A season of egrets

I saw the first egret of the year last Friday.

Egrets are important to me – the first egret of the year marks the true beginning of spring and hints at the promise of summer. In honor of this year’s first egret, I thought I would share with you an essay I wrote several years ago:

There’s a part of the summer that feels like a special separate season – a season of egrets is how I think of it. Sometime between midsummer and late summer, I slowly realize that I’m seeing egrets almost every day – in cloverleaves, along the shore of Lake of the Isles, in the stream running through the golf course I drive by, in the pond at General Mills. Egrets everywhere, every day.

Each time I see one, I feel a tiny burst of joy. I get excited when I see herons and cranes and other wading birds, too, but it isn’t the same as when I see an egret.

The elegant lines? The dignified yet vaguely silly locomotion? The intense white plumage? Or a more immediate and direct spiritual connection? I haven’t figured it out completely, and am not sure that I want to – if you try too hard to grasp magic, can it stay magical? Or does it become mundane?

My first season of egrets occurred in 1992, when I was working as a recreation survey assistant for Hennepin Parks. I was driving to Elm Creek and across from the park entrance in a shallow lake bisected by many powerlines, I saw hundreds of egrets – more egrets than I had seen before or have seen since. What is the group noun for egrets? Surely not a leap or a gaggle, but maybe an exclamation, or an exultation (like larks), or an entirety, or an enigma, or an elucidation… Whatever it is, seeing those egrets stunned me, left me mute, still, changed.

That day I saw the embodiment of joy, comparable only to the miracle of a monarch migration. I regretted that I did not have a camera, and have carried one ceaselessly since, just in case… but surely a photograph couldn’t have done justice to the event… and the image remains with me, vivid, intense, and immediate all these years later. My photograph is my memory, the capacity for joy that I gained at that moment and have been working toward embodying ever since.

And each summer, during the season of egrets, my capacity for joy and stillness are renewed, reborn, revitalized, refreshed, carrying me through the year until the next such season arrives.

– Chris, 8/17/2000

Some egrets in the New Orleans zoo, from January 2001…

35 thoughts on “A season of egrets”

  1. I always wondered what your email mean’t and i must confess I did not know anything about them until this post!
    Learned something new already this morning!

  2. Lovely essay Chris, we have egrets here too. Not many, they tend to be solitary creatures but we do have them year round. I often see them fishing in the shallows at the bay when I am windsurfing. They are just so elegant and they stnd out really well against the dark rocks and seaweed around here.

  3. I’ve never seen any egrets around here but I always know it is spring when the pairs of ducks start appearing around town, followed by the ducklings.

    Thanks for the lovely essay and photos!

  4. Beautiful pictures and writing, Chris. I love egrets and herons — big and little — too, and we see them practically everywhere (well, since there’s water everywhere, I guess that makes sense!).

  5. I’ve often thought it and know I’ll say it – you are in the wrong profession. The essay is wonderful. Holli and I were walking the other day and we stopped to watch an egret land on a small pond near my house; usually she would want to chase after it (being a retriever) but she and I just sat and watched it for a long time until it decided to leave. It was a great 15 minutes of peace and quiet. IT will have a new meaning now.

  6. Beautiful essay — thanks for sharing! 🙂 I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never really known what an egret was. (Do they live in colorado??) Lovely photos, and now I know!

  7. What a nice essay. I wish you a season of many joyful egrets, how’s that?

    (I also like how by removing just one letter you have the antidote to a season of regrets.)

  8. wonderful words Chris! They truly are majestic — I can’t remember seeing them in Northern Minnesota where I grew up, only great blue herons.

    I’m going to have to think hard for what signifies ‘spring is truly here’ for me — lately every year at that time I am carefully drawing tree buds day-by-day as they explode into leaves.

  9. I have that very same feeling about Canadian Geese when I see them fly in the V formation over my head in early fall. I can hear them talking to each other and for some reason it makes a lump in my throat and I well up with tears. I have a fondness for them because of my husband’s grandparents. They had a breeding pair at their farm in upstate NY. I just love those memories of the house in upstate NY when I see those birds. The house burned down a few years ago, but the memories live on through those silly geese. Your post really struck a cord with me. Thanks, it gave me goose bumps!

  10. You completely captured the way I feel when I see water birds. Cranes and egrets especially. I have probably a hundred pictures that I have taken of them in Florida. It never ever gets old.
    What a beautiful essay and gorgeous photos.

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