There was a heron in the garden when I arrived at my son’s home a little before eight o’clock. It stood on the deck, almost as tall as me, and looked me in the eye. For a moment there was a feeling of wordless communication…a kind of mute yet mutual acknowledgement of presence… then, not releasing my gaze, it spread the great wings and took to the air.
The pond is fairly heron-proof. They come in occasionally and perch on the handrails that surround the water some five feet above its surface. The accessible area is just too narrow to be a comfortable landing space for anything with a wingspan so vast and there are few places to stand, even if a heron should gain ingress. The water is deep and the fish alert to danger. The only resident at risk is little bent-tail fish.
Bent-tail has caused us much concern over the past two years. Every visitor is likely to stop at the pond on the way to the front door and almost all comment that we have a dead or sick fish in there. Bent-tail’s position of choice is a shallow corner, on the surface. Whatever caused the bending of the tail had also affected his ability to remain submerged for long and he spent the winter at the surface. We didn’t expect him to survive and had several heart-wrenching days where he was upside down for most of the time.
Resilient as always, bent-tail recovered and you could see him take pleasure in the slight warming of the waters as the spring sunlight brought its comfort to the shallows. He still managed to zip around the pond and play with the other fish. My first job, every morning, has been to check on his wellbeing.
My son has felt a sense of kinship with the little orfe. Both he and the fish have overcome seemingly insurmountable problems and defied predictions. I too am fond of the valiant little creature. So my first thought was for bent-tail when the heron flew off.
There was not a fish in sight. Not one of the forty or so in the pond. They had all retreated to the depths… which suggested that the heron has somehow been able to land and give them a scare. There was no sign of bent-tail…but as all the fish were missing, no more than gilded shadows deep below the water, I was not unduly concerned.
It took a while for the fish to regain their confidence and come to the surface for breakfast. There was no sign of bent-tail, but it is a big pond with many places to hide and not all the fish were calm yet.
An hour later and all the fish are playing in the sun. Except bent-tail.
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