I made a friend Saturday morning as I jogged along a quiet beach on a Florida key, and he taught me a lesson about life and the sea.
He stood tall and strong as I approached and I followed his gaze out to the horizon.
I thought I might startle him as I passed, so I slowed. But, the old egret was made of far sterner stuff. He just looked at me and turned back toward the water.
For a while we stood next to each other and watched the waves roll in. I took a photo or two and he didn’t seem to mind.
Then, he turned and I watched him walk gingerly into the surf, his right knee bowed out as he hop-walked back to dry sand.
“Awww, buddy, are you hurt?” I asked.
I thought I saw him shrug. Then he limped back toward me.
“Bad knee?” I asked.
“Happened to me a time or two,” I said.
He straightened his back proudly, fluffed his wings, and pointed his chin up so his beak paralleled the sand.
“Atta boy,” I said.
Still, his gait hurt my heart and I looked around the empty beach to see if anyone else noticed his distress.
We were alone except for a cabana assistant who was setting up chairs for the day. I called him over and the two of us studied the bird.
“awww, yeah, he’s definitely hurt,” he said. “You could call Florida Fish and Wildlife, but I don’t know if they’d help.”
The egret seemed annoyed by our plans and moved away. Eventually, he pushed off his good leg, rose up and dove his head into the water, surfacing with a fish in his beak.
He looked back at us in triumph.
“You know, I think he’s going to be just fine,” the young man said.
“Well, he’s definitely having a better morning than that fish,” I said.
I chuckled as I resumed my jog and the old egret watched me go, happy to have retrieved his dignity.
That wise old bird wasn’t looking for sympathy as he limped along. He was looking for fish and, despite his bad knee, he was perfectly capable of finding it.
In case you think I mistook an egret’s natural gait for a painful limp, here’s a little video I shot: