We developed an interest in herons years ago while experimenting with a koi pond. The pond was about 4 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep. The depth was supposedly sufficient to give the koi adequate depth to escape any predators. We also built places under which the fish could hide. When the pond was properly balanced and ready we added six koi. We started with 4 gold fish and 2 koi that were extremely elegant with long flowing fins and tail.

Over the next several weeks we enjoyed the pond and trained the koi to hand feed. One afternoon I went out to feed the koi and noticed that 2 of the smaller fish were missing. I searched around the pond, thinking they might have jumped out, but found no carcasses. Later in the week two more disappeared and then the last two. That afternoon, as I searched for the cause, I saw the shadow of a large bird fly overhead. Yep it was a large blue heron. He lit on the roof directly over the koi pond and walked back and forth examining the pond in detail.  Ah, I thought, there is my culprit. He is the fish thief.

We tried several would be fixes to keep the heron from eating the fish, but he outsmarted us every time so finally I realized I was feeding this big old bird gourmet meals (my koi had cost $6.00 each) when hot dogs would serve as well. We trained the heron to come to the back yard, named him Henry, and developed an interesting relationship. Each evening between 5:00 and 5:30 pm, Henry would pay us a visit. We would sit on the patio and break up hot dogs for him. Henry became very tame and liked to feed from our hand. We never forgot that he was wild and always were very cautious in out interaction with him. His nine inch beak was a constant reminder of the damage he could do if he so choose.

If we were inattentive when Henry made his visit, he would walk over and tap on the patio door until we acknowledged him. I am sure that he would have walked right on in if we had allowed him to, but I doubted that he was house trained and if you have ever been near a heron when nature called you certainly would regret it if it happened in the house. The stench from heron poop is beyond gross.

We enjoyed Henry for a couple of years until the B.P. oil spill. He must have gotten caught up in it since one day he simply stopped his visits. We all miss Henry, especially out youngest granddaughter, Anna Catherine. This leads me into the story that Anna wants to tell, she dictated it on my tape recorder and I transcribed it for her, so mostly in her words here it is the Story of Saving Martin, By Anna Catherine Eiser, 7 years old:

“We were on a walk one day (we being Anna and her grandmother affectionately called BeBe). And then we stopped at a park to have some lunch. And then we saw a heron who was not flying. And then I walked up close to him to see why he didn’t fly, then I ran back to BeBe. And told her that he had fishhooks stuck in him and was wrapped with wire and string. It was very very sad. He couldn’t fly or walk because the wire from the hooks was wrapped around his wings and legs. And then he just fell over on his chest and wouldn’t you know it, it was because of two of the fish hooks that got stuck in him. Bebe grabbed his beak and I started crying my eyes out because it was so sad. But we got some fish hooks out. We called the Wild Life Sanctuary and they told us how to get to their office and how to handle the heron, without hurting him or him hurting us. I named him Martin. We ran home and got eyeglasses, gloves and a blanket to go back to get Martin. Our friend Rev. Jeremy Mount who was visiting my grand daddy went with us. We were going to catch him and take him to the wildlife sanctuary, but when we got back he was a little bit stronger and could walk and even fly a little, but he still had a fish hook stuck in him, but we had gotten all of the wire and string off of him. As we walked toward him, he flew away and got far enough away that we couldn’t catch him. We prayed the he could get enough water and a few fish so he would be okay. I sure did want to help him and hope that he will be okay.”

When Anna finished telling me the story we discussed how wonderfully diverse nature is and how we are charged to care for it. The motive to end pain and suffering, even in animals, is a noble and proper attitude since they have been entrusted to us, as has the entire planet. Over the course of the afternoon, we had a couple more periods of crying for Martin, but then we said a prayer for him and agreed that God would care for him.

It was deeply moving for me to see the heart of compassion in this precious child. The episode started me thinking. How does compassion develop in some 7 year olds, but not in others? Is it nature or nurture? Are some children born with a caring spirit while others must be trained to care about others? I thought about my own life. I have a very caring spirit. I can’t remember when I wasn’t like this. As a child, I cared for injured animals in my neighborhood. Both of my careers have been devoted to caring professions.

I ask why because if there is an answer that we can find, maybe we can develop a more caring people, thus more caring societies, more caring national goals, ultimately living in a world where the hungry are fed, the thirsty have water, the homeless are housed, wars are ended and life is good for everyone.

I am not so naive as to think this will become a reality. As I  look back over the ten thousand years of history, it is apparent that we haven’t made much headway, but who knows, it could happen. I dare to hope because without hope life seems ultimately meaningless.

Jack deJarnette

Jack deJarnette

I am a United Methodist Minister who in June 2008, was placed on incapacity leave due to kidney failure.  My kidneys failed due to immusuppression medications secondary to a heart transplant in 1997. The ministry is my second career having spent 12 previous years at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta as Chief Respiratory Therapist and Technical Director of Life Support Systems at Emory University School of Medicine. I  have a wonderful wife of 45 years, two super children, and four grandchildren. My life has been exciting, challenging, and full of wonder as in my early years I was concerned with saving lives and in my later years saving souls I was graduated  from Georgia Military Academy in 1961 (Woodward Academy). I attended Emory-at-Oxford College, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, and Emory University for postgraduate work. I received my ministry credentials through the United Methodist Church Course of Study at Emory's candler School of Theology. My Theology is primarily Wesleyan and varies with the particular topic under discussion. I refuse to be labeled either liberal or conservative. My politics are moderate embracing what I hope is the best of all parties. I have a deep love for Christ, the Church, and the United States of America. Bev (my wife) and I are deeply thankful to God for the blessings that have been showered on us throughout our lives.

  1. I do think some people are sense deprived.  They simply don’t notice other creatures or humans, except as either an irritant or pleasure to themselves.
    The best protection for fish in a pond is lots of vegetation (water lilies, water lettuce, etc) so they can’t be seen from the air.  Of course, that means humans can’t see them easily either. 
    Be glad your fish got taken while they were small enough to eat.  Our neighbor had a half dozen 18″ koi that were too big for the heron to pick up, so they just got stabbed to death.  This happened after the neighbor, after a decade of providing a home for the fish, had the pond professionally cleared of all vegetation so she could see her fish better!

    1. Hannah,
      Sense deprived is a great notion. Do you suppose it is genetic, based on gender, taught, or simply the way it is? I don’t consider the loss of the koi a great deal since it opened the door to getting to know Henry and having always been an amateur naturalist, I enjoyed learning a great deal about and from him.
      Thanks for your comment.

    1. Tom,
      Thanks for your comments, I always like hearing from you.

  2. Frank Povah

    Beautifully put, Jack – I think some people are born with the need to look out for other living things.

    Some people seem to want to care for animals; others for their fellow humans and others – some exceptionally gifted individuals – both. The great popularity of gardening also speaks to this I believe.

    I remember a few years ago I was editing an article (for the Australian magazine by which I still am employed) about a raptor rehabilitation program being run by the then Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service and staffed by inmates of a women’s prison in Tasmania. One of the women (incarcerated for murdering her boyfriend) said she loved caring for the eagles because she felt they were the only things that ever really cared for her or needed her. A change of government saw the program abandoned and I often wonder what happened to that woman.


  3. Judy McCarthy

    Enjoyed this article! As a child my father and I rescued a great blue with a broken leg. We splinted the leg, and the heron stayed on the edge of a lake on our property to heal. We caught bullfrog tadpoles to feed it. One day it was gone. Like you, we said a prayer. A lifetime lesson for me as it will be for your grand daughter.

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