Biking on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway; gray morning, overcast skies, straining legs. A crack of light in the sky, the sun trying to get out.
The path curves, I catch a glimpse: a heron by the bank of the creek.
I’ve seen this bird before on Sugar Creek, flying, swooping and once perched high on a wire. Also, twice deer have crossed my path. We each stopped and stared.
I love when this happens, take each encounter as an omen.
But, no …
Rounding the turn, I see the “bird” is a plastic bag caught in the denuded limbs of a tree. Light and perspective fooled my eye.
The creek is festooned with such detritus, particularly near the bridges spanning Morehead Street and Kings Drive. The dirty and tattered remnants are evidence of our incomplete struggle to dispose of all the stuff generated by our way of living.
Disappointed, my mind starts to spin like the bicycle’s wheels.
We humans seem to have a hard time cleaning up after ourselves. California has outlawed plastic bags and so has Chicago.
Meanwhile, Charlotte-Mecklenburg stews over the idea of cash for trash, which would mean paying based on how much garbage we throw away. Widen the lens all the way. We spew tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and see the effects of climate change all around us: melting icebergs, warming oceans.
Yet we temporize.
Some years ago, I did a story for the Observer on the cleaning up of Little Sugar Creek and the creation of the greenway. I took a look at history. Not so long ago, I learned, businesses and individuals made the creek a sewer, mocking its sweet name by filling it with toxic waste as if that were their right. No permitting; just run a pipe from your business or home and spew.
Would anyone argue polluting a community resource such as a creek is OKBut pumping poison into the atmosphere is?
I find myself agreeing with Bill Nye, the “Science Guy.” Those who argue against the reality of climate change should not be called skeptics but deniers.
The sun breaks through, flooding the greenway with pearly light. Going under Kings Drive I steel myself for the gauntlet of smokers gathered near the hospital; more pollution.
Something catches my eye across the creek, in an opening of shrubs … Can it be? A heron?
It stands so still I think maybe it’s a new piece of sculpture. Then, I see the slate blue and gray feathers, the discernible beak, the pencil-thin legