Friday, June 1, 2012

Wing'd Purposes on Artsy Fartsy Friday

Wing'd Purposes

by Sheila Webster Boneham

I believe in those wing'd purposes,
And acknowledge red, yellow, white, playing within me,
And consider green and violet and the tufted crown intentional,
And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something
And the jay in the woods never studied the gamut, yet trills pretty well
to me,
And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me.

-- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself

Yesterday was the birthday of poet Walt Whitman, and as I reread "Song of Myself" and other poems, I thought about many things, but especially birds.
I am not a professional photographer, but I am a happy amateur, and birds are among my favorite subjects. For Artsy Fartsy Friday this week I'm starting a series of irregularly scheduled posts with some of my photos of birds. This time, I'm focused on a species that I see every day here on the beautiful coast of North Carolina, saw often in Indiana and Nevada when I lived there, and whose cousins I've seen in Europe and the Middle East. No technical palaver, just a little information about what and where, and hopefully a small meditative time out for your viewing pleasure.
But writers and poets - here's a thought! If you're looking for inspiration, why not start with one of these photos and, if you end up with something you like, send me a copy. I would love to see!
And now, to today's wing'd purposes....
Great Blue Heron. This fellow was sitting on a piling in the salt marsh just off the end of the road I lived on last winter. He patiently waited while I ran home for my camera and then moved around the shore clicking away. Is he handsome, or what?

My mother told a story about me as a child, probably three and a half to four years old. I had a bird book even then and spent many hours having my dad read the names of the birds to me. I was, it seems especially fond of owls and herons.

One day I went to visit a friend and came home ecstatically babbling about the church to which they belonged: the Blue Heron Church. I can imagine even now my inner child reveling in the idea of bird worship. Perhaps I was a devotee of Minerva or Horus in another life and place! In any case, my mother couldn't figure out what I was talking about so she called my friend's mother and asked her what church they went to. Lutheran! A far cry, one could say, from bird worship.

Great Blue Heron taking flight. I was walking last fall along the eastern shore of the salt marsh that lies between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway, and this fellow was hunting about 10 feet off shore. I didn't even see him until I was almost on him.

 I do worship at a Blue Heron Church of sorts, though it includes all species and modes of locomotion. As Whitman also wrote,

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me s
ick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their

I can see no greater way to show reverence for things worth believing in than by watching animals, paying attention, and respecting their space, their purposes, their spirits.

Look closely toward the lower left of the photo and you'll see that one of the things that makes Blue Herons Great is that they question - and flout! - authority when the regulations just make no sense. I hope the ranger in on his lunch break.

Another angle on the culprit.

The Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is the largest of the North American herons, and the Great White Heron of the Florida Keys is considered by some ornithologists to be a subspecies of Great Blue.

When I was in Ireland last January, I watched this cousin, a Grey Heron, fish on the rocks of Balscadden Bay every day when the tide was out.

Gray heron on the rocks along the edge of Balscadden Bay, Howth, Ireland.

Great Blue Herons are not exotic or particularly hard to find in many parts of the U.S., although they can be hard to spot in tall grasses. But next time you're near a wetland or lake or salt marsh or other body of water, look closely for the stately grey-blue bird. They're worth the search.

This is the heron in the first photo above. He finally tired of the photo session.


  1. I love herons, they are so intensely cool! Great photos, truly am in love with the reflection in flight especially. Wow...

  2. I've always loved herons. With their stoop-shouldered grace and peaceful way of stalking, they always seemed like such elegant hunters. Thanks for sharing your beautiful pictures...and some Walt! :)