31 March 2012
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
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
I know I'll have to walk away. Like me, the herons can leave.
- - -
Read SBC's "Shorn."
w i g · l e a F