Once upon an island, there was a Great Blue Heron who ruled the roost in the colony. Vorax Otiosumuno’s reputation stretched far and wide as the laziest feathered felon in the heronry.
He never courted the charming females with bits of moss or branches to build a nest in the towering trees. He just moved in and said, “Move over.” He didn’t nourish his mate or protect his new home. He wasn’t even courteous enough to wait until the next season to find his new nest-mate. He just moved on. He even snatched the morsels of fish and insects right out of the open beaks of the ravenous chicks.
All of the other birds, male and female, big and small, deferred to him when he was stalking a frog, or had cast his evil eye on the parade of downy baby mallards paddling behind their mother.
With his massive size, six-foot wingspan, and a mandible that could clamp on a Northern Pike like a muskrat trap, or spear his prey like a dagger, no one wanted to challenge this avaricious predator.
He had no wish to spend ninety per cent of his waking hours hunting and fishing as his heron brethren did.
V.O., as he was known to the others, would swoop in and steal the prize from the fishing fowl’s beak. His mantra was, “What’s yours is mine.”
Since he didn’t spend his time fishing or hunting, and he hardly ever bothered to preen his downy chest feathers with his middle toe to make himself presentable, he had ample opportunity to observe and eavesdrop on the human population. He pretended to sleep on the wooden structures they built or eavesdrop as he floated near them where they sat in a shiny thing that bounced up and down on the waves.
Sometimes they threw a long line into the water with a doodad attached to the end that winked in the sunshine. They often pulled out a fish that he wouldn’t mind scoring, if he only had the ambition to do it.
He also noticed, when glancing into the shelter of their nests, that these humans must have a fish fetish. There were images of fish on dishes, pillows, sheets, and pillow cases. He even saw stuffed fish hanging on walls. Most puzzling was how many tried to look like fish by covering their upper bodies and heads with fish images.
After giving this observation a great deal of thought, as far as a Great Blue Heron can, he reached the conclusion that shiny fish things were the next step in his flight to the Pine Tree Penthouse Suite, where his every wish would come true. Minnows and morsels provided by his minions! No more wet feet or tired wings! “My wish will be everybody else’s command,” he proclaimed.
Now V.O. had some river cronies who were as skilled as he was devious. Hodadeion, maker of magic, and Otgo, master of wampum, usually kept a low profile as members of the Iroquois deity. The three conspirators banded together to devise a formula of alchemy to transform the greatest resource of the river, fish, into a commodity to benefit all of them: bright and shiny stainless-steel feeding utensils in the shape of a fish.
Members of the heron community were threatened and coerced into fishing for victims of this scheme. Hundreds of fish who were captured and transformed by the treacherous trio, found themselves re-created as knives, forks, spoons, and multiple serving pieces.
Our story now follows the path of Chordata, a sinewy Northern Pike, who was at one moment a luminescent flash, gliding gracefully in the murky depths of the river, and the next stunned and unable to escape the scores of heron hunting for fish.
Flash forward fifteen years. Our heroine stands straight and tall in front of a red plastic cage. She has heard the humans call this a silverware basket. She and her fellow prisoners have been crowded into confined spaces according to their function. Occasionally some are taken out at random and used as a tool to nourish their captors.
Each of her fellow captives look exactly like her: straight and tall, with a bright, silvery hue. She recalls the long-ago compliments when her suitors admired her iridescent scales in the depths of the green water. With a swish and flash of her spiny tail fin, sparkling drops flew across the surface of the water. Now there is nothing to distinguish her from any of the other eleven dinner forks in this house of detention; nor the images of the twelve dessert forks, teaspoons, soup spoons, dinner knives, and assorted serving utensils.
On this day, a stranger has pulled her from the basket prison and laid her on a large flat disk stacked with yellow squares and two kinds of red circles.
She then left the cottage and began descending a rocky path. Chordata caught the tangy aroma of seaweed and knew she was close to her home: her river. Soon the path became level, and she sensed crossing a span of open water onto a platform bobbing up and down on the waves.
Several humans were seated around the perimeter of this structure. Chordata and the platter were placed in the center of this group. Everyone reached for bits of the food, using Chordata to spear a morsel.
When the platter was empty the humans stood and began stepping from the gently rocking watercraft to the stable platform.
The human from the house picked up the empty tray. Chordata slipped and slid across the oily surface. She realized this was her only chance to escape her life sentence of captivity. She prayed for a gust of wind or the wake of a passing boat when the human stepped across the open water.
Just as the human took that step a dark shadow blocked out the sun and caused her to look up. Chordata gracefully slid from the tray. V.O., the Great Blue Heron who had been the cause of all of her misery was soaring above them, his massive wingspan casting his malignant shadow. Chordata also glanced up and had just enough time to cry out . . .
You G#S D#S% Blue Heron as she disappeared into the cool, murky depths of the river; her home.
By Martha Grimes
Please click here if you are unable to post your comment.