31 March 2012
Washington, DC

Dear Wigleaf,

I write you from under the night heron tree. Two hundred couples take turns crouching on their nests. The nest-sitters squawk in the branches, orange-eyed leaves, while their mates gossip on the ground, necks craned skyward, hopping in almost-flight. Both sexes wear jaunty black hats with thin white plumes—one long, one shorter—that drape over their matching black coats.

Before the tree, I visited a lemur who clutched a plush version of himself and the bird house, a room of mist and ferns designed to fool Silver-beaked Tanagers, rubies with feathers, into chirping like they're in the rainforest. My mother and sister sit on a bench across the zoo, monument weary, watching lions that remind them of their housecats.

But I'm here with the aborigines of the National Zoo. In 1889, when congressmen, indoors in their suits, voted this zoo into existence, this was a forest, the night heron nesting grounds. The zoo planners placed the rookery by the night heron tree, a juxtaposed birdsong rhyme.

The zoo has sort of claimed the herons. They've put up a sign like the one by the lion cage: diet, breeding habits, size. They hurl dull-eyed dead mice, rubbery tails fluttering in flight, so the herons will stop darting in and out of the birdhouse, burgling their incarcerated cousins.

I know I'll have to walk away. Like me, the herons can leave.

Sarah Beth

- - -

Read SBC's "Shorn."

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