When I moved to the Village of Marathon, New York the first time some 23 years ago, I lived on Front Street, so called because it fronted on to the Tioughnioga River (don’t even try to pronounce it). Shortly after I moved there, I would wake up in the wee hours just as the day was waking up as well to see a blue heron standing in the shallows on the river bank right outside my bedroom window. I would sit for a while and just watch this beautiful creature standing silently, not moving, as the rest of the animal world went about their business of greeting a new day. I knew it was waiting for its breakfast to put in an appearance and didn’t want to scare it off by moving about, but to me its silent presence seemed more mysterious than that.
You see, it only appeared if I was struggling with some kind of decision or problem that I needed to resolve. If I went looking for it on my walks along the river, I was never able to find it. Yet I could be walking along with my mind on some issue or other and look up only to find Mr. Heron standing there like a statue, his feet in the shallows and his majestic body standing tall. Most of the time, I saw it at dawn and dusk, but I also saw it at other odd times of the day. The most magical time was one night around midnight when I was walking home from my daughter’s house after spending the evening babysitting while she worked second shift at a nursing home (yes, Marathon is the kind of place where you can walk around after midnight and no one will bother you). As I was crossing the bridge, thinking about how glad I was of the fresh air to wake me up, something made me look over the railing. There, standing in the shallows in the glow of the lights on the bridge, was my heron. I swear he looked at me.
I was at that time immersed in my Native American studies, so I looked up the meaning of having a heron as an animal totem. I learned that heron medicine is the power of knowing the self by discovering our gifts and facing our challenges. It urges us to dive into the watery world of our feelings to find the truth. Heron reminds us to stay grounded in our beliefs (under the water representing our inner most or spiritual selves) while operating in the outer world.
This teaching has always stayed with me. Over the years that followed, and especially the 15 years I spent away from the village, I always tried to stand firm in my truth when facing whatever challenges life threw at me. Sometimes I would lose my footing and then I would have to dive deep back into that watery world to find the answers.
Now that I am back in Marathon, I am a little more than 2 miles from the river. I sometimes catch a glimpse of a heron majestically flying overhead, its long legs out behind those beautiful wings. Is it my heron? I rather doubt that, but who knows? Only last week 3 different people shared photos or videos about herons on my Facebook page, and only one of them knew the significance of that bird to me. As it happens, I am wrestling with a new writing project, something bigger and more daunting than I have ever undertaken before. Perhaps heron has come back to remind me to go deep, find my truth, and stay grounded in order to face my fears and do what spirit calls me to do.
We all need something that helps us to stay grounded in our truth. It’s what keeps us authentic. It helps us to find our voice, and it shows us how to use our gifts. May we all have herons in our lives to remind us to when to stand tall, and when to fly.
And so it is.