Story last updated at 4/22/2009 - 11:41 am
Sunsets on a clear evenings are usually pretty striking in Southeast, but when we experience our first warm evenings of the year with sunsets at eight-thirty, they can feel really phenomenal.
I stepped off our boat with a cup of cocoa Sunday evening to enjoy the sunset. I walked to the end of our finger, where only the breakwater float separated me from the open water. And directly across from me, staring out at the water as well, was a great blue heron.
Bald eagles are the bird most often described as "majestic," but great blue herons, at nearly four feet tall and with a six-foot wingspan, easily rival eagles in majesty in my eyes.
Taking their calm demeanor into account, I'd easily nominate the herons for our nation's bird.
The heron is a lucky sighting in many cultures around the world. Sightings are rare enough in Southeast that I do feel lucky when I see one of these inquisitive birds.
The traits that have been symbolically ascribed to the heron around the world include strength, purity, patience, judgment and expertise in fishing and hunting.
This particular heron seemed to be doing the same thing as I was - enjoying the calm of the evening, looking out to sea, watching the sun set. He turned his head around to look at me periodically, too.
When I spot seals in the harbor and they see me looking at them, they often give me a few wary glaces, then disappear. This heron seemed unfazed by my presence, and stood still except for occasional rotations of his head.
When a pleasure boat returning to the harbor for the evening started to approach where I was standing, I turned around and headed back to my boat.
As I started to step aboard, I saw a heron flying overhead. At first I thought it was a different one - Amazing, I thought. Two in one evening! - and then looked back to the breakwater to see it was empty.
Of course. Both of our vigils were similarly disturbed by the boat coming in, I realized.
Some aspects of life on a boat, like life on land, seem entirely divorced from the natural world - for example, when I came inside after my heron encounter, I fell asleep to the sounds of a movie.
But living in Southeast, you can never ignore the non-human world for very long, whether you live on a boat or on land. When I lived downtown, I'd open my door never knowing whether the first eyes I would stare into would be those of a neighbor or a black bear.
It's the tour season again - the first cruise ship arrived in Juneau April 20. I imagine that this year will bring quite a few more people curious about our governor. But I think many people come to Alaska hoping to have the kind of encounter I had with the heron.
Not with a heron necessarily - they're not nearly as well marketed as eagles, whales and bears - but that sort of intimate encounter with a wild animal. The chance to look at each other, and the hope to gain some kind of understanding of other how that wild other lives.
Katie Spielberger may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.