Heron Flight and Jacob’s Ladder: A Report from the Trail

Jul 10, 2023

by Ken Rummer

I’m trying to step between the mulberries scattered on the trail. All the berry stages are on display in the trees: the greenish white, and the red that follows, and the ripened black. I expect other berry forms to follow in short order: the tire smoosh and the bird splat. Keep an eye out, everybody.

Cottonwood “snow” has tapered off, but near the larger trees, drifts of seed puffs line the path. It’s hard to believe that a tree, so big two people can’t reach around its trunk, began as a tiny speck floating on its own white cloud, shining like a firefly in the morning sun.

Mallard ducks frequent the breakfast bar down the street where our neighbor scatters feed on her driveway. Webbed feet and all, these birds like to take in the view from the roof ridge. The other day, they even convinced two cyclists on the trail to stop and take their picture.

Walking beside the creek, I pass a mulching party. Folks living in the townhomes are out with wagons and buckets and rakes and shovels. They are loading up stump grindings from a dead ash ¬†and distributing the chips around the trees nearby. It’s not to the level of a quilting bee or a barn raising, but neighbors working together, even on mulch, speaks hope to me.

Almost home, I spot a Great Blue Heron flying circles in the sky. Tight circles. More of a spiral, really, gaining altitude with each round, like a glider pilot working a thermal or a visitor viewing the art at the Guggenheim.

Big wings flex and press. Long legs trail for balance. With each loop I think surely this will be the last, but then the heron takes another lap.

A line from a Spiritual I learned in childhood comes back to me: “Every round goes higher, higher.”

When enslaved Africans gave voice to those words, they were singing the story of Jacob’s ladder. It’s the one where Jacob falls asleep on a stone pillow. In a dream he sees a ladder leading heavenward with angels going up and coming down. And he sees God standing right beside him. Jacob wakes up and plants the stone on its end for a marker. And he declares, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not” (Genesis 28:16 KJV).

Is the heron tracing a spiral stairway known to angels? Are the back stairs of heaven just one street over?

My neck is starting to cramp from looking up, but just before I lower my gaze, the heron breaks from its upward spiral and sets a straight course to the southwest, so high now it might not catch my notice on a casual glance.

I walk on, wondering. In my believing, God is everywhere, and so, also here. But here here?

Is the God of Jacob in this place and I knew it not?

Photo credit: Jim L. Harvey
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(used with permission)