Blue herons are a familiar sight on the banks of ditches and ponds. Maybe you have noticed that they have something distinctly contradictory about them: on the one hand their manners can be highly refined and gracious; on the other they are common and uncouth in how they go begging fishermen for food. On occasions they have been known to walk into a kitchen and grab food! In this new story you will find out more how the blue heron came to be a creature of such contradictions.
Although King Heron ruled over a small country, he had always enjoyed great respect internationally. He and his wife Egreta were always welcome guests at other courts. But after the Queen following a long sickbed, the King became more and more a recluse, declining all invitations. He continued to live in isolation in his palace together with his only daughter named Blue. He was very attached to his daughter, all the more because for a long time it had seemed likely that the Queen and he would remain childless. Both of them suffered seriously from this lack in their lives. In desperation they had finally called upon the help of the country’s national sorceress. Their visit bore fruit: less than twelve months later the Queen gave birth to a princess that they called Blue. King Heron was grief-stricken that his wife was unable to see Blue grow up into a pretty young girl with long slim legs, an elegant long neck and a deep voice which sounded husky in the king’s ears.
However, the King began to be seriously worried about his successor. A queen simply has to be gracious, sophisticated, empathic and an example to her people. She certainly had talents, but somehow lacked these ones. He feared she might become a laughing stock among the other royal families and that this would have a negative impact on both the royal family and their kingdom. One day Heron decided the time had come to discuss his concerns with his daughter. “When I am no longer here, you will take my place on the throne. The people expect their queen to behave in a regal fashion. And I am seriously concerned about this last matter. You have so much to learn. I was wondering if it would not be a good idea to send you to an international academy for nobility abroad or to find you a governess”, he suggested. “I know only too well that I am an embarrassment to you, father,” Blue confessed. “I really do my very best to please you, but I simply can’t pretend to be something I’m not. I am who I am. I don’t want to process through the corridors. Nor do I want to spend hours presiding over gatherings, graciously smiling to diplomats and other stiff-lipped courtiers whom I don’t know. Life at court is something I am not cut out for. I want to be outside in the countryside. I want to feel free. I’m so unhappy, Papa….”she said, her eyes watering.“Try, please try,” begged the King. “Try a little harder, for me then.”However, a few months later during the annual procession in honour of the King’s birthday a raucous squawking was heard. The King then realized that the chances were very slim that Blue ever could behave like a real queen.After some more sleepless nights he decided to consult the country’s national sorceress again. Actually the king loathed this witch, how she would often gabble the most unintelligible things. Nevertheless, even he could not deny that her involvement with their desire for a child had worked well. So, there were few other options open ….”You know,” he said when he sat down at the table opposite her in her living-room, “I really love my daughter. But, I simply cannot ignore the fact there is something about her demeanour that is anything but regal. For instance, in company she sometimes behaves with such a total lack of decorum, that I wish the earth would open up and swallow me. She is an embarrassment to me. But what concerns me the most is that she is so unhappy.”“Well,” replied the witch, “I agree with you totally on this. She definitely doesn’t behave in the way of a crown princess. But unfortunately, although I can make someone more beautiful or uglier, give them a hunchback or an enormous nose, I can do nothing to change someone’s behaviour. I have heard that there is a course to master these arts, but to do so would mean going abroad. Besides that problem, the course takes several years and I feel simply far too old now to start anything like that at my age. I am satisfied with the knowledge I’ve gathered up to now…” and with one arm she waves her wand vaguely in the direction of the two framed witch diplomas hanging on the wall behind her chair. The King could not help wondering to himself why someone who claims to be able to make people look more attractive was so absolutely repulsive and ugly to look at herself. But he was wise enough to say nothing. “But,” said the sorceress suddenly, breaking the silence, “I can do something to ensure that she is happy.”“Now I would be glad of that,” said the king accepting her offer but without the faintest idea of what that might involve. When the king wanted to leave, the witch stood in front of him. She chanted some unintelligible charm, stretched her arm towards him and spread her fingers, all the while looking at him as if her eyes could bore right through him. “Go home,”she cried sharply,”and then you will see for yourself that she is happy.” As he walked back home he noticed a bird with a long neck, majestic wings and sleek legs poised on the banks of the court pond. Inside the palace Blue was nowhere to be found. Then the familiar sound of raucous screeching reached his ears. Looking out of the window he saw the same bird he had just passed by fly up into the sky with a slow broad flapping of its majestic wings. Time and again it returned to the court pond to gobble up even more fish. This was how the Princess made it clear to her father that she thought this a far greater delicacy than any sole à la meunière served on a silver platter.
In the middle ages blue herons were hunted for royal pleasure and ‘ordinary folk’ were fined if they were caught poaching. The decorative feathers of this heron were very popular for decorating hats with. After the second world war their numbers were sorely depleted. Severe winters contributed to this together with polluted surface water, factors which combined to weaken these large water fowl. Heron hunting has been made illegal in many countries. Nowadays blue herons are a very common large water fowl which has excelled in adapting to humans. The once shy bird is now common whose habitat even includes large city centres.
© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl