents the author during his gawky, skinny adolescent phase. The park rangers represent his distrust of authority. The ducks and geese represent his peer group in high school and Bobby Mudhead is actually his beloved, late blooming nephew Alexander. Game Warden Reynolds was inspired by his middle school Principal—Warren Renaldi. All else is pure speculation.
John the narrator continues to live a peaceful, and mostly sane, existence with his wife and dog in a humble ranch house just 5 minutes from Willow Glenn Shopping Center which isn’t the real name at all.