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Night Heron

Green-backed Night Heron

Green-Backed Night Heron

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When I was a young girl, my family moved often for my dad’s career.  This meant that we lived in lots of interesting places and I got a taste of several different kinds of habitats, all of which imprinted themselves upon me.  Finally we landed here, in northern Illinois.  It is a land of water.  Rivers and streams criss-cross the area, and there is a liberal sprinkling of lakes, bogs, marshes, swamps, fens… all gifts from the last glaciers.  Paradise to a barefoot kid who found she quite liked mud and frogs and turtles and sunfish.  So when this beautiful heron let me get close and look at him I knew I wanted to paint him.  I don’t go plunging into muddy water anymore, sadly, but he does.  Just watching him brought back that feeling of wonder~ what amazing creatures are lurking under that floating duckweed?

I’ve been reading about the benefits of wordlessness.  As an intellectual endeavor I find it difficult to achieve but sometimes I find myself sinking into it without trying and then I remember I spent much of my youth in that state.  I would head out the door in the morning, meet up with a favorite tree, say, or pond, and just lose all my words. It happens when I am painting, too.  In fact I found it impossible to teach because whenever I tried to demonstrate a technique my words would sort of tra ..i .. l .. o f  f … I’d “come to” to find my students studying me with concern, waiting for me to finish a sentence! Ha!  Not so good for teaching.  But great for sorting problems or simply being.  I’ve read that our wordless mind can process considerably more bits of information than the part that is busy narrating our story to us.  All those words get in the way of truly knowing.  When the words fall away I’m left with a sense of energy connected and flowing between me and, well, everything.  Have you experienced this?  Give it a try~it’s pretty fabulous 🙂

33 thoughts on “Night Heron

  1. Majestic bird. Fine work! Luminous greens. Wordlessness and being in the presence of nature is a perfect marriage.

    1. Thank you 🙂
      Yes, I certainly find it to be, and then the desire to share my experiences in imagery just seems to flow out of that.

  2. I like your heron. I can imagine it skulking about in the shallows. Time to be wordless if you want to watch it hunt.

    I think I know what you mean by wordless. I too have found myself in teaching situations at a loss for words. It happens when you are in the moments of doing just the right movement or brush stroke or step of a physics demo. It has to be just right. Words can get in the way of the actions.

    I think actions are a lower level neurological activity than talking. We can drive cars, paint pictures, play sports, etc, quite well without saying anything. Put a phone conversation or someone just talking to us into the picture and we get distracted. We become less precise. We have accidents. A lot of brain power is used to process our thoughts and expressions into words.

    I am a big fan of being wordless at the right times. I can go for long stretches not speaking or listening to things like radio or music. Some of the most beautiful moments in life happen in silence. But, words are always coursing through my mind. Perhaps it is why some of us blog so much. Words have to get out or our heads will explode.

    1. Haha, yeah I think you are right about that, Jim 🙂

  3. Ah, you’ve described so eloquently my “happy place”. I’m perfectly happy out in nature not saying or hearing any words other than what’s in my own head. 🙂

    I love the colors of Night Herons and you captured them to perfection as well as that intense, still stare they have while they hunt, or wait for the unsuspecting frog, fish, or whatever comes by.

    1. Aren’t we lucky to have a happy place, and know how to get there? I’m so glad you have that, too. Thank you so much, Deborah.

  4. Wordless. That fits me just fine in a few ways. Socially I am often at a loss for words and will just sit off on the sidelines waiting to go home. I don’t mind being there, but have nothing to say. And I am easily better off saying nothing as I will often misspeak. I tried leading a wildflower photography workshop once and was constantly having to correct myself.
    But, most importantly and more to your subject, so often nature leaves us speechless. Either out of awe or just unable or unwilling to say a word that might spoil the experience. It is hard to speak with your jaw dropped.

    1. That is me, too, Steve, silent at gatherings and waiting to leave. I’ve been teased that it looks like I’m poised for flight! 🙂

  5. For me a lot has depended on the subject and the purpose. When I taught math, for example, I was careful with words and practiced until I could say just the right thing to box students into the place where they needed to be for a statement or equation to be correct. When they used words loosely—which was often!—I would pounce and not let them get away with their laxity.

    In contrast, when I’m out photographing I’m in a world of my own, trying to see things as purely visual objects. As opposed to teaching math, I’ve almost always kept photography for myself so that I don’t have to explain anything to anyone. I taught a couple of photo workshops two years ago, but I wasn’t sure what to say, didn’t enjoy the experience, and haven’t returned to it (in spite of the fact that most of the students apparently thought things went pretty well).

    1. That is fascinating, Steve. What a wonderful math teacher you must have been! I imagine that your students learned to be more precise in their thinking, if nothing else although I’ll bet they also came away with a more solid grasp of math as well. It is interesting that photography, then, wasn’t something you felt comfortable teaching. I think math must be a left brain-dominated activity, which is where the words also hang out, while photography is perhaps more right-brained, which is the wordless half of the brain. I wondered whether that was the case, despite the fact that all of the camera functions are more technical than, say, a paintbrush. One can use a paintbrush without engaging “thoughts”.

