I am reminded of the yearly cycle by this observation by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I consider the ending comment. "What do herons learn from living together?" What do we?
The storm left a lot of shattered trees behind, including many in the swamp. But as far as I could tell, none of the nest trees had broken. Nor had the high winds pitched any of the heron nests to the ground. I began to wonder about all the intersecting decisions that go into a heronry.
It begins with the presence of water, which is where great blue herons feed. It requires a certain height in the trees, which means trees of a certain age and branch structure. But do those qualities also give resistance to wind and severe ice storms? Or do the birds prefer certain species of tall, well-branched trees over others? After all, no respectable heron would nest in a birch.
I am used to thinking of evolution doing the selecting — blind, impassive adaptation over millions of years. That is a dispassionate way of understanding behavior. But a heronry embodies a system of knowledge present in these herons, a complete, successful and highly inventive understanding of this world around them. Grasping how it came to be does not make it any less marvelous.
The train rumbles past that swamp a couple dozen times a day. Who knows how many humans have looked up at that heronry? The hard part is learning to see nature as a dense web of interconnected knowledges. We see the dimensions of the landscape, but we miss seeing the fullness of the understandings that inhabit it. I look up at the heronry and the question that stays in my mind is this: What do herons learn from living together?