OCTOBER 22, 2014 4:12AM

The Heron Grotto ~ or ~ Beauty in Drought

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Turning left off the main road, the truck rattles and dips down the rutted dirt road, our two dogs smear the back windows with wet noses, steamy breaths, then excited front paws. Ahead the ground and sky stretch expansively in a beautiful yet alien way.  

The mood is light - as it always is when heading out to the lake, this lake in particular - it turns out, whether there is water in the lakebed or not.

I've loved this lake for 21 years. My two children (then age 3 and age 5) and I lived at this lake in a truck and a tent for four months that spring and summer long ago, homeless for the time, gathering strength with the song of each tiny wave lapping ashore. The rest of the story, maybe another time, but I have never failed to remember that summer, or those watery soul-strengthening songs each night, each of the hundreds of times I've come to this lake ever since.


Under a clump of young willows, about 60' in from the full-lake line, we park in the light shade. Yellow finches and black-capped chickadees flit among the willow leaves, their short sharp chirps matching the quick flights between branches. The dirt road continues on ahead, branching off in three directions across the empty lake bed.

This weekend, there is no line of water visible at all from this spot; the lake bed on this side of the small, boomerang-shaped lake has been dry so long the ground underfoot is covered with low-growing plants mixed with patches of bone-dry sand and assorted rock.

As we walk along, the dogs run ahead, sniffing here, kicking up dust there, racing up an exposed seam of volcanic rock that erupted eons ago and cooled into long lines of jumbled sharp black rock. Small birds dart and swoop.

A wing catches my eye. 

Then a long glide.

Two white Vs play up ahead.

Why so many water birds, I wonder, when the water has been dried up for so long?

My stride slows, the dogs still running ahead at full tilt, my husband having long since mentally moved on, at least, binoculars suctioned over his eyes, pointing toward trucks parked in the distance, tiny remote flying things barely visible to the naked eye buzzing about overhead.

My head cranes in the opposite direction, up toward the top of the trees that ring the outside of the old quarry, now a dry island rising up from a dry lake floor.

Herons circle around, chasing each other, hanging out in treetops.

Can you see the two white egrets or herons flying by?

A great blue heron. 

The two white birds land in the treetops, my small camera barely able to keep up with their speed. Many snaps of my camera take two seconds after they fly out of frame.


I grow curious about the herons and/or egrets and change the course of my walk off-path.

Bushwhacking through tangled shrubs, weaving past boulders, I eventually reach the lip of a small hill, then jump down, my eyes taking in the oasis spread out in front of me. Two white herons, or egrets, fly up over the treetops far above, one alights in an old oak while the other seems to disappear into the still-green alder on the far side of the sheltered 'cove.'

The old quarry is a secret heron grotto.

I squat on my heels as the great blue heron I'd first seen out on the open lakebed flies into the quarry and lands on jagged boulders across the pond.

The dogs suddenly break through the brush, bringing their loud mayhem along as they both run straight for the water, slurping and splashing before dropping into a cool swim. My husband draws silently up behind.

The heron merely hops one boulder up, two over and coolly stares.

...I take photos and smile.









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Beauty in Drought or The Heron Grotto?
I couldn't decide.
Bloody late.

Enjoy ~
So good.
Enjoyed so much I'm coming back :-)
oh god this is lovely! i loved the journey to the oasis. gorgeous. wonderful dogs, fabulously elegant birds, and, it sounds like, a patient husband. there is a wonderful comedy with jack black and Steve martin about Birders competing against each other. i'll find the title. what i loved was that it was so funny but it got me really curious and interested in birds. something brand new for me. do egrets look like Herons? you would know. thanks for sharing the word and the pics.
Thank you for sharing this place of significance in your journey. Such loveliness. And the heron. I love those birds. It is amazing to me how much a place can mean to us, how they hold our internal geography. Thanks for the window to this spot of beauty.
Beautiful spot you lived in, just. I don't know the whole story, but it sounds like you and your boys may have found your wings here too.
The words and the images, oh the images. A reminder that beauty goes on, even in a drought, and that it's worth saving and if we don't see it we won't remember that it's worth saving. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

I didn't know you had a heeler dog, or at least part heeler from the look of the body. The last dog I had was The Cowboy's and it was a little blue heeler. Interesting dog, incredibly tough and persistent, strangely comical with us. She used to herd the cars when they left the farm, destroyed the bumpers on two cars I owned. Unfortunatley it didn't go well with trucks, she was run over twice.
Beautiful, and sad too that the lake is gone. Birds are fascinating and resilient creatures, after all they survived the global cataclysm that exterminated their cousins, the dinosaurs. Maybe they can survive us. R
A grotto! Wow. There is hope in this damn drought and thank you so much for finding it. You captured the flight of the birds. Wow. That photo of the heron and the boulders was so nice...they all were. Good trip!
I can't explain why - maybe because of the story you tell in words or the other story in images or the two combined, but you move me to tears this morning.

hugs to you, you gracefilled woman. your gifts remind me how grateful I am to be here to witness them.
[r] JT, awesome awesome awesome, pix and pure poetry narrative. thanks for sharing. lack of water a concern as a backdrop. I even thought of the people of Detroit while reading. And your mention of harder times also a grave note. Would be interested in hearing more of so much strong coping. best, libby
What a languorous walk in your footsteps here, perfect for me this morning, a little burnt out, slept in late and drinking coffee. I love the photos but more, the weaving of the story of how and why this place holds meaning for you. Enjoyed JT!
Thanks, guys - this was a fun one to put together - until 1:30am or something, then it was just sheer stubbornness.
Beautiful out there, isn't it? 
I look at these photos and try to imagine canoeing 30' above, in some spots....hard to imagine these days. 
Back in a bit.
worried 'bout what was quarried
most water lost, what must it cost
God is wise, sticks and stones for nesting
gravestones I suspect, concrete angels
walking along the road
his way Why then refugees en mass 
this too shall pass
Oh so beautiful and graceful, Just Thinking! Maybe the herons come back to the lake bed as you do, remembering the music of past watery summer songs. Thanks for sharing this lovely photo essay!
drought so scary but this was so nice to read it made me foreget about lack of rain.. for about 10 m..:)
All species of herons, in my ranking, are number one beautiful birds of all time. I watched a great blue heron one time, stand patiently for maybe half and hour, feeling the ground gently and carefully with his feet. Then suddenly, his head darted down, and came up with a gopher, which I saw for one brief second before it disappeared in that exquisite killer bill. Like lightening.

That looks like one beautiful place. I wish sometimes I could live with the herons.
This was so beautiful, and so profound. A sign of hope. Thanks for this - I feel like I've read it at the perfect time. And, above all, I'm glad you had such an awe-inspiring time revisiting your lake.
Hi everybody - thanks for coming by! and thank you, also, for all your kind words.
I seem to have run out of words for now.
(hey! don't laugh ; ))
Wow. I'm getting the feeling this is a multi-media site; people who're amazing with both words and pictures. These are amazing, JT.

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