Friday, May 20, 2011

War of the Wills

Michelle Alton
This week, I'm featuring one of my personal tales, in the hopes of sparking some of you to submit one of your stories of Relentless Pursuit.  I'm down to a few I.O.U.s at the moment!

This narrative characterizes a showdown I had with a Great Blue Heron with insatiable appetites.  It took place one bleak November morning at my home in Yardley, Pennsylvania.  I swear to you that every word is true—you just can’t make up a tale like this.  Three of the photos were shot as this story unfolded; the others are images that I’ve made of herons previously that work really well to illustrate the text.  The showdown had a happy ending, and it will take but a few minutes of your time to get to the bottom of it!   Oh…I did not get a shot of the best scene in the story, so I’m inviting artistic readers to sketch the final confrontation between the big bird and me at the top of the driveway.  I’ll post your submissions with all proper attribution.  Should be a lot of fun.


Thanks so much for visiting "Tales of Relentless Pursuit." If you have a free moment or two, please check out my Photography Website, Your Best Shot, and sign up for the mailing list! And also consider sending the link to this blog to your circle of friends and family.

Michelle Alton

War of the Wills
(Click on photos to enlarge them)

I am sick, no question about it.  I coughed hard all night and my chest feels tight, my temples are throbbing with pain, and I am shaking with chills, and sweating. You know the feeling.  It’s a day to stay home, drink chicken soup, and watch old movies with a soft blanket to cuddle.

But not for me today.  At work things are at a critical juncture  and I cannot afford to miss a day.  So I’ve pulled myself out of bed, popped a couple of extra strength Tylenol, and stood in a hot shower for as long as I could.  Finally dressed and bundled for the cold November day, I’m slowly taking the car down the winding driveway and preparing for the hour’s drive to work.

As I near the road, the pond comes up on my right, I think I see some movement near the water’s edge and stop and stare hard at the spot that has caught my eye.  Yes!  It’s that bastard of a Great Blue Heron, having the feast of his life!  He must’ve found a conclave of dormant carp resting in the muddy bank, and as I sit here watching in fascination, his head appears with an orange fish tweezed in his bill, and then he gulps it down.

Orange Carp Tweezed in his Bill

Down the Hatch!

I’m mesmerized as I watch his head bob up and down--each time gulping down a plump new fish.   But  now I’m gripped by anger.  He’s eaten enough to last the entire winter and perhaps ALL the fish are gone. Ane he still wants MORE!

...and yet Another and Another!
Despite my pain and fever, I’m jumping out of the car, running toward the heron, arms flailing, and making loud hissing noises.   He gives me a long glance of disgust, turns on his heels, and takes a low-altitude flight across to the far end of the pond.

Short, low Altitude Flight

Not good enough, but at least I’ve put a temporary end to his feeding frenzy.  I feel exhausted and climb back into the car.  When I reach the bottom of the driveway, I turn right onto the road, taking it slowly so I can see what GBH is up to now!   Are my eyes deceiving me?

Omigosh!!! With his belly veritably bulging with fresh fish, he has quickly dipped his bill into the mud on the opposite bank and now dangling from its end is a gigantic frog.   Oh GEE!  There will be nothing left alive in the pond by morning’s end, but I have one more trick in my bag.  I get out of the car quietly to try to get a shot of him with his unfortunate bull frog meal.  It’s early morning and day has only just broken, and the huge sycamores are shading the scene to dappled darkness.  All I have with me is my little G9 camera that doesn’t do well for me in low light, but it’s what I have, so I start shooting away.

GBH is immediately spooked; without letting go of the now limp frog, he rises straight up from the edge of the pond and takes off up the hill disappearing over the roof of our house. 
I return to the car.  To my utter dismay, the door has slammed  shut, the key is in the ignition, and the engine  is running -- of course.   I utter a few choice words under my weak breath, sputter a curse [*!G*B*H@%! Grunt] at the now vanished heron, and start the long trudge up the driveway to retrieve the other set of car keys from the house.  Wow…am I tired out!   This respiratory infection has sapped my strength, and I’m feeling even more ill than when I set out this morning.  This hill never seemed this steep before.  With almost no breath left for this exercise, I’m walking slowly up the hill, watching my feet, one after the other…left…right…left … right…stop take a rest…left … right… 
After what seems like my “life’s agonizing journey” I’ve reached the top of the driveway.  Whew!  But now as I look down at my own feet to sort of visually coax one in front of the other, my eyes  fix on another pair of feet….ugly, spindly black heron feet, facing me on the pavement.  Slowly my eyes scan up the legs to see the GBH standing there waiting for me, not four feet away, hackles hunched up in a crouch of war, eyes beady and fixed, poor old pale limp frog still dangling from his bill. 

Painting by Don Moore, Killeen, Texas
Still looking for another take on this scene! I’d
 love to post your illustrations here with proper
 attribution, of course.
Email your sketches to me along with your name and the town and state/country where you live.
Fear fills my soul.  I have camera in hand, but have no idea what to do with it; but as I bring it to my eye, I’m certain I see the GBH lifting one foot to his beak as if to  “thumb his nose” at me.     (Do herons have thumbs?)  Exhausted and throbbing with pain and fever, the humor of the whole situation settles into my numb head and suddenly I burst into laughter as the old Blue spreads his wings, thrusts himself off the pavement, and rises again, over the roof.  I can still see his eerie form disappearing over the horizon, frog leg silhouettes dangling between his outstretched legs.

Up, Up, and Away (Imagine there is a frog still dangling)

Car key retrieved, I start to feel exhilarated as I make my way back down the hill, find the running car still there, and finally get us back on the road to work.  I’m already thinking about what a great story I'll be able to tell at lunch today!

  All photography by Michelle Alton


What do you think of the "Relentless Pursuit" series. Please leave a comment below or email me
 with your suggestions on what you'd like to see on this blog.

*** I Need Your Story! ***   { Not Kidding!}

If you have a story to post on this theme, contact me. We have Zero stories on tap and I shall have to  again resort to posting my own work! Please consider sharing your tales of Relentless Pursuit! And be sure to take a look at my Photography site. I'd love to hear from you!--
Michelle Alton


Bonus Shots

Juvenile Black Capped Night Heron (Long Beach, NY)

Having a Scratch (Delaware/Raritan Canal, Yardley, PA)

A Hard Lump to Swallow (Delaware/Raritan Canal, Yardley, PA)

Heron on Ice (Our pond in Yardley)

Rooftop Overlooking the Delaware River (New Hope, PA)

Above the Pond in a Sycamore Tree

The "Runway" (Our driveway in Yardley)

Hard to Swallow This Way

Little Green Heron (Delaware/Raritan Canal, Yardley, PA)

Little Green Heron (Delaware/Raritan Canal, Yardley, PA)

So Pretty (Delaware River, Morrisville, PA Levee)

Herons in Flight (Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, Philadelphia, PA)

From the Levee (Morrisville, PA)

On the Hunt (Peace Valley Park, Doylestown, PA)



Anonymous said...

Ron has a grin from ear to ear. Great way to start a day. At least you forgot your pain for a while.

Great reading Michelle.

Anonymous said...

They were not Koi, you got pictures and have a funny story to tell !!! Besides THATS WHAT BIG BLUE HERONS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO ;0)

Suggestion for this year Stock it with native fish and cheap goldfish. If you have a REAL GRUDGE GOING
Get your hands on a 10+ pound snapper and put him in the pond... They like HERON LEGS !!!!
Just food for thought

Anonymous said...

This is so funny! I really enjoyed reading it & looking at the pictures. You are an excellent story teller!


Anonymous said...

Great story and writing, Michelle!! I'm glad I'm not the only one who has no love lost for these beautiful but greedy birds. Bill Houghton, I think, has a picture on his BP gallery of a GBH snatching a duckling away from it's mother.

I like Jack's idea with the snapper.

Or maybe stock your pond with a couple of alligators...

Robert B.

Joe DiGilio said...

True story indeed; I remember reading about your day to day trama & night terrors as the story unfolded a few years ago. How did that SOB ever find your little pond? Bet the GBH told his own stories about the "honey hole" he discovered tucked away in the woods in Yardly PA. "Nothing there now my friends. I ate it all, one fish and frog at a time, while this hysterical female human hissed, danced, waved her arms & tried to capture my soul with her little camera. Good thing she didn't have a 12Ga." Very well written and super wildlife shots too Michelle. I wish I could draw the image I see mind's eye of your encounter on the blacktop with the full bellied, great blue beast, but alas I can't draw well.

Dave Phalen said...

Great story!! Awesome photos!! I can picture your confrontation with the GBH but unfortunately I can't draw.

Bob Cammarata said...

Terrific account of your confrontation with the GBH.
There is no need to accompany the finale with a sketch since your choice words have inscribed the image of that obnoxious, frog-bearing bird into our minds. When I close my eyes, I can see him standing in your driveway.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I enjoy the story and your determination to get the shots. Two week ago, I had a bad experience when I taken the Lesser Adjutant birds in Malaysia. It was a easy passage to the place but when I returned back crossing a muddy drain, I fall down on your back and my whole pants was wet and dirty . I should taken with my camera but I did not took the image. Luckily the nature guide give me his pant to wear. If I have the shot, I will submit for this story.

graeme chow said...

The above comments come from me.


LauraEm said...

I could read your writings all day, Michelle. What a picture you can paint for your readers. I almost felt your weakened state right into my own body... And that greedy son of a bird. He upset ME TOO. (Not to mention how he must have made your little aquatic life feel!!!)

Hmmm...Gators in PA??? I like it! Let's order you a few from Bayou Bill in LA!? His gators eat things large and small. GULP!

-Laura :)

Karen said...

The artist did a terrific job for the scene at the top of your driveway...the heron reminded me of a bird dog with its "prize"! LOL Fun story!

Brett said...

What I love about this story is your reactions Michelle!!Nature won and you saw the humour in what had happened under such extreme duress!!Beautifull!!