Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What do these two have in common?

with 40 comments

What the great blue heron (Ardea herodias) has in common with the variegated stone and its shadow is that I photographed them both at Muir Beach in California four years ago today. You might also find that the forms and colors of the heron’s feathers resemble those on the stone.

And here’s a relevant poem for today:

“The Peace of Wild Things”
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 1, 2020 at 4:39 AM

40 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. The images are lovely. I love the comparison between these two. That poem is wonderful and reminds me of Mary Oliver and her style of poetry.


    November 1, 2020 at 8:24 AM

    • I’m glad you like the pictures. While not a dedicated bird photographer (for which I’d need a longer lens), I sometimes get a good bird portrait.

      You’ve made me wonder to what extent Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver knew each other, or at least each other’s work. The statement that “I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief” has its precedent in Walt Whitman:


      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2020 at 8:49 AM

  2. That poem spoke to my heart – made me a little misty-eyed this morning. It’s why I find myself meandering to the woods and slough… to be free.

    The detail of the feathers on the blue heron is remarkable. I once found a dead blue heron in our pasture – I think it just fell from the sky and died in the night because it wasn’t there the day before. I was able to observe the feathers, feet and beak quite closely. I like the position of the head in your shot. I wonder what’s going on – do they think or simply watch deciding on flight or fight?


    November 1, 2020 at 8:39 AM

    • In my reply to the previous comment I gave a link to a passage from Walt Whitman that you should also appreciate, based on your love-of-animals-inspired reaction to the Wendell Berry poem:


      I don’t know why this heron was so complacent. I wasn’t as close as the picture might make you think, given that I took it at a focal length of 280mm, but I was closer than I normally get before a great blue heron takes off—in fact often they take off when I’m still more than a hundred feet away. It’s good that you got such a close look at one, even if only because it had died.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2020 at 9:15 AM

      • “Song of Myself” rings true for me also – especially thoughts in the first half. I feel very fortunate to have such a connection with nature.

        Herons here are just as flighty – they seem to have keen sight. A few years back I was hiking into the nearby “boot” area of the Washita river about 1/4 mile from our home, and noticed an area of blue heron nests in tall trees just above a beach-like shallow area of the river (the toe of the “boot” formation). I hope some day I’ll have more time to observe them, like so many other large birds (vultures, hawks, owls) in our area.


        November 1, 2020 at 9:53 AM

        • Good luck with those blue heron nests. I assume you have good binoculars. For pictures, the longer the focal length your camera/lens can extend to, the better off you are. I toyed with getting one of those reasonably priced “bridge” cameras that go to the equivalent of 800mm or 1000mm.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 1, 2020 at 2:41 PM

  3. Looking for things that appear to be different yet are essentially alike has been one of my goals in life. And your interesting post on the blue heron and the stone showed again how much we two have in common, Steve. I also like the poem which contains so many pearls of wisdom for all the people trapped in the rat race of a hectic and worrisome lifestyle.

    Peter Klopp

    November 1, 2020 at 9:51 AM

    • Happy commonality: similarities in differences. And mathematicians are happy to find the same pattern appearing in different relationships. An easy example: even and odd numbers under addition produce the same pattern as positive and negative numbers under multiplication (with even corresponding to positive and odd corresponding to negative). Since you like the poem, you may want to pursue more of Wendell Berry’s work.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2020 at 2:35 PM

      • Thank you for the mathematical elucidation, Steve! I made the same discovery about similarities in differences when I was studying abstract algebra at the University of Calgary more than 50 years ago.

        Peter Klopp

        November 3, 2020 at 12:28 PM

        • You must have had fun. As you know, it can get pretty complicated, but enough simple examples exist that we can show to people without a lot of fancy background in math.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 3, 2020 at 12:47 PM

  4. That is my favorite poem from Wendell Berry.

    Lavinia Ross

    November 1, 2020 at 10:14 AM

    • Ah, so you already knew it. I hadn’t seen it before I went looking for a quotation to add to this post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2020 at 2:36 PM

  5. Great shot of the heron, and a nice bit of imagination, to see parallels in the stone.
    You also saw parallels to Walt Whitman, while the beginning reminded me of that Shakespeare sonnet that begins “When, in disgrace with fortune…” and of course it has lots of Biblical tones – – it leadeth me beside still waters (Psalms), etc. A very, very nice poem, I’m going to print this one out.

    Robert Parker

    November 1, 2020 at 11:40 AM

    • Linda has quoted Wendell Berry, which may be how I first heard of him. I’d never quoted him till today, and I wasn’t looking for something by him specifically, but I came across this poem and it seemed to harmonize. Good of you to see parallels in Shakespeare and the Bible. Happy printing out and rereading.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2020 at 1:49 PM

  6. I have to comment simply because you have posted this poem Steve. I only discovered Wendell Berry a few years ago and this poem stopped me in my tracks then, as it does each time I read it. If there is a poem in the world written for each one of us, this was for me. Thanks.


    November 1, 2020 at 1:48 PM

    • You’re the second commenter who’s known this poem, which was new to me. I’m glad to hear it holds such an iconic place in your life. Because it does, perhaps you should write to Wendell Berry and tell him. He’s still alive at age 86.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2020 at 1:53 PM

  7. Love the pairing of color and texture, the comparing of size and shape. Well done! I think herons are the most photogenic birds, mostly because they’re willing to be still for long enough to get a good shot!


    November 1, 2020 at 2:36 PM

    • Thanks. I didn’t originally plan to compare these pictures. In looking through my archive to see what photographs I took four years ago today, I chose one of the heron. That could have been enough, but I looked further and came to like the picture of the stone, so I added it. This heron certainly held relatively still for a long time. Back in Austin, my experience is that they’ve often held still only after they’ve flown to the opposite side of the pond from where I was approaching, and therefore ended up out of range for pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2020 at 1:59 PM

      • By the way, someone looking at this page will see that I answered you 37 minutes before you left your comment. It’s not that I’m psychic, but rather that between the time you commented and the time I answered I went to WordPress’s settings and changed my settings back to Standard Time.

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 1, 2020 at 2:02 PM

  8. Beautiful images & verse! Thanks for sharing! 🌞

    Lisa at Micro of the Macro

    November 1, 2020 at 5:51 PM

  9. I love that poem!

    Eliza Waters

    November 1, 2020 at 6:08 PM

  10. Thank you for sharing that poem, Steve. It beautifully expresses my own sentiments.


    November 1, 2020 at 7:50 PM

  11. Beautiful photo of the heron. They are such elegant looking birds.


    November 2, 2020 at 6:55 PM

    • Fortunately the heron was in a good place and didn’t seem to mind me getting relatively close.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 2, 2020 at 8:15 PM

  12. Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver. Two whose poems are always good to read.

    Steve Gingold

    November 5, 2020 at 3:58 AM

  13. So much fun, Steve! 🙂


    November 11, 2020 at 6:52 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: