by Peta Owens-Liston

Blue Heron Days

Labyrinth Canyon Great Blue Heron WildlifeNot a day went by on the Colorado River without spotting at least one of these majestic creatures. Watching a Great Blue Heron take flight felt like a prayer rising. As if something sacred was in action. With a wingspan of up to 6-ft., these birds glide a few feet above the water, sweeping the air with their wings. One stood stoically on an outcropping watching us approach a rapid, of which he seemed to be the gatekeeper.

Blue Herons are not a common day visitor in my life. Their slow, deep wingbeats reminded me of the slower pace we were all beginning to feel, and live, on the river. Unlike, say the incessant rush of a hummingbird’s wingbeat, more emblematic of the rushed and hectic pace most of us had just left behind at home, in the city.

In flight, their necks curl into an S shape apparently boosting aerodynamics and making me realize how stiff and inflexible my own neck felt. Too much time on the computer. But by the time we spotted the Rookery, the third day on the river, I felt as free as these birds and well-massaged by nature and cool river water. Though Great Blue Herons tend to hunt alone, they nest together, a rookery, all setting up house in the same tree. It was prime real estate. Dozens of nests populated an expansive Cottonwood Tree; river-front property and great views.

Birds have been around as long as dinosaurs, as well as much of the rock surrounding us— cliff faces, towering pinnacles, and precarious boulders atop eroding “stems”—had witnessed this prehistoric period too. Yet, the Blue Heron stood out as a surprise in this arid, red-rock sculpted environment—Like glimpsing an orange-clad monk walking down Moab’s main street. What is he up to here? Is just being here, moving with grace, the purpose of being in this place?


Peta Owens-ListonPeta Owens-Liston is a writer and editor with extensive experience in magazine writing and marketing communications writing.  Publications she has written for: TIME Magazine, Sports Illustrated for Women, Organic Style, Paddler, Redbook, Via, KUER/NPR affiliate (radio essays), Park City Magazine, Salt Lake City Magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune to mention a few.






BLUE HERON STONEDesolation Canyon Great Blue Heron Nest Wildlife

Because I could not bring back
the blue heron

who watched us,
out of the river’s shadows,
and then flew heavily away—

because I could not keep
her yellow metal eye
to remind me of fierceness—
I kept this stone.

Blue-grey, like the heron,
layered by millions of years in the sea,
and rounded
by thousands of years in the river,

it is the circling clouds of a storm;
it is all weathers, all calm,
all the weight that keeps you from me
and holds us to the earth.

By Polly Brown