Appearing suddenly like a pterodactyl from the age of the dinosaurs, the lumbering avian giant flew by at eye level, two meters above the narrow stream. It didn’t just part the curtain of time; it obliterated time.
The Great Blue Heron materialized at a moment of insight after a doubt-filled day, providing an incredible encounter beside the stream at dusk. It completely changed the character of my day, and feels like it changed me in some way I can’t say, or even fully see.
The Great Blue Heron is the largest North American heron, with a wingspan that can reach nearly 2 meters, or almost 80 inches. It stands a majestic four feet tall, but only weighs about 6 or 7 pounds. In the air it looks huge and the sight of one is awe-inspiring; on the ground it looks fragile and defenseless.
Without any hope or expectation of its return, I was surprised when the magnificent bird flew back upstream and landed 30 meters away on a section of stones across the creek below a steep, thickly foliated bank. Great Blue Herons are notoriously shy birds, and I’d never seen one so close.
The voices of people going by above it on the narrow park road, behind a thick wall of blackberry bushes, did not perturb the Great Blue at all. But the slightest movement by me 30 meters away made it almost take off again.
More gray than blue even in the diminishing light, it stood about 4 feet high, with a remarkably long neck and an equally remarkable triangular beak that jutted well out in front of its slender head. Conveying an air of exquisite stateliness, it had three black markings of note—a thin band behind its eyes, looking almost like a mask; a chevron on its upper wings; and dark tips on its lower wings.
The Great Blue stood almost completely motionless for 10-15 minutes, only swiveling its head ever so slightly every minute or so. I remained as motionless as the bird, wondering what it would do, feeling its awareness on me. With almost comical slowness, it picked up one of its spindly legs and stepped forward, then stopped. To my surprise it began to walk upstream, in slow motion, until a small tree to my right blocked my view of it.
Another 5 minutes passed before it remerged, obviously judging that the human was ok, and very slowly walked upstream right passed me, coming within 3 meters of where I sat. It was about 6 feet away when it passed by, and even in the fading light, I could make out every feature on its body. But it was its presence and awareness that struck me the most.
It was obviously fully aware of me the entire time, since it picked up its pace only after it went by, whereupon it stood about 20 meters away, hidden by foliage and out of view.
For over 30 minutes (I completely lost track of time) I hardly moved a muscle. When I got up and walked around the bushes behind me on the path that parallels the stream, and looked it downstream, it took to the air and lumbered downstream again.
It’s an extraordinary thing to feel the keen awareness of a magnificent animal such as that on you for half an hour or more. To be sure, the Great Blue Heron is not human, and does not have a human being’s capacity for conscious awareness (though there are few humans that have awakened awareness to such a sustained degree).
But I daresay that sitting motionless in the awareness of that creature, which is after all the awareness of a sentient creature in nature (if by sentience we simply mean aware, rather than aware that it is aware), one felt one was sitting in the light of God’s awareness.
This goes way beyond the sentimental Christian notion that ‘all creatures are creatures of God,’ or the New Age idea of ‘Gaia.’ Awareness is God and God is awareness in a way immeasurably beyond the capacity of even the most awakened human being to grasp.
It’s clear to me as I grow older that not only are animals in nature aware without being self-aware (the purview and potential of the human being), but that nature is aware, and the universe itself is aware.
Indeed, there is awareness beyond but not separate from this universe and all the universes that may exist or may have ever existed. If that sounds panentheistic, so be it, but that is just a word.
To feel the actuality of nature/cosmic/God’s awareness is not just to be impressed by something vastly greater than one’s self and man, but be imprinted with it. And that, I would argue from the most mystic chords within one, is the truest and deepest reason human beings are on this earth.
It is a very strange thing. The past and present are one timeless movement in evolution, to the development of diversity and complexity of life on earth. But the past and present are one movement in time in man, to the destruction of diversity of life and simplicity in the human being.
When the movement of time in man ends in the mind of a human being in meditation, an infinite inward journey begins. Truly, there is only being and beginning.