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Fifteen years ago, talking to animals was a big draw for me but also a source of confusion.   I like to blend into the background so I couldn’t have picked a worse avocation; it has a very short list of requirements but for someone who’s put some effort into not being noticed, they are doozies:

1)  Say out loud that you do something strange.

2)  Deliver it.

One day I found myself standing in the kitchen having the same old tired debate.  I’d quit a job cutting hair and taken some time off to tend to my new baby.  When the time came, I thought for the millionth time, would I go back to work in a salon/cube/store, or did I need to buck up, say the weird thing out loud and get on with my life?

Out of the corner of my eye I saw something rise up out of the neighbor’s yard.  It was moving, it was huge, and it lighted on the highest point of the rooftop, kitty-corner from our house.  A great blue heron in suburbia.  Heron have acclimated nicely to suburban living, but to see one that close is nonetheless rare and impressive; I felt honored.

The bird was occupied in some way and facing away from me, so I backed slowly away from the kitchen window, picked up the binoculars  and went upstairs.  From the loft I would have the perfect view, so I sidled up to the window and then peeked carefully around the sash.  It was morning, the window faced east and the sun’s reflection on the window would keep me hidden.

I raised the binoculars to my eyes and saw that the heron had turned to face our house and was looking exactly, unmistakably, right at me.  It was motionless, one stern eye fixed on my face.  I felt caught–or more accurately, busted, doing something I shouldn’t have.  Like doubting myself.

Pay attention, I thought.  We stared at each other until the heron flew away and then I went to Ted Andrews’ book Animal Speak to see what the Great Blue Heron is all about.

It was all there:  lack of boundaries, eccentricity, marching to one’s own drummer, self-determination, disinterest in material and societal accomplishments, not always being present, needing to lighten up  .  .  .  but most importantly, the undeniable need to be whomever one is.

Some time would pass before I said the weird thing out loud, but that day Heron told me, you can trust your instincts.

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