It has taken me a long time to admit this, even to myself, but I fell in love with a lifestyle. Not a house- even though I participated in the design and construction of one of the most charming Lowcountry homes on Bogue Banks. Not a car- even though my little Mazda Miata- Montego Blue with tan leather top and interior- remains the snazziest car I’ve ever owned. Not the vacations- even though the Fairmont at Banff Springs and the two trips to Cannes were nothing short of splendid. And not even my ex-husband, Nob, ever-charming and handsome, the man to whom I remained devoted for eighteen productive, albeit difficult years, could replace what I ultimately felt I had lost once the emblems of my former life eventually melted away to moving, memory, and divorce.
I missed my birds, Big Al Egret and Ivan Ibis.
Big Al arrived first, when Nob and I lived in a condominium community surrounded by lagoons on Bogue Sound. The lagoons, stocked with carp to control algae, teemed with minnows that schooled in a boiling mass whenever I fed them leftover breadcrumbs. Soon enough my activities attracted the attention of a curious White Egret. Eventually the bird became conditioned to the feast he would inevitably scarf down whenever he saw me appear on the scene. He thus allowed himself to be “tamed.” Nob and I named him Big Al, as his size and voracious appetite gave him the appearance of a homely diner who frequented fast food joints. Big Al soon became such a fixture around our house that whenever he spotted one of us outside near the water, he would fly over and land within six feet, long neck craning to the side, beady eyes fixed on the lagoon’s surface, and scissor-like bill clacking in anticipation of the meal to come.
Within a year or two of befriending Big Al, word apparently spread among the egrets of Bogue Banks. The lagoon facing our house became a nesting site, often housing as many as a hundred (yes, really- I counted!) of the pterodactyl-like creatures. I still remember many Magritte-like evenings- tall pine trees backlit by a fiery sunset while dozens of egrets circled overhead, lit tentatively in the thin branches, then jostled for position- often emitting a prehistoric honk as they jousted each other with pointy beaks.
After a while Big Al took up with a fishing partner- an ungainly White Ibis I named Ivan. The two were a strange, albeit comical, duo. Al would work the shallow water on the lagoon’s edge, often stopping to strike peculiar angular postures- before jabbing at the water and swiftly knocking back a wriggling minnow. Ivan had a more methodical method of fishing. Walking slightly behind and upshore from Big Al, Ivan plumbed the margin where water met grass. Rapidly and incessantly bobbling his downcurved bill like a sewing machine, Ivan procured the worms and tiny jetsam along the water’s edge. The odd pair, egret and ibis, ultimately became inseparable, as I would never see one without the other being nearby.
After the house was finished, we moved less than two miles down the road to a secluded peninsula of maritime forest. Although Al and Ivan were now outside the boundaries of our daily routines, a host of similar birds and wildlife took their place. There was a Great Blue Egret I called the Old Man who roosted nightly at the top of a Live Oak tree on our pond. There were ospreys, pelicans, hummingbirds, and an occasional Clapper Rail. There were hungry Canada Geese and Mallard ducks to feed cracked corn. There were also nesting pairs of Painted Buntings- their tiny, brilliant crimson, yellow, and blue wings skimming within two feet overhead. On cool nights I recall hearing the plaintive call-and-response courtship of Great Horned Owls. Once, I spotted one from the second story front porch and watched it silently glide along the salt marsh that paralleled our driveway.
There were some awesome sights to be seen along the edge of the maritime forest, where our back porches overlooked the dense tops of Live Oaks, Wax Myrtles and Swamp Magnolias that formed a green arch between the pond and the wide, blue sound. In three brief years we observed two enormous mating Timber Rattlesnakes(!), gray foxes, opossums, numerous raccoons, and an occasional lumbering snapping turtle. I remember being startled the first time I was awakened by the light of an enormous, silver disc of full moon framed by the French doors in our bedroom, setting directly over the luminous Bogue Sound.
It is ironic that in the face of material comforts, these sights and memories of nature cost nothing- yet they cost everything, too. The time I spent devoted to the dream of a continuous commune with nature was spent in a marriage that produced no children, no great accomplishments, little joy, and ultimately- no lasting commitment. I remained doggedly devoted to the beautiful sights, sounds, and experiences my lifestyle afforded while blithely ignoring the cost of foregoing whatever other dreams I had.
I miss Big Al and Ivan, sure, but I have grown since then. Now that I am writing a new, later chapter in my life story, I hope I will have the wisdom to abide by this quote by Lao Tzu:
Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.