Driving along a country road yesterday, we spotted a grey heron. We see them occasionally. Big, flappy, ungainly birds- very prehistoric vibe about them. In Ireland they are commonly known as Narry’s of the bog.
It was apparent that Narry was not happy. Ger stopped the car and we watched him for a couple of minutes. He made an attempt to fly off and failed. Just then a dog came bounding down to the road, barking like crazy. So what to do next? Having stopped the car, we felt involved.
At this point, I should say that I have tried to stop getting involved in situations like this. Ever since I was small, I’ve rescued birds. Recently I connected with a former student flatmate on facebook. We hadn’t met in over thirty years. Apparently, her stand out memory of me is rescuing a beat up, half dead pigeon that I brought home and attempted to keep alive. I think I made everyone take turns to feed him during the night! The sad thing is, that despite my best efforts, 90% of the things I rescued died. I console myself with the thought that at least they had a happy death, knowing that someone cared. But, still and all, they ended up dead.
Given my past experience, I was not disposed to taking Mister Nary dinosaur bird home. Did I mention his beak? It was sword like in it’s proportions. A lethal weapon for spearing fish. Pigeon rescue is easy. Rescuing this Jurassic relic took guts. And that’s where my beloved shone. He picked him up- tucked him under his arm and sat in the passenger seat. As we pulled off, the bird started squawking- raucous, dinosaur like sounds. Very Jurassic.
The grey heron is approx 1 metre in height. His wing span is 1.6 to 2 metres. Suffice to say, he’s no pigeon. Sitting in the front seat of our car, with his mad, black, haunted eyes, he looked like a crumpled chicken. There was nothing to him under all the feathers.
Funnily enough, the grey heron has been revered in Irish mythology since time immemorial. There’s a story about two girls, Aoife, daughter of Daelbeth, and Luchra, daughter of Abhartach. Both of them fancied this guy Illbreac, who was a son of the great Sea God, Manannán mac Lir. Anyway, Manannan preferred Aoife and Luchra wasn’t happy. So what did she do? In a fit of pique, she turned Aoife into a heron. Aoife the heron, flew off and lived to be 200 years old. Manannan was so upset when she finally passed away that he decided to commemorate her in a very special way.
Remember Silence of the Lambs? Manannan would have loved that film.
To honour his lovely Aoife bird, he skinned her and kept all his treasures in a little bag made out of her. Ah, love’s true dream, eh?
When the Christian church hit our shores, somewhere back in the 5th century, it too had some thoughts about the grey heron. The nice thing about the early Christians was that they were very fluid in their interpretation of the way things were. Completely unphased by the strong hold of the indigenous Celtic pantheon, they simply altered some pertinent facts; inserted saints where there were previously gods and goddesses and proceeded to assume absolute control of the hearts and minds of the population.
So, the heron, once sacred to the Triple Goddess, worshipped as the keeper of secrets and shamanic travel, maintained a place in the popular imagination as a fallen sinner. Word was that if you failed to make it to heaven on account of your bad deeds on earth, you might well have to come back to earth as a heron, and this was by way of penance.
But, I digress. Back to the present day and the plight of Mr Nary.
We came to the conclusion that we should bring him some place where he could recuperate, safe from dogs and cars. Not too far away was a lake. Ger found a sheltered spot and we left him there. By way of remembrance, our friend gave Ger a parting gift: a two inch scratch down the side of his face.
Who could blame him? He was freaked out, big time. The wound looks worse than it is. It will heal. I sincerely hope that Mr Nary will recover and live to fly another day. The younger me would have brought him home and fed him worms and put him a bucket of hay. Maybe that would have been the right thing to do. I don’t know. It’s tricky with wild things. The shock of being out of their environment can be too much for them. Many of them don’t survive the trauma.
Anyway we drove off, went home and thought about what had happened. Being up close to such an ancient, scrawny specimen of life was pretty special, humbling even. I love that about life in the countryside. Those rare, insider moments when you get to experience the natural world in all its diversity. Truly, we live on an amazing planet.