Recently, while standing at the railing overlooking that little section of Glen Echo Creek that dawdles through Adams Park on its way to Lake Merritt, I watched a Snowy Egret do its classic super-slow-motion walk through the shallow water looking for fish. Its foot appeared to quiver in pain each time it took a step. A Snowy Egret's legs are black, and its feet are bright yellow, so it's easy to see them under the surface of the water. This one's right foot appeared to be missing some or all of its toes. The bird was essentially walking on a club foot. This was surprisingly upsetting to me. I felt bad for this creature who seemed doomed to spend the rest of its life having to survive by hunting in pain.
I didn't tell Lynne about this experience for a couple of days, as I was certain that, given her empathy with animals, it would bring her down even more than it had me. Then, that Saturday morning, we were breakfasting at the IHOP in Emeryville, and I saw that my withholding a communication from my wife was putting distance between us.
"There's something I haven't been telling you because it's kind of negative, but I can feel that it's getting in the way of me relating to you that I'm not saying it.”
"OK, I get it. What is it?”
I told her the story of how it had so disturbed me to see this poor crippled bird.
"First of all,” she said, “Animals adapt. They don't sit around wondering 'Why me?' when a catastrophe happens. If they get injured, they adjust and get on with it. That's how they survive.” I started to feel better. “And besides,” she added, “he might have been born that way. For all you know, he might never have known any other way.” I was by now quite happy I had brought it up, as she had so simply and elegantly given me a winning context for the situation. I finished my scrambled eggs in a much better mood and feeling much closer to Lynne.
As I walked along Lake Merritt the next day, I passed a different Snowy Egret -– one with two normal-looking feet -- feeding in the water fairly close to the lake wall. I suddenly stopped to watch more intently because it seemed to me that, each time it took a step, with either its right foot or its left, its leg quivered. It occurred to me that what I had been assuming were convulsions of pain in the club-footed bird might actually have been a fishing technique. By shaking its feet as it walked, the egret could agitate the silt on the lake bottom to flush out any small fish or other edibles that might be hidden in there. I almost laughed out loud at myself standing there by the water as the joggers huffed by me.
As always, I passed the creek in the park on the way home. I looked over and saw that the club-footed egret was there again, only this time it was in repose. It was standing sleepily on one foot, as herons and egrets sometimes do.
Guess which foot it was standing on.
Thanks for reading.
The thing for a man to be enthusiastic about is the woman he's with. The thing for a woman to be enthusiastic about is herself.
-- Vic Baranco