May. 23rd, 2011

Loss

May. 23rd, 2011 11:19 pm
There was a tornado that hit Minneapolis yesterday. It's been eclipsed in the news by the far worse tornado in Joplin, Mississippi. But, here in Minneapolis, it's a devastating reality. It hit the northside of the city hardest, which is about as far as you can get from me and still be in Minneapolis, so my house and I are completely unharmed. But two people on the northside died, one of whom was active in the local birding community. Several hundred people have been displaced from their homes.

I drive past north Minneapolis during my daily commute. There are large walls up for sound barriers, so it's easy to forget what's beyond them when you're going by at 60 mph. This morning, I noticed an unusual number of great blue herons circling. It's common for me to see 1 or 2 over the freeway, but I saw at least 11.

After I had gotten to work, a bird blogger I read posted that the North Mississippi heron rookery had been destroyed in the tornado. These herons were circling aimlessly because their nests were gone - in some cases the trees they were in had fallen or snapped in half, in other cases the nests had blown down. We're talking about approximately a hundred nests here, nests that have been on this island for years, just gone. I read firsthand accounts of several people who had gone to assess the damage at the rookery - they reported that herons were flying back and forth along the river, and circling overhead. Some were perched in the trees and on the ground.

I find myself wondering if herons feel the pain of loss that humans do. It's easy to anthropomorphise them; to see their aimless flying as an expression of their sadness and confusion. It's easy to see analogies between them and the residents who have lost their homes. But do these birds even understand what has happened? Do they mourn for their eggs and chicks? Do they mourn for their mate, if their mate died?

I don't want to minimize the sadness of the loss and devastation of human life and property, but it is the loss of the heron rookery that has hit me the hardest. This loss that I'm not even sure the birds feel.

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