Taking Flight

The first year I lived in Vancouver, I delighted in watching a heronry of Great Blue Herons at the edge of Stanley Park. A heronry is where large groups of herons nest and raise and their young. This particular one, contained dozens of nests. It was raucously noisy and had a distinctive odor.

The Heronry in April

I loved watching these majestic birds throughout the season. Their distinctive silhouettes, like those of little old gnomes, perched in the trees. Or soaring gracefully through the air with their broad wings and stilt legs straight together. Looking almost like a winged dinosaur, or something reminiscent of ancient roots.

In the early days of spring, it was easy to see them through the bare trees. Each week I returned to watch the development. By the time the summer leaves filled out the branches, I knew how to spot the nests easily. By now, my eyes were focused on the fledglings. Their large size made them visible from the sidewalk.

I watched the fledglings, now oversized for the nests in just a few short months, clumsily beating their wings. They were practicing and building strength for the first flight. There is little room for failure on the first launch from the next. These birds had to get it right.

Driven by instinct and what they learned from observing, these fledglings slowly tested out their wings, heavy on their young frames. At first they could little more than perch themselves upright. Over time, they built the skills and knowledge to remain stable. Then familiarized themselves with their large wings, first learning how to hold them and move them before trying out the more advanced moves needed for flying.

Observing these fledglings, learning in stages, reminded me of how we acquire new skills. Once we master a new skill, it’s easy to forget about a time when we didn’t know how to it. A time when we had to slow down, take our time, familiarize ourselves with something new, and figure it out.

Skills are acquired over time, bit by bit. The pandemic is challenging us in new ways. This can make it difficult to see that at the same time, we’re also learning how to do something new.

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