It's summer, and the vernal pools are drying,
hidden by tall grasses going to seed.
Spring's night and day chorus of frogs has faded;
tadpoles grown and hopped away.
I stood at Meadowlark Prairie on the last day of May.
Canada geese came and went
with loud announcements of arrivals and departures.
A red-winged blackbird sang,
liquid notes slipping through the willows.
Families on bikes stopped to look out
over the wetlands.
A young girl left her pink coat on the bench,
coming back for it in response to my call.
A great blue heron stalked below the bridge
carefully moving one stilt-like leg at a time--slowly, slowly.
Swiftly the plumed head darted out
and came back with a crawfish crosswise in its bill.
I thought I could hear the crunching of sturdy exoskeleton
when the bird moved the struggling creature sideways,
as if flattening an ear of corn.
With a toss, the crawfish was turned, then gulped and
moved down that long, slender neck,
the way a snake swallows a toad.
The heron went on to repeat
this precise performance three more times.
Although I have only once seen the elusive bittern,
stretching its neck upward,
pretending to be stalks of grass,
there is something deeply mysterious beneath the feathered facade
of its more common cousin.
Great blues carry secrets of past and future,
from Mt. Mazama's eruption and the settling of volcanic ash
into the clay that lies beneath its feet
to whatever may lie ahead,
and I have no doubt
that this bird, this essence of wetlands,
becomes a spirit after dark,
moving across the wet prairie--
an unseen shadow
whose silent passage is marked only by the bending grasses.
The vernal pools are drying.