Some last things are more poignant than others, and one of the late autumn entities that always tugs at my heartstrings is the last heron of the season, he or she haunting the shallows of a Lanark lake at sundown in solitary splendor and looking for a few last minnows, frogs and/or water beetles to fuel the long trip south. It's a long arduous journey from here to there - all the way to the southern states, Mexico, Honduras, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
I once wrote about an autumn morning in northern Ontario when the heron migration was in full swing, and the great birds had gathered in predawn darkness to feed before flying onward. Hundreds stood side by side in the foggy waters of the Mississagi river, and as I crept along the shoreline, their silhouettes appeared one by one out of the mist and the shrouded river as if by magic.
There is enough enchantment in such tatterdemalion snippets to last many lifetimes, and I hope to retain the memory for the rest of my earthly days and beyond, no matter how many other mind scraps embrace the void somewhere down the road. I've been a lover of herons every since, and I revisit the scene often in my thoughts—it is always a place of peace and stillness.
For whatever reason, archaic English refers to a group of herons together, not as colony or a flock, but as "a sedge of herons". Every summer I watch herons fishing in the shallows along Dalhousie Lake and think that if there were no other teachers about, I would be just fine with a sedge of herons to show me the way.
For heron lovers who must remain north in winter, the right expression for a gathering of our favorite birds is surely "a memory of herons".