The grey heron is back. I have been watching and waiting for him, and finally I’ve been rewarded. Last year he was a fixture on Dunsapie Loch, on the east side of Arthur’s Seat. There he would stalk, or wade, or stand frozen in position like some sort of prehistoric decoy. This year he favours the busier St. Margaret’s Loch by the main road running through Holyrood Park. This body of water is popular with young children and old ladies clutching plastic Hovis bags filled with torn-up stale bread that they feed to the pigeons. They are less interested in the heron than I would have imagined, but he is watchful and vigilant, pinning us with his Mona Lisa eye as he adopts a poised, regal stance.
Herons are resident year-round, so I don’t know where he has been before now. He seems to come and go, take off and reappear unexpectedly. It makes me think about the people who land into our lives, make an impact and then take flight, disappear without warning. And I think about how this coming and going is our source of greatest pleasure and pain. Who is going to appear? From where? When shall they land? How long will they be around? Don’t go! I think about significant individuals who appear to have fallen from the sky into my life and brought with them a whirlwind of change and energy and excitement. I might have thought they were here for good, settled with clipped wings, but in reality, we never know how long someone is staying and whether or not they are just passing through. It might not seem like it right now, as many of us have never been more static in our lives, but we are all in a constant state of taking flight and landing; if not geographically, then in our commitments and responsibilities. Some people stay put for the longest time, so much so we begin to think they are as fixed and permanent as an ancient standing stone. Others are in perpetual movement, afraid to commit – like my heron – to one particular body of water; they move themselves on. Others want to stay, but fate or life or circumstance has different plans and they are pushed, unfairly, before their time. And all this from watching the heron? Yes. I think about old friends who have landed into my inbox during the lockdown, and new friends too, stopping by, leaving an impression. How long before they all take flight?
The heron gets ready to fly. He seems to labour in takeoff, as inelegant as a Boeing 747 trundling down the runway. I almost doubt his ability to rise – which of course he does – into ungainly but powerful flight. Higher, farther, smaller; he is gradually disappearing, until I can see him no more. And into the sky with him rise those people I have known who don’t visit in person anymore. I trust he’ll be back, this bird that has become my symbol for cycles of arrival and departure. I walk on in the sure knowledge that old faces are never replaced but remembering that the arrival of new faces bring hope.