  6. “I’ve been reading about the benefits of wordlessness.” Ah ha, so you’ve been reading words about the benefits of wordlessness.

    1. OMMMMM…….

  7. When I’m out walking, it’s a relief not to have to speak. I can just enjoy being immersed in nature and feeling very intensely. When it comes to writing up a walk for my blog it’s quite difficult to convert those sensations into words. That’s when I fall back on photographs to do the “talking” for me. Beautiful artwork and a thoughtful piece of writing, Melissa. Thank you.

  8. I sensed a kindred spirit in your posts, Jane. It is hard to translate what we experience into words, isn’t it? You do a beautiful job, though. I’m so glad you like my work. Thank you.

    1. Your explanation (and Jane’s) finally made sense of why my photography suffers when I have someone tagging along with me. It’s so nice to have companionship, but then the images don’t turn out as well. Thanks for visiting my blog and following!

      1. Gunta, I am so pleased to have found your deligtful blog!

  9. I used to dread having to stand in front of an audience, whether presenting or teaching. Now I do it without batting an eyelid. Nevertheless my preference is my own company and just the world about me. I can even get lost in urban landscapes – parks or any little green oasis. The heron is a wonderful bird and you have caught it beautifully.

    1. I am in awe that you can do that, Andrew.

  10. The green herons are abundant here, now. Their squawks and trills say it all: “Get out of my territory! Get off that line! I was here first!” They’re the most wordy of the birds that surround me, except for the laughing gulls. Of course, they mostly just laugh. I wish they’d share their jokes with us.

    Words are important to me, of course. I work in them in the same way that you work in paint. But people often misunderstand my process. Many assume that, when I’m traveling, visiting a museum, or otherwise engaged in an activity, I have paper and pen at hand, and am writing my way through the experience. It’s just the opposite.

    When I travel, I may make a few notes, but they’re only tokens: ways to remember little details that might otherwise become lost in a sea of impressions, or questions that need answering later. Otherwise, I simply sink into the experience. Thought and analysis come later. That’s why I still have posts to write about my trip to the Flint Hills and the Tallgrass Prairie two years ago. Pondering over time, allowing meaning and significance to bubble up, is far preferable to imposing it from above, and too soon.

  11. Thank you for this glimpse into your process, LInda. That sounds a lot like mine. I seldom make sketches and only a few reference photos, preferring to let my impressions simmer below the surface for awhile.

  12. The green is… perfect. And I love the light and shadows. And the heron fits right in. 🙂

    It is different but similar to an experience I had earlier this week. The green was not from duckweed, but a reflection of the surrounding trees, the green of late spring. The water was salty and the shore was not sand but soft clay covered in hairlike green moss. And there were many, many, many herons fishing, not Night Herons, but Great Blue Herons, which are very common here. I walked barefoot in the muddy clay and sank down to mid ankle.

    The next morning I was somewhere else, at the edge of a freshwater pond. There was duckweed (which I didn’t know was duckweed until I read your post and looked it up) and I saw a frog and some turtles and I watched longear sunfish swim for about 10 minutes in the particularly clear water.

    Both of those were beautiful wordless moments, but when I saw your painting and your words, I could instantly connect to your experience (not exactly your experience… but a similar appreciation), even though you live quite far away.

    It seems to me that your writing and your art allows others to connect their wordless moments to your wordless moments. Thanks :-).

    1. Oh, thank you!!! I really loved the way you created a word painting here, and then you topped it off with that enormous compliment. I can’t tell you how much your words mean to me.

  13. Very well put! And your example from teaching is amusing, and illustrates the principle so well. The narrator, the self – whatever we call it, if we can set it aside regularly, it’s beneficial. I like the way you captured the intensity of that little guy – they’re like little bullets sometimes, standing absolutely still, then ZAP!

    1. Haha, yeah…POW! Wouldn’t want to be that fish 🙂 Thank you.

  14. Beautiful wordlessness in your painting. 🙂 My mind is not processing words very efficiently at the moment. I think this means I should stop and create more space to think. You are right about the need for wordlessness.

  15. My mind is on overload right now, too. I notice that it works like a breaker… One minute the thoughts are piling up, the next the system has fallen silent. May your wordless space be peaceful 🙂

  16. I think all creative processes are wordless – even writing where the process around finding the right words are wordless. As you say; no words means only being. Great painting of a wordless moment.

    1. Thank you, Otto.

  17. I’m a word person–a writer, an editor before I retired, an endless chatterer inside my head. Wordlessness doesn’t come easily to me, but as I read this, yes, I can imagine the possibilities there.

    1. Hi Ellen, thank you for your comment. I can relate~ I go through periods when the voice(es) in my head can be quite chatty. 🙂

      1. I really enjoyed your post on weather. I’m here in the land of thunderstorms, really the best part of living in the midwest in my estimation. I like ’em loud! I’ve never heard of a thunder moon, either, though. like you experienced, my house is one of several that were built on a floodplain for a nearby little lake, with predictable results every rainy season. Sigh. Ah, to live in England… 🙂

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