Another morning in the Cypress Wetlands. (I know… I know… Same ol’ shtick. Please bear with me as I work through my latest obsession. I would say “this too shall pass,” but I’m not so sure about that.) I’m rounding the trail at a cardio-friendly clip, then pounding my way out onto the long boardwalk that runs through the rookery. Suddenly before me, perched on the boardwalk rail – only a few feet away – I see a large grey and white bird. Actually, large is an understatement: he’s enormous and right there and it’s shocking – they never get this close to me! – and I stop in my tracks, amazed. The whole world seems suddenly quiet and still. Even my heart feels like it’s stopped. I stand looking at this mysterious creature – so primeval in appearance he might as well be a pterodactyl – and he looks at me, too. Just looks at me.

And then he turns, and I think he’ll fly away, but he just starks walking – slowly, slowly, along the boardwalk rail. And I begin walking, too – slowly, slowly, along the boardwalk. And I am slightly behind him, but almost beside him, and we are walking together. Slowly. We walk the boardwalk together for what seems like an eternity – a perfect eternity – but is probably less than a minute. I wonder what kind of bird he is; his feathers are greyish and motley, almost like the wooden rail beneath his feet. I memorize his lines and hues so I can google him later. And still we’re walking together. I’m so close I could touch him, but I don’t dare. Why has he let me so close? It occurs to me that maybe he’s injured and can’t fly. But as soon as that thought blooms, he begins flapping his giant wings and I watch as he lifts himself into the air; I see the strain and heaviness of the act, then breathe easier as he finds his balance and rises . . . and rises. (I’m reminded of a child riding a bike without training wheels for the first time – tippy, wobbly, then picking up speed and… yes!)

I round the trail one more time, checking every info kiosk for a picture of my bird. But I can’t find him. Not a blue heron or an ibis, not a snowy egret or a wood stork or any kind of raptor. And now I’m home, and even the almighty Google has failed me. I don’t know what I saw. I wish I’d had my camera with me, or that I had some drawing skills. Sometimes the writer’s art is so damned inadequate. But it’s all I’ve got.

Near the end of his life, Thomas Aquinas said, “I can no longer write. Everything I have written seems like so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”

I feel you, Thomas. I really do.