I saw him flit across the leaden west,
Slow flap his way, poise high the wings of slate,
The trailing feet upon an oak's dead crest
To anchor drop, a migrant ship of state.
I saw him next among his bayous bleak,
Slim, sombre, mute, and grim, with listless wing;
With yet a fierce reserve of eye, a beak
The shafted lightning, egret crowned, a king.
I saw him last where palms their plumes upreared,
The mystic ibis of my lady's bower,
An alien, stark, majestic still, a weird
Gray ghost of decorative grace and power.
- The Great Blue Heron by J. Vallance Brown, from The New Teachers and Pupils Encyclopedia: Study for Instruction, published in 1924 by the Holst Publishing Company, Volume 7, Pg. 49
The heron demonstrates tremendous patience. It will arrive in its hunting grounds only to scare away its prey. It will stand in the shallows on its two stick-like legs ... and wait. Eventually, the fish will get over being spooked by this lethal predator and foolishly return. The heron is a skilled hunter. It won't move until the right moment.
Heron stands in the blue estuary,
Solitary, white–unmoving for hours.
A fish! Quick–avian darting;
The prey is captured....
- Deng Ming-Dao in 365 Tao Daily Meditations
The creature shows remarkable balance as it waits and watches. It will feel a slimy-covered fin brush up against its legs that resemble two stalks of some water plant. Still, it does not move. Its head begins to lower ever so slowly to better survey the life that is returning to the murky waters of the swamp. It bides its time as if it has all eternity to wait.
I thought of this comparison as I watched this video unfold. I also thought about the patience that is required to learn this kind of balance. There are teachers, old masters in the Far East who can teach these graceful movements and delicate techniques, but the student must be prepared to learn at the Master's pace.
It reminded me of this writing from The Reader's Digest Almanac of the Uncanny.
"Those aspiring to immortality followed the path of Taoism, one of the three great religions of China. To achieve longevity, a combination of techniques–respiratory, dietary, gymnastic, meditative and sexual–had to be mastered. One then supposedly became a Xian, a demigod who was able to fly, change the weather, assume animal forms, be invisible and perhaps live forever. Magical amulets with stylized characters, drawn by specialist, were worn for personal and spiritual protection against death. Taoists also practised a form of T'ai Chi–physical exercises that were modelled on the movements of long-lived animals, such as tortoises and cranes."
Not all achieve immortality. Many are quite happy with what time has been set aside just for them.
Moonlight shines on the lotus pond;
Lotus fragrance pervades my clothes.
There's wine in the golden jug and a beauty playing the lute.
Captivated by the mood I sing a sad refrain.
Pine and bamboo sway to my song;
Cranes dance in the garden.
Thus, happy with relatives, glad with friends, I'll live the span allotted me by heaven.
- Moonlight by Kim Sujang who lived in the 1600s, and translated by Kevin O'Rourke.
I hope you will be as captivated as I was when I first saw this video, how the artist is able to be the focus of attention. You can almost hear a pin drop with the creation that begins with a single feather.
Snowy coats and snowy crests and beaks of blue jade
flock above the fish in the brook and dart at their own shadows,
in startled flight show up far back against the green hills,
the blossoms of a whole pear-tree shed by the evening wind.
- Egrets by Tu Mu (803-853)(China) translated by A. C. Graham, featured in the collection, World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse From Antiquity To Our Time, edited by Katharine Washburn and John S. Major, published by the Quality Paperback Book Club, New York.
Judith Wright reminds us to pause on our own journey.
Once as I traveled through a quiet evening,
I saw a pool, jet-black and mirror still.
Beyond, the slender paperbacks stood crowding;
each on its own white image looked its fill,
and nothing moved but thirty egrets wading–
thirty egrets in a quiet evening.
Once in a lifetime, lovely past believing,
your lucky eyes may light on such a pool. As though for many years I had been waiting,
I watched in silence, till my heart was full
Of clear, dark water, and white trees unmoving,
and, whiter yet, those egrets wading.
Don Jackson, June 2013