Not far from my house is a Walmart. In front of the Walmart is a little wet-weather creek where the oily runoff from the parking lot drains between concrete retaining walls toward a big culvert where misguided youth sometimes smoke cigarettes. The little apron of grass beside the stream is littered with Walmart detritus and wrappers flung from the cars whooshing past on their way to the Home Depot. It is not a scenic stream.
One day I visited the Walmart after a few days’ rain had swollen the creek. Water chuckled over the rocks and discarded antifreeze jugs. And there in the water stood a great blue heron with his long, snaky stretched forward, gazing into the water, as still as if he had been a painted heron.
I stopped the car and marveled at the bird. To that nasty little creek he brought beauty and dignity simply by doing what came most naturally to him. I watched the heron until at last he lumbered into the air and glided over the Regions Bank and Logan’s Roadhouse before banking high above the potpourri-blast from the automatic doors of the Michael’s craft store. He was almost too beautiful to believe.
Any time I see a heron, I am struck by the sense that I am seeing something mysterious and rare. But herons aren’t rare at all. Their range includes every bit of the continental United States and most of Canada and all of Mexico and Central America and most of South America. Nor do they seem to be particular about their environment, so long as they can get their feet wet. Which is to say, herons are everywhere, beautifying and dignifying even the ugliest and least dignified corners of our world.
I mention the Walmart heron to remind you that beauty and mystery and wonder can be found any place you’ll take the time to look. I know I’ve said this in earlier editions of The Habit Weekly, but I’ll say it again: you don’t have to be brilliant to be a good writer. You just have to pay attention, then give an account of what you have seen.