Sometimes, Mother Nature just gives you the bird.
My mom recently expanded her already impressive Florida garden to include a water feature. She and her old friend Cliff spent months excavating the 12- by 16-foot, 1,250-gallon hole, selecting and placing seven tons of flat rocks, planting the perimeter with shade-throwing ferns and lilies, and rigging the water flow just right so it falls continuously with a pleasing trickle.
The “pond,” as she calls it, is a marvel to behold, serene and lovely, if a bit Vegas-like, and home to a dozen koi my mother talks to daily when she takes her tea. She’s named the fish, assigned them personalities, and (perhaps because she’s a psychologist) made assumptions about their inter-koi dynamics—which fish is the alpha, which is irritated with the other, which is the koi bully. All of this is to say that the fishpond brings my mother more joy than just about anything in recent history (including Dancing with the Stars). At least it used to, until the arrival of The Great Egret.
“I think I may need to shoot it,” she said over the phone through tight teeth.
“Shoot what?” I asked, not terribly alarmed, as shooting vermin, snakes, and the occasional mailbox was not unusual in my Southern upbringing.
“The GD great egret,” she hissed.
“But Mom, you love great egrets,” I countered. “You think they’re ‘majestic.’”
“That was before this majestic mother-clucker came to my pond and ate some of my babies,” she said in a menacing tone I’d only ever heard in Clint Eastwood movies.
I tried to talk her off the waterfowl-assassin ledge. Perhaps one could spray for egrets? Or maybe get a faux gator to frighten the egret away?
“Maybe,” she considered, rather unconvincingly. Three weeks, one fake gator, and three bottles of wildcat urine later, the egret was still using my mother’s pond as his personal sushi bar.
“You know, Mom, maybe there is a lesson here about the circle of life?” I ventured (from the safety of a phone call, from three states away). “We try to build these perfect, pristine environments in our worlds, but nature always takes over. Perhaps the egret is there to remind you what you can and can’t control? To teach you how to let go.” The line fell silent.
“Mom?” Seconds pass. Then minutes.
“Mom!” I hear rustling, then the sound of cabinets being opened.
“Sorry, just looking for some ammo,” she finally responded.
As it turned out, my mother did not kill the egret. She had Cliff frame and net the entire operation, making it look like one of Lady Gaga’s Grammy ensembles. My mother hates the net, but not enough to slay a beautiful white bird.
Now she watches the egret as he watches the pond, neither of them happy, neither of them willing to quit, their mutual stubbornness keeping them both very much alive.