Waterside Birds, Part I: the Heron

by Nobuyuki Yuasa

.. When I go river fishing with a long pole on my shoulder, I often see different waterside birds.  My most frequent encounter, perhaps, is with white herons. From spring to autumn, they are quite independent, each bird taking its own position in a shallow, waiting for a fish to come. Young herons are a bit clumsy, chasing fish but failing to catch them. As they grow older, they become more patient, and do not move until a good opportunity arises, although their eyes move keenly from time to time. Mature birds usually stand on a rock motionless, like philosophers. When the wind comes, however, their crown-feathers are shaken. In winter, herons form a flock. I can see them from my veranda as it looks down on the River Tamagawa. Their flight is quite graceful, white feathers reflecting on the blue water. The least appealing aspect of herons, however, is the way they nest in a forest.  The trees are suffocated by their white droppings, which have an obnoxious smell. During the years of war evacuation, I worked with woodcutters and charcoal-makers in the mountains, but I tried my best to avoid heronries. In Hiroshima, where the River Ota forks into the River Enko, one of its delta branches, there is a small island where herons nest. When I saw it five years ago, its trees were almost dead.

.. Apart from the usual white herons, I sometimes see bigger herons with grayish feathers and black heads crowned with a few plumes of white. According to a history book called Okagami, Emperor Daigo granted the fifth rank of Imperial Courtier to this bird when it obeyed the emperor’s order to return to his seat. Be that as it may, the bird certainly has courtly gentleness and dignity, especially when it spreads its wings to fly.

……. Neath the willow tree

……. Of the royal palace moat,

……. A big gray heron.

A young heron’s dance, ……

With a small fish glittering ..

In its pointed beak. …………..

3 Responses to “Waterside Birds, Part I: the Heron”

  1. This is a fine, closely observed haibun. One gets both the natural & the cultural history of the heron, so to speak. Herons & the lives of men, wing to wing, so to speak. Many thanks.

  2. Eiko Yachimoto Says:

    I totally agree with Mr. Mark Richardson.
    I have enjoyed the accurate description as well as
    fond memories cherished by the writer for the long time
    (including the smell:-)

    with respect

  3. Loved the full range of elegance through awkwardness to unpleasantness you depict – from a seat by the Emperor to clumsy young herons to the muck on the trees. Looking forward to the next installment. I wonder what bird it will be?

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