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