Friday, October 19, 2012

At the Table by the Tree

“…nature never fails to unveil new magic…”

By Patrick J. Walsh

At about the half way point of the usual route of my daily walk, there is a point where the road rises. The upward slope obscures the view of the landscape below, where the woodland stream flows through the culvert beneath the road, into the lake that is at the center of the cultivated area of the park.

At that point just beyond my view, on the lake side of the road, there is a good sized tree with a single spare picnic table crouched at its base.

Situated at a fair distance from the more heavily used picnic area near the parking lots, the table at the tree is often the gathering spot for those who spend a lot of time in the park. There are often two or three collected around the table, talking quietly in the warmth of the afternoon in these moderate days of Autumn.

On this particular day, as I headed down the far side of the incline just past the blind spot, I heard my own name echoing outward from the water’s edge. It took a moment for me to focus the scene and the sound of the voice; but then I recognized the longtime friend standing a few yards from the table by the tree.

After we’d exchanged pleasantries and caught up on each other’s news, my friend pointed toward the reedy bank at the opposite side of the lake. Initially I could make out a few ducks — Mallards, my friend reminded me when I misidentified them as wood ducks; and then I saw what had drawn his keener attention: a large gray bird, perched on spindly legs, rising several feet above the surface of the water.

Having a bit of fun with my friend, I shared his excitement at the sighting of the remarkable bird by referring to the creature as a “tall duck,” even as we both agreed that it was most likely a Blue Heron.

© Patrick J. Walsh
The reflected green of the surrounding shrubs made
the water glow like the lush hues of Monet’s Waterlilies.

With its predominantly gray markings, this particular representative of ardea herodias (the scientific name given to the Blue Heron by Carolus Linnaeus in his classic 1758 guide Systema Naturae) arguably bore more resemblance to the Grey Heron more commonly found in other parts of the world.

Whatever his specific lineage, however, his visit to the lake seemed a rare event, as my friend and I each tried to recall the last time we’d seen a heron among the birds that typically populate the park.

Capturing a photo of the magnificent creature was not an easy task. The gray and white of his feathers blurred against the background of the fading brown reeds of the marsh, and the reflected green of the surrounding shrubs made the water glow like the lush hues of Monet’s Waterlilies.

I ultimately managed to record a series of images as the heron darted his beak into the water, pulling up a fish just inches away from the meandering Mallards.

Then, as though bored with the company of the ducks or aggravated by the attention of the humans, the great bird stepped up out of the water and onto the sandy spit of the marsh. With a few quick strides, he disappeared with a stony finality into the cover of the tall reeds.

My friend and I marveled at the sighting, and at the photos, for some time before we parted ways.

Having known each other for virtually the entire span of our lives, the joy of our chance meeting and the opportunity to share the sighting of the heron was simply the latest in a very long string of pleasant times we’ve shared over the years.

And even now, several days later, I marvel still at the wonders that lay just beyond the blind spots in our everyday existence, in those vales where friendships remain evergreen and nature never fails to unveil new magic, in the water and in the air, on the land and in the spirit.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:
• The Hawk


  1. A blue heron once claimed my backyard as part of his territory. Every morning he greeted me with my cup of coffee and Kiva, my dog, chewing toys at my feet. Daily ritual for the dog and bird...but I never got over the specialness of the daily check-in. Thanks for jogging up that memory.

  2. What a neat encounter - and just the sort of thing I had in mind when I was trying to put together this essay. It really is such a special experience when our busy, modern, cosmopolitan lives unexpectedly come in contact with nature!

  3. Thanks for sharing Pat. What a refreshing descriptive account of an unexpected encounter with your friend shared and enhanced by chance encounter with nature.

  4. I think with this particular one, I sort of took the approach you describe on your blog, Raymond. Because my past essays in this series were only about nature and didn't really include other people (other than the narrator), this particular essay required me to piece together each word to try to create the 'perfect picture' that I was looking for… Thank you for reading, and for your input!

  5. Patrick:
    This particular essay reminded me so much of an exercise I did in English class in college. We were asked to describe an autumn scene using precise, descriptive language. Loved the beauty of the strings of words you put together for your reader. I most enjoyed how well this essay fits in within the scope of your blog, about images that linger in the heart. You are 100% correct - nature does unveil fresh beauty every time we see it. It is God's timely and timeless gift that continues giving us new sights to feast upon each and every day. Well done!

  6. Thank you Amanda! I really appreciate your support and your insight.