I am riding across the bridge on Sunrise in the afternoon weeks later. I glance down toward the golf course and see a handful of egrets wading in the shallow water. It takes me by surprise. I’ve only seen my lone egret all this time. I try to find him in the cluster of birds, but no one looks quite like him. They all seem smaller, less regal. I am flabbergasted in some odd way. Where did they all come from? Does he know they’re here? Could these guys become his friends, his family? Later I see my neighbors on the creek path. They ask me if I’ve seen the egret. Yes, I tell them. And I tell them about the ones I saw by the overpass. They seem as surprised as I am. I think about the photographer, about the man in the red hat. I wonder how many more we are, imagine scores of us each having a relationship with this one exquisite bird. What did our egret think of all our attention? And then for a moment I wonder if he is more than an egret.
On the way home from the farmer’s market, I take a detour on my bike to see how much water is in the creek. I see two men, one standing very still with a big brown dog sitting at his feet, the other wielding a camera with a large telephoto lens. I slow way down as I ride past them, not wanting to disturb his shot. Then I see the egret standing in the middle of the creek. I keep going, afraid if I stop he might decide to leave the camera’s eye. I turn around at the bridge and stop to see the egret on the way back. The photographer and his companions are gone, but there are two men watching the egret from the path on the opposite side of the creek. One is wearing a red hat. I think I get almost as much pleasure looking at them as I do the egret. It makes me feel so good to know they treasure him, too. We all stand watching for a long time. The men move off, and the egret leaves, too. I watch him fly south, weaving his way between the fan palms. I turn my head for a moment when a bicyclist comes by, and when I look back the egret has disappeared. I wonder if he’s my morning egret. The day feels like it’s come full circle.
The first thing I see this morning when I raise my head from the pillow is the new snow on our mountain. The sun is shining and the mountain lies beneath the shadow of a big cloud, so the snow stands out even more against the darkness of the shadowed earth and rock. I revel in the glory of it, our impressive mountains capped in white, like holiday gear, and I watch a lone egret flying west, sunlight on his large white wings, stark against the shadowed mountain. Is this “my” egret from the golf course? I put my head back down again. I’m glad for these two white wonders. What a sweet way to begin my weekend.
My shoulders jump, and I bring my bike to a stop. I’d surprised an egret when I came around the bend on the path, his big wings ready to launch himself at the whoosh of my sudden presence. His flurry of flapping startled me in return. Now he is standing off a bit on the golf course looking back at me. “I’m so sorry,” I say. “You scared me, too.” I laugh. “I had no idea you were there.” He stretches his neck, listening, watching me. “I’m coming back in a few minutes,” I warn him. “I’ll be more careful,” I say, and I push myself off again. I have decided to be “smart” on a busy day, taking my bike on the path instead of walking so I can go to Ralph’s on the way home, buy bird seed and cat litter. But maybe in my rush of doing I wasn’t paying enough attention. It feels good to be out, my wild wispy orange scarf keeping my neck warm as I ride. I pass a man with a grumpy face walking his dog. When I turn around and ride past him again I smile, and he almost smiles back. I slow down when I get back to Egret Bend, and I am surprised and glad to see him standing there, his tall, slim form still brilliant in the late dusk. I stop again, and we watch each other a bit more. I don’t know what I say, small endearments, high praise. He stretches his neck and moves his head as though he is following the arc of my words. “Safe night,” I wish him as I begin to ride away. “Sweet dreams.” I look for him and see him again each evening for a week, his stark, graceful form pure white and meandering in the distance. He is always alone.
Tuesday before the little wooden bridge I glanced back over my shoulder as I walked and saw a big bird flying in my direction from the southwest. I stopped to gawk, and the dark, animated silhouette became an egret. She was flying too high for me to hear the sound of her passing, but I stood and watched the long, silent strokes of her wings until she disappeared. She was still in my head moments later when I rounded a curve and came upon the moon, almost full, peering through the lacy winter branches of the old palo verde beside the path. And so, in the way of things, the two images were linked inside me: the slender, graceful bird, the large, round moon near the horizon, their white shapes both luminous in the late dusk. Words can’t do them justice, I know. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Because the overlapping moments live in me now, their wonder, my awe, clay feet planted on the earth, all of a piece in our fragile, fleeting world. If I might be so blessed, may they live in me all the rest of my days.