A Different Kind of Wonderful

by Elizabeth Ayres

Low tide when I was there this morning. The virgin sand smooth and gleaming, like a waxed wood floor. A heron, way down the beach. Long legs planted in the shallow surf. Long neck curling into her breast, making a tight “S” uncurling, making a tilted “C” An “S” and a “c” the first two letters of her call. “Scrank, scrank”, she cries, harsh and throaty, when she takes flight.

So I’m doing my usual thing, collecting any object that grabs my attention for reasons that, crystal clear in the moment of reaching, become confused in the moment of possession. “Why this”, I ask myself, staring at the umpteenth mussel shell I’ve plucked up in the last half hour. They’re all identical: a luminescent splash of violet and indigo on the inside. Drab black or brown on the outside, mottled with white. Some are as long as my finger, others smaller than the nail on my pinky. I keep at it, my self-appointed task, eagerly snatching up every shell I find, then wondering what the urgency is all about.

So I’m doing that, my usual thing, when I see these three gashes in the sand. Like a trident, with the middle prong taller and deeper than those flanking it. One set, then another beside that, then two others ahead of those, and I realize, these gouges were made by a heron’s sharp talons. I follow in her steps, placing each of my feet just so, next to hers, but then the tracks abruptly cease. “Scrank, scrank” she must have cried just there, harsh and throaty, and I pluck up the solitary, blue-gray feather she left for me, as if pitying my inability to trail her into the luminescent air.

Now I’m back home, doing my usual thing, emptying pockets and bags. While putting all the mussel shells together in a bowl, I see that what I’d thought were white splotches are actually a mother-of-pearl lining peeking through. And that every bi-valve shell curves left or right. I sort them by size, reuniting the companion pairs, which fit just so, side by side, like wings, and I place the bowl just so, next to the seed pods I found last week, also companion pairs, a top and a bottom, but these aren’t wings, they’re little boats. Some curve starboard, some curve to port. Their deep, narrow hulls taper to a sharp tip at the bow and flatten out at the stern.

So I did my usual thing. Obeyed my heart, not my head. By letting the blind promptings of one moment’s reaching carry me beyond confusion, I’ve arrived at a moment of pure and emergent wonder. And now I have a choice to make, what do you think? Should I hop in my boat and sail away? Or should I slip into my wings and, scrank, scrank, disappear, leaving you with a choice to make, too. Stay where you are? Or follow me into the luminescent air?


An excerpt from Invitation to Wonder: A Journey Through the Seasons, Veriditas Books, 2011.
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