By Bradley Robertson
When I was a child, my grandmother, Gaga, lived on a picturesque lake in Winter Park, FL. Old, low sweeping oaks swept through her neighborhood with moss on every branch to create canopies of shade. Her lake was smooth and calm, open to wildlife and sunshine.
Gaga was the manager of the condominium complex where she lived, Virginia Halls. She was a smaller, spry woman, white-headed and tan from the sun. She carried around a chain of 3 dozen keys attached to her pocket that made a clinking sound as she walked. I can still hear the sound of her keys to this day.
The year was 1986 and my mother drove a tan, boat-sized station wagon with faux wood trim. After a day’s drive from Auburn, the wagon would finally pull down a steep drive, disappearing into an underground parking garage. The beast of a car made a white noise of loud echoes like in a tunnel. These echoes ring in my ears today, bringing me back into a childhood of smiles, adventure and a never-ending story.
Gaga was a treat. She liked to laugh, she liked to tell tall-tales and she also liked cigarettes. She loved the ocean and taught me to float. She loved to catch fish and she took a swim in her pool daily for exercise. But one thing that she loved the most was a blue heron that lived on her lake.
His name was Harry. Harry the Heron. I remember him being large and a soft, light grey. He had long, sturdy legs and a very orange, long bill. More orange than any heron I have ever seen.
Every day, Gaga would spot Harry from a distance across the lake.
“There’s Harry!” she would say.
With a grin from ear to ear upon her wrinkly, tanned face and old glasses.
“Hey Harry!” she would yell. “What ya’ up to today? You want to come over here and see me?”
And just as if the heron met his own best friend, he would fly to her dock gracefully and perch himself up, tall and proud.
“That’s my boy! I am so glad to see you today.”
And so began an exchange between Gaga and her bird.
Harry was her friend. He was almost human to her. I remember them staring at each other as if gazing deep into the other’s soul. It seems odd and unrealistic, but surely not to the mind of a child. She loved him, and so I loved Harry too.
Harry would come and go throughout the day. And just as Gaga searched for Harry, Harry, too. would show up unexpected on her lush, grass lawn or stand at the banks of her lily pads to see her too.
My days of Harry seem to have never really ended. Although my grandmother left this earth years ago, the story of Harry is still alive.
Today, I am in awe of every blue heron I see. The grandeur and beauty of this fine creature is embedded in my memory. It is a part of who I am.
“Look, it’s Harry!” I tell myself. I grin and am quickly swept into the soul of one beloved bird.
One of my favorite books is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I read it years ago but the tale of the fisherman at sea has never left me. I am attached to the story of Santiago, the old fisherman, just as I am attached to the story of Harry. My connection is this: there is abundance and joy of life in the smallest, most innocent acts of seeing and believing.
Who among us would not want simple pleasures of life? And if it is so easily obtainable, as in a fish or a blue heron, why do we pass it right on by?
We are pressed on every side today, the world trying to tell us how to behave and what we should do. We seem to be losing our sense of direction; as if we are searching for something better or more concrete.
What if in all this searching, we completely miss what we see in front of us?
I would hate to miss the beauty of the blue heron or the red-headed woodpecker on my front lawn. I would hate to miss the small, building hands of my son Shep. I would hate to miss the needs of a widowed neighbor who is lonely.
I would hate to miss the big blue eyes of my nephew and his soft feet as he begins to learn to crawl.
I would hate to miss the taste of cold, white wine sitting on a beach at sunset with my husband.
Gaga taught me not only to appreciate the heron, but that our happiness lies in what we believe when we see.
I choose to see the sweet and simple joys taking place around me and so I believe in the greater story being told.