Dragonflies and the Great Blue Heron

James Osborne


© Copyright 2023 by James Osborne

Image by Munruthel from Pixabay
Image by Munruthel from Pixabay

For more than a decade, Great Blue Herons had a special meaning for Judi and me.  I had no hint at the time that our affection for these graceful birds would one day come to have a far deeper significance, through tragedy and through joy.  

Judi and I enjoyed watching the herons from the deck of our summer cottage.  The tall birds would hunt for food less than 200 feet away, drawn by schools of minnows to a small bay below our deck screened by willows. 

We could also watch the long-legged birds fish in a sheltered cove where we frequently anchored our boat overnight. Blue herons became our mascot. Thus, it was fitting to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary by commissioning a watercolor of a nesting pair of blue herons.

And then as often happens, the years slipped by.  Those 30 years edged toward 35. Our prized painting hadn’t been framed.  One day, I snuck the rolled-up watercolor out of our house and got it framed.  On the night of our 35th anniversary, as we prepared to turn in for the night, there was the framed painting, above our bed, where I had just finished hanging it minutes earlier. 

Three years later, Judi lost a 13-month battle with cancer.  And I was, well … lost, too.

At Judi’s memorial service a dear friend and former colleague led the service. In her remarks Eva was determined to help Judi’s young grandchildren and other youngsters among the mourners comprehend what was occurring.  

Eva told this insightful story: 

Once upon a time, a happy group of tiny bugs was playing on the bottom of a lily pond.  One by one, the bugs began climbing up a lily stem and disappearing. Those left behind wondered what had happened to our friends.  Then we agreed the next bug to venture beyond the surface of the pond would return and tell the others what we’d experienced.  

One day, a bug left and found itself on a lily pad. It fell asleep. When it awoke, the warm sunshine had dried its body. Instinctively, it spread the wings that it had grown while asleep and began flying away. The bug had become a beautiful dragonfly with four iridescent wings. Then it remembered the promise. It swooped back toward the surface of the pond and headed downward.

The dragonfly hit the surface and could go no farther. It was not able to return. After a while, it finally realized the others would just need to have faith that it was going to be all right.

Before she died, Judi had asked me to make two promises: to live a healthy lifestyle, and to find someone with whom to spend the rest of my life. The first wasn’t difficult. I struggled with the second. It was shelved for almost three years. Then I met Sharolie.  

Soon, it was obvious Sharolie was an extraordinary woman, just as Judi had been. Sharolie understood my still-raw grief. She encouraged me to talk about the experiences of the 38 years that Judi and I had shared together. Sharolie said it helped her to know and understand both of us better. She said the love Judi and I shared convinced her I knew how to love and how to be loved. Like Judi, Sharolie was blessed with a generous nature. Both had the capacity to recognize in others virtues that many others might overlook, ignore, miss or fear.

One day, Sharolie’s instincts and deep spirituality drew her to visit a yoga ashram near my place on the lake.  I went along, partly out of curiosity but mostly to be with her.  After all, we were still immersed in the euphoria of new-found love. 

It was early afternoon and sunny when we arrived at the picturesque ashram overlooking Kootenay Lake. We walked from the parking lot along a narrow winding path through dense trees, over a footbridge and across lawns toward our destination, a domed temple, the centerpiece of the ashram.  

Almost there, a large shadow crossed our path.  We heard a rush of wings overhead. Both of us looked up. A Great Blue Heron had swept low over us, then folded its six-foot wingspan and landed 75 feet away in a vegetable garden, on the far side of a tall fence. A few steps beyond the blue heron, four people were busy tilling and harvesting in the garden. The big, majestic bird took no notice of them … unusual behavior for the famously shy blue herons.

Sharolie and I were in awe as we savored the experience. We found ourselves exchanging meaningful looks with the blue heron. It took several minutes to pull ourselves away. Full of questions, we continued on to the temple. Half an hour passed while we enjoyed the temple’s extraordinary acoustics and ambiance. Then it was time to go.

We emerged from the ground-level main entrance to another startling surprise. A blue heron was standing in the middle of a 30-foot circular lily pond, centerpiece of the main entrance. Like the earlier blue heron, the five-foot bird was staring right at us, calm and unblinking.  Could it be the same one we’d seen earlier?  We were sure it was. If the first encounter was unusual, this one had to be exceptional. More was to come.

Enthralled, we watched the stately blue-gray bird for several more minutes, unwilling to break the spell. As we stood, transfixed, numerous other visitors walked by, to and from the temple, glancing over their shoulders at the rare sight. Again, the blue heron paid no attention to those passing by. It remained there. Patiently and unblinking, returning Sharolie and my gazes.

It has to be a message,” Sharolie whispered quietly.  “It has to be from Judi. It has to be! The heron is bringing a message from her. I just know it.”

Eventually, we walked slowly a few feet along the main sidewalk away from the lily pond. We turned back. The blue heron was still there, watching us. Again, it returned our gazes. Then Sharolie and I finally turned and made our way along a secondary walk beside the temple, to a cliff overlooking the lake. While enjoying the spectacular view, we were unable to wrest our minds away from the lily pond, now hidden from view. We headed back.

I wonder,” I said. “Do you think it’s still there?” I was skeptical of Sharolie’s assessment of our experience. Her face displayed a matter-of-fact look of silent confidence that spoke a wordless, ‘of course’.

Sure enough, the blue heron was still there. Once again, it quietly returned our gazes. After several more disquieting minutes, Sharolie and I reluctantly pulled themselves away from the blue heron and the lily pond, and returned back down the path though the grove of trees to our car. Both of us wondered how long the blue heron might have remained there, had we stayed.

Yes... I’m sure,” Sharolie kept repeating.  “I’m sure. That was Judi sending you a message ... sending us a message ... telling you it’s okay, now. I think Judi’s saying she knows you’ve finally kept your second promise. She’s going to be okay now.” 

Sharolie and I didn’t know at the time that the blue heron episodes would be just one part of our love story. 

After we met, I wanted my three daughters to share my joy at having found someone who I knew Judi would happily endorse. The first of my daughters to meet Sharolie was Kim. She invited us to join her family to attend a semi-pro baseball game. 

As we settled in to watch the game from the open-air stands, two enormous dragonflies swept around Sharolie and settled calmly on her baseball hat.  

Oh, my god!” Kim screamed, jumping to her feet. “Look at that! Look! Dragonflies! Two of them! Oh my god! Oh my god! You know what that means, don’t you?”

In her mind, Eva’s parable of the dragonflies had come true. From that day forward, no one was going to dissuade Kim from believing those dragonflies were on a mission of approval from her late Mother.

Since then, Sharolie and I have experienced hovering dragonflies, often in the most unlikely locations. And we’ve encountered blue herons, time and time again. Like the dragonflies, these encounters were often in unusual and unexpected circumstances. 

Sharolie and I were married 23 months after we met. Shortly thereafter, the visits from the blue heron and dragonflies began to diminish.  

Now, the visits are less frequent although always welcome.

On those occasions, Sharolie will say, “Checking up. She’s just checking up.”


Source Credit: Eva’s dragonfly analogy is drawn from a public domain story, “The Water Bug Story”, at www.healingheart.net/stories/waterbug.html

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