|That first, grass-less spring - 1989|
When we moved into the house we built 25 years ago, it was the biggest tar paper and chicken wire shack you could imagine. When the snow melted and the stucco went up, our property boundaries were pretty clear...we had no grass and everyone around us did. It was easy for Asta the Wonder Springer to figure out her patrol perimeter without ever needing a leash or a tether.
Sometime during that first summer, Asta encountered the great blue heron. Oh, he was magnificent! Our neighbor explained the bird had had a mate, but the summer before she hadn't returned to the pond with him. Seems herons mate for life, and this guy was a widower. He hung out all summer near the house, watching with interest as the sod was laid and Asta patrolled. One really hot day, Asta made her way through the weeds and out onto the promontory into the pond. The heron, who had been standing there, immediately took off. Asta parked her butt on the mud and just sat there. Thus began a beautiful friendship.
Every year the heron came back and and every year they inched closer and closer together until they were spending many a companionable dusk hour side by side; Asta sat and the heron stood on one leg. After a few years, the heron took to announcing his arrival by standing in the middle of the backyard staring at the house...until Asta came out. The summer after Asta died, the heron came into the yard day after day after day...until the puppy arrived. Big Blue had no interest in meeting this white bundle of trouble. Still, it isn’t really spring until Big Blue shows up in the yard and stares at the house until one of us sees him.
|the new kid on the block|
This spring, however, I was worried. Very worried. I'd seen a heron, a young one not quite as big as our old guy, but not our heron. A couple of days ago, I spotted a new fellow hanging out in a tree over the culvert that feeds into our pond. It was a black crowned night heron. I'd seen them before, but this guy was taking up residence in the tree. Since he never moved while Peri was running around the yard, I thought I might be able to get a picture. Slowly, I crept down there and had just taken the first shot when a duck started quacking and the heron took off. I was about to walk away when suddenly there was this flapping noise.
Big Blue rose straight up from the culvert where he must have been fishing. It was just like when the Enterprise rises from the water in INTO THE DARKNESS. Turning as he came up, he saw me. He paused for just a second or two and we stared at each other. It was as though he said, "Oh, it's you. No prob." And he dropped back down into the culvert.
I was so relieved to see him. Deliriously so. One more thing in my world had not changed when so many others had.
This past Saturday came and went the way all days come and go. But in my world, it was on June 7th five years ago that Ziggy shuffled off his mortal coil and slipped the surly bonds of this world. But next Friday night at sundown, the 16th of Sivan will begin and we mark his passing on the Jewish calendar. We’ll light yahrzeit candles before lighting Shabbat candles, and we will say kaddish for him in shul. And when the sun goes down and the day ends, we will begin another year without him.
So where does Big Blue fit? Well, it’s like this. The year after Asta died, spring was really late and so was the heron. I asked Ziggy if he thought the heron wasn’t coming back. Ziggy shook his head. “Nah, I think the weather has slowed things down,” he said. “He knows the fishing is good here and no on will bother him. I think he’ll come back because this is his home.” Then he looked out over the yard and added, “Besides, I can’t imagine summer without him hanging out. He’s a part of our landscape.”
Ziggy’s the one who isn’t coming back, but he is very much still part of our landscape. It’s true, I’m changing some things in the house because it is, after all, my house now, and I feel only a little bit weird about making decisions without him. Five years into the process of moving on, I have my moments, but they’re fewer now, and no one but me ever really notices, and that’s okay.
One day, the heron won’t come back either. I will grieve for that big bird, and I will grieve for another ending. But until that time I will not dwell on the prospect. Besides, I have a new kitchen floor and counters to pick out.