I saw a spectacular sight Sunday while out riding Brad in the 300-acre cattle pasture — Brad is my Paint horse, of course, so don’t get all het up thinking I meant someone else. That’s what one risks, giving horses human names, as you who have read “Saddle Tramps” know. I refer to where, early on in the book, Pepper says, “My shoulder hasn’t been the same since I fell off Bob.”
But back to my Magical Moment. Brad and I were traversing wide grassland along the Applegate River as the sun baked our hide and an intermittent breeze brought negligible relief. We had moved among the 80-cow Black Angus herd, assessing which cows and calves, which heifers or steers with brands and ear tags, we could turn away as we walked toward them. A fun exercise to build skill and confidence in a cowhorse and rider. And then we angled back toward the stable a quarter-mile away past a large, square and deep man-made pond. A tree and lots of dry brush reaches over it. Mud or concrete ramps lead down into it at the corners. Frogs, salamanders and bass call it home.
Brad and I rode a line about fifty feet out from the south bank. To our right, only the far surface of this oasis sunk into rocky, former river-bottom soil — was visible. But as we closed in, our eyes gravitated toward a long snag sticking out over the water at a forty-five degree angle. Lined up from tip to base of that leafless snag, were six of those great, streamlined, blinding-white birds whose flyway we humans inhabit in the Rogue River Valley: Snowy egrets!
I blinked. Brad raised his head and pricked his ears. Were these real, and were there really six of them? My eyes worked to distinguish the fowl from patches of pale wood and light brush. Yes, there indeed were six egrets, pure as snow, poised like statues, studying the water for a potential meal. It looked like an entire brood — two larger parents who observed four youngsters studying for their fishing license.
Trying not to disturb them, I urged Brad back to the stable. I unsaddled and groomed him as quickly as I could. I wanted to put him away and grab my cell phone to go snap egret pictures as soon as possible. Before they flew off. What a photo this would make. Unbelievable serendipity!
It was like those rare times an inspired scene magically drops into one’s writing — or some other creation. A gift from above. Or light from inside. You feel immense gratitude, while at the same time, hardly believing your good fortune. You naturally want to preserve it.
But when I finally got back to pond’s edge, phone camera at the ready, the egrets were gone. The pond looked as “vacant” as usual. Its surface lay dark, tranquil, undisturbed, as if those ghostly birds, those inspiring images, had never been.
I guess I knew they’d be gone. But I went there anyway, hoping to capture a moment. All I have now was a glowing memory. And yet — sometimes a memory is all one needs. It’s all one needs to call out magic from one’s mind. I can look at that memory image all I want. I just can’t share it with others.
Unless I make it live again in words. And you can be sure I will do that. The miracle image has found a place. Not only here, but in my third in-progress Pepper Kane mystery, “Ghost Ranch.” I only need to locate a perfect spot for it. Perhaps when Pepper rides her horse along the Applegate River … and comes across a sight provided by Providence.
Provided. Providence. I love how those “P” words derive from the same root. See how a writer’s mind works? And I like how an egret group officially is called a “scattering,” “herd” or “siege.” Can a group of writers, other summoners of ghostly yet memorable images, be called the same?