The Blue Heron
by Mary A.G. Embery
Blue Heron, glass mosaic by Lizzie Tucker
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As I looked through the cold April drizzle at the Great Blue Heron perched on the log, I thought, “God went all out on this one!” It was a foul day. The drizzle was cold, and everything reeked of swamp and decaying wood. I stared at the heron encircled in a wreath of Spanish moss. It was a perfect picture. I wished with all my soul that I would have a camera in my hands instead of a rifle when I looked down. It didn’t happen and I was thinking of a way out of the situation, when my father interrupted my thoughts.
“Shoot, Jon!” He whispered fiercely, “It’s going to fly away before you can even raise the blasted gun!”
My pa was touchy because he knew that if I let this shot slip, it would be a lot of money down the drain.
Reluctantly, I raised the sight to my eye, not wanting to spoil the view. Hesitantly, I aimed, shut my eyes tightly, and fired. I heard the shot ring out, and I prayed that God would forgive me for killing one of his creatures that is as beautiful as this. I never wanted to shoot any bird, but if I told my pa that, he would disown me.
When I looked up, it looked as if an invisible hand had swiped the heron from its perch. My pa sprang up to get the prize. He carried it back and handed it to me so he could pat me on the shoulder.
“Nice job, Jon! Clean through the eye!” The best I could give him in return was a quavery smile and a weak, “Thanks,” although praise from my father came about as often as a snowstorm in a desert.
Pa didn’t notice the quiver in my voice, but kept on walking, talking about how I would become an excellent hunter one day, and how much money I was going to bring the family.
As we headed home, I tried to clear my mind, but all I could see was the heron being knocked off its perch, and my pa showing me the bullet hole where the eye had once been.
I was so engrossed in wallowing in pity for the bird that I nearly walked into the cypress tree next to our house. Pa called me into the barn to help with the evening chores.
After the chores were done, Pa left me to skin the bird. It was then that I realized that the bird was a female, and it also was nesting season. Then the harsh reality hit me as hard as the bullet must have hit the heron; that poor mother had been luring us away from her nest.
I went to bed with a sick stomach and tossed and turned the entire night with guilt. The next morning it was raining so hard that I could barely find my way to the barn to do my chores. I wondered if there were any chicks in the nest. Concentrating on anything was impossible, as my mind kept wandering to the heron. I couldn’t even hear, and my parents grew worried. My mother took me into the pantry and looked at my tongue, turned my eyelid inside out, and made me swallow a spoonful of bitter, black medicine. After that, she put me to bed for the rest of the day.
The next morning was beautiful, and after I had convinced my mother that I was healthy, I told her that I was going out to play. I stole some cornbread, and went to the place where I had shot the heron.
The water was about a foot higher than it had been, and I traipsed all around the swamp, finding three small chicks in it. I leaned down to see if any of them were alive. Two were dead, but the third one twitched and squeaked. It gave such a weak cry that my heart almost broke. I stooped down, crumbled the cornbread in my hand, and mixed it with swamp water, so I had a type of cornbread clabber. As gently I could, I pried open the mouth of this chick, and poured the crude mixture down its throat.
After I had forced the chick to eat, I took off my shirt and bundled the chick in it. The path home was rough, and it was a task of gargantuan proportion trying not to jolt the pitiful little thing in my arms.
Once at home, I carefully snuck the baby bird into the warmest, driest, and most remote corner of the hayloft that I could find. I lay the chick in a little nest that I scooped out, and piled some hay up next to it, so it was completely hidden. The warmth of the stock beneath it, and the sound of the horses and cows chewing their hay, and the content snorting of the pigs put it right to sleep. I decided to name it Crest.
The bird was quite safe there and for the next 4 weeks, Crest remained a secret. I snuck up to feed him 3 times a day when I was doing the chores. We quickly became friends, and he surprised me one day by stumbling around the loft, flapping his wings. This frightened me because if my pa ever came up and saw him stumbling around, there would be trouble.
In the end, I had to resort to the cruelest measure of torture by tying his feet together and pinioning his wings. I was thankful that Crest was a quiet creature.
My thankfulness didn’t last long. One day, 2 months after I’d first found Crest, Pa came in from the barn after feeding the horses, carrying in a struggling Crest by his legs.
“Son?” he questioned me fiercely, “I heard a rustle in the hayloft, and went up there to find this!” Pa presented my bird triumphantly and shook it. My father hated any man that took pity on animals that could bring in money.
“Pa! I can explain!” I cried desperately. “He was dying! He would’ve died!”
“If he didn’t die then, he’s gonna die now!” He flung the bird on the floor and got his shotgun from against the wall. My mother ran out of the room, terrified.
“Pa! NO!” I screamed. I lunged forward and managed to dive in
front of the bird milliseconds before the shot reach the animal. All
of a sudden, I felt a sudden numbness in my stomach, then white fire. The room started spinning in an uncontrollable vertigo. I saw my two sisters, their faces buried in my mother’s skirt; my mother, hands pressed
tightly against her lips, her face white with terror. I saw my father on
his knees, looking toward the heavens, screaming, and then Crest. I
made a final lunge for him, and then black overcame me.
I slipped in and out of consciousness for a week. When I finally woke up, I thought, “What a terrible dream!” I tried to roll over, but I felt white fire in my stomach. I groaned in agony.
“So, it wasn’t a dream?” I whispered. My vision blurred, then cleared. My mother came toward me and pressed a cool damp cloth against my forehead.
My father gently touched her on the shoulder, and she stepped aside.
“Son?” he said gruffly, “How are you?”
“I’ve been better.” I managed a feeble laugh.
“I’m sorry.” His voice cracked, “So sorry . . .” My pa’s voice trailed off and he began to cry. That sight startled me, but I had to be strong now.
“It’s all right,” I said in a soothing voice. “Everything will be OK.”
He gulped, and my mother stepped forward,
“Jon, your father has something he wants to give to you.” Pa looked at my mother doubtfully, and she gave him a gentle push toward the door. He returned a few moments later carrying a bewildered Crest, and delivered him right into my arms.
From then on, not another bird was shot; not for food, nor for profit, nor for pleasure. I was finally able to explain to my father what I really wanted to do with birds; I wanted to take pictures of them in their natural glory. I think my father finally understood, because for my birthday gift, I received a camera, and a card inscribed with the words:
“May all your dreams come true.”
When discussing literature, people recall specific details that are memorable or significant about the story.
When discussing several ideas or details, people often group them into related categories. Classification helps identify what sets of ideas or details have in common.
When we develop experience as readers, we begin to move from the concrete details stated in the story to more abstract ideas that apply to larger categories of literature or personal experience.
The Blue Heron