As we walked along the trail, talking, a small pond appeared around the curve.
“Look, there’s a heron!” Kurt said to me, pointing across the water. Then he promptly followed up with, “Oh, we spooked it.”
I looked up quickly and saw large grey-blue wings beating low across the water, and immediately fumbled for my camera. I knew there was no way I was going to capture the picture in time, but hoped perhaps the heron would settle further along the shore. I grabbed the case, opened it and got my camera in my hand. Meanwhile, I glanced up… just in time to see those wings gliding away and out of sight. I stopped and watched the last few seconds, marveling at the size and power of the bird and at the beauty of its flight.
Oh, I should just have watched him fly, I thought.
I had been so busy trying to get the camera out, that I had missed it.
I love taking photographs, but lately it’s occurred to me that sometimes I get so caught up in the photo opportunities, that I forget to simply enjoy what’s around me.
Pause, Molly, I reminded myself.
The next morning I wandered down to the river park early to watch the sunrise. I took a few pictures, and after a while headed over to a spot by the railroad tracks. The tracks cross at the base of a river junction here, and you get a lovely vantage of both rivers. I was hoping to listen to the song sparrow again, as he tends to frequent this spot.
This morning as I climbed up, I heard a curious tapping sound. I walked over the tracks and looked down to the water and shore below. There I saw my new friend, the spotted sandpiper, whom I’d first encountered a few days earlier on the dock at the river park. It was bobbing along with its curious walk, pecking along the tidal shore line. I moved a bit closer to see what it was doing and …
Whoa! What’s that!? There, much closer to the tracks and me, was a… beaver? muskrat? I wasn’t sure which it was, but it was thoroughly enjoying a breakfast of greens. Its thick brown fur lay sleek along its sides and water droplets glistened along its back.
I struggled to remember the differences between muskrats and beavers. Obviously the tail is the easiest one, but this wily creature’s tail was hidden beneath the water. I know beavers are much larger, but how do you compare when you only have one species in front of you? It looked big to me, but…? I thought I remembered reading that muskrats weigh only about 4 pounds and this creature appeared to be many times that weight. I also had learned that when they swim, you can see much more of the muskrat’s back/body than the beaver’s. This one wasn’t swimming, but based on its size, I was pretty sure it was a beaver.
Thrilled, I took a few pictures and then suddenly it stopped eating, apparently just noticing me. It looked at me for a long moment, then turned and slipped into the water. Rats! I still couldn’t see its tail and now it was headed off for parts unknown. I walked along the tracks, hoping to see where it went. Trees and bushes interspersed along the edge of the track, hiding part of its progress.
Moving past a clump of trees, I spied it again. Wait! How much of its back is showing? Can I see its tail? There was a swirl of movement in the water. Wait! What? Two heads?? Whoa! There are two of them! They nudged up into each other gently and headed back into shallow water. Based on the size and their bodies in the water, I was now convinced they were beavers. Two beavers! I was so excited!
And that’s when I made my mistake. Frustrated by intruding leaves that interfered with my focus, I tried to get closer. Moving slowly, camera in hand, I crept forward, determined to get a fantastic photo. Instead of simply watching and enjoying the wonder of the moment, this unexpected second encounter, I edged back along the tracks. In an instant, I knew I’d spooked them. They splashed off into the water and veered into two separate directions. There was no coming back this time.
I’m still kicking myself about this. You’d think I’d have learned my lesson from my experience with the heron. But no, clearly, I still have a lot to learn about being in the moment and not always looking to get a tangible “prize” to take away with me. Sigh. Obviously, I’m a work in progress.
I stayed a bit longer and watched a flight of swallows gather in the trees along the river’s banks. The song sparrow added his song to the scene, and a red squirrel and a yellow warbler of some sort stopped by as well. The beavers did not return.
Pause. Look. Listen. Be.
Like I said, a work in progress.