When the mind loses fear

Walking Dido our Vizsla in Regent’s Park every morning is as essential a ritual to her as going to the loo is after breakfast. Dido is a gentle beast and minds her own business unless another dog crosses into her space when she threatens feral. Albeit, her bark is worse than her bite. She does not bite but sounds more violent than copulating fox. Dido’s intent is single-minded in protecting her incompetent and geriatric owners. She is not interested in game, wild foul or the flock of 400 Canadian geese that arrive on the park-lands in foolish swarms. Except geese are far from foolish. Conrad Lorenz developed his theory of ‘imprinting’ on the behaviour of goslings but my morning observations tells that something more than gosling imprinting is going on in their foolish-mocked minds.

To begin with, whenever we entered the area where a large flock were grazing and let Dido off the lead the geese would go into a collective alarm and take immediate flight. After several mornings something else happened. The geese ‘sensed’ that Dido was not one for the chase but would ignore them.

Dogs, even of the same breeding, are as different as their owners. Dido’s Viz predecessor, Lucy was up for the chase and she would feast on goose shit as if it was marrow bone jelly. Dido is a fastidious beast with immaculate and self cleaning paws.

Soon, the geese learned to ignored Dido’s presence until a leader appeared out of the collective. Slowly turning and without fear, it sauntered to the left of Dido’s path. One by one the troupe, which were grazing across several meters turned to amble after the self appointed commander. Whether in the air or on land, geese work as an intuitive team, but who anoints their Napoleonic leader…

The flight of the heron, even if not as mysterious as the albatross or arcane as black cormorant inspires awe. Heron nest in mess and colonies. They are solitary birds who seek out wetlands. Ornamental garden pools will do. They neither approach nor will be approached. I have been a heron admirer for years and delighted in their colony in Regent’s Park. They stand, preen and entertain their admirers but always at a distance.

A late afternoon walk we came upon a weary, young heron pecking among the pigeons at a distance from the lake. It ignored our approach, closer still, even as Dido stood inches away and calmly eye-balled the bird. A bird lost to trance. Its appearance suggested pain and its starved magnificence made it hard for me to do nothing about its disorientation. I felt as if its confusion was my own. As dusk descended early to celebrate St. Lucie’s day, I telephoned ‘The Royal Parks’. The someone answering the phone didn’t know what a heron was, and astonishingly didn’t seem to know where or what ‘Regent’s Park’ was. My precise mapping of the entrance close to the sick bird might have been in Balmoral, or anywhere except it was facing Clarence Gate.

There was no further sign of the heron until today when it had returned to the same position and was still standing dazed among pigeons. Thinner too. It made me sad to see him as dislocated as the yule-tide and sea-born immigrants arriving and dying in our hostile climes.

We threw Dido her ball. The bird returned to life, as if we had thrown a fistful of sprat. He spread wings and foot-chased the ball. Again and again. The starving heron had forgotten how to eat but was up for a game of volley ball. The circus act complete, he returned to idle his fish-less puddle. I was left reflecting on whether I had been right to attempt an earlier rescue or was it a useless intervention against nature. Is there anybody there, asked the traveller?

Yes, Christmas is a season not only of joy, (or sorrow come to that) but as Winston Churchill surprisingly said, it is also a time for reflection. Another year approaches…


Photo by John Haynes December 28th.

We cannot see our reflection in running water it is only in still water that we can see.


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