Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Ramble - A Memory of Herons

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and Autumn River
Memory is a thirteenth century word, coming to us from the Middle English memorie, the Anglo-French memoire and the Latin memoria/memor meaning "mindful".  Further back are the Old English gemimor meaning "well-known", the Greek mermÄ“ra meaning "care", and the Sanskrit smarati meaning "that which is remembered". In the Vedas, the term smarati is used to describe teachings handed down by word of mouth from the ancients and never written out.
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 Lanark rivers and lakes at twilight in solitary splendor and hoping 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 gathered in predawn darkness to feed before flying onward. Hundreds stood side by side in the foggy waters of the Mississagi river near the town of  Iron Bridge (Algoma district), and as I crept along the shoreline for a better view, their silhouettes appeared one by one out of the mist. It was wild and absolutely magical.

There is enough enchantment in such tatterdemalion snippets to last many lifetimes, and I would like to retain the memory of that morning for the rest of my earthly days and beyond, no matter how many other mind scraps embrace the void somewhere along the road.  I've always loved the "Great Blues", 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.  I don't usually think of a group of Great Blues as a sedge though.

For heron lovers who don't fly south in winter and stay here in the north, the right expression for a gathering of our favorite birds is surely "a memory of herons".

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