Even aged eight she was the kind to seize chances when they came her way.
You couldn’t miss her. Her face was framed by a mass of red curls; her skin, a pale reflection of her hair. She had often wished she didn’t stand out so, but now she was beginning to warm to the notion that it just might be a blessing rather than a curse to be so marked, so visible. She didn’t want to slip through life unnoticed. Instinctively she wanted to touch life and it to touch her.
This particular chance came in the form of heron’s legs, not quite fully returned to their usual trailing horizontal. Or perhaps deliberately not returned; held out, for an adventurous girl such as herself to catch.
She was standing at the centre of the bridge in the middle of her home town, watching the river eddy round its piers, an endless fascination. Because she was so rapt, the bird had escaped her attention, standing motionless on the edge of the bank upstream as it watched for fish beneath the refracting surface of the water. Spooked by a movement close to, it opened its great wingspan and breasted the river.
What happened next happened by instinct – that of the bird coinciding with that of the girl. Looking up from the eddies, she saw the bird looming. The heron flew low over the bridge, and dipped its legs to her at the very same moment that she stretched her arms upwards. She was small for her age and the bird was large for his type. The bird’s legs hit her palms square and she closed her hands about their strong stems and was whisked into the air, just clearing the wall on the far side of the bridge. Folk drinking in the sun on either side of it gasped as they saw her rise into the air, although an amateur ornithologist among them was more excited on spotting that the heron was an unlikely Great Blue than he was about it taking a small girl into the sky.
The heron’s wingspan was broad and sweeping and even under the weight of the girl he was able to keep rising. She held on tight, her hands ringing the bird’s legs just above its feet. She had swung herself around enough trees to have developed strong arms but after a while she found she could relax, and without trying too hard maintain her grasp of the heron’s legs. Whether that was magic on the part of the bird, the support of thermals, or some quality that she herself unwittingly possessed, she wasn’t sure.
Those folk who saw her disappear into the sky that day often wonder what became of her. Perhaps after a long time circumnavigating the globe, she lost the will to hold on and slipped from the heron’s legs over the deepest and most invitingly blue depths of the Pacific Ocean. Or perhaps she came gently back down to earth not much further from home than she left it. The watchers who saw her go never knew, and always wondered.
Photo of great blue heron by mauricholas via Wikipedia.