A Reflection on Mary Oliver’s ‘Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh’


Photo: Cathy McCray

Hunkered in the frozen marsh, trapped in winter, in congealing mud, I waited. I assumed the subsequent meal, that there would be a reward for my persistence. My reward.

Mired in nature, and starving — because, you know, life isn’t fair. It doesn’t work that way, there IS no “reason.” Sometimes the great and the beautiful are trapped in ice, waiting…. Winter, season of waiting, of held breath, of starvation, of death by slow degrees. Life isn’t fair, or not-fair.

Finally the marsh softened – a miracle! Heaving, pulling my numbed feet from the frigid slurping mud. Pulling with all the feeble remaining will of my wings, crashing, pulling, straining, sliding, breaking free.

The blunt dark finish? So near. In the quiet dark of midnight, it ran its shivery fingers among my sea-storm feathers, lifting them one by one from my chest. My statuesque body might have crumpled, like a dented strut, like a toppled crane, fallen, wetted and matted on the ice – but no. Not just yet. Not now.

All spring I watched the rising blue-green grass, lifting and flowing while I was still rooted in the muck. The grasses swelled and rippled like a following sea, while I considered the stinky mud. I considered how I might have melted into it, fed it, become a part of it. But no. Not this season. Not yet.

Inspired by a writing prompt in the Inky Path writing community and Mary Oliver’sĀ  ‘Herons in Winter in the Frozen Marsh


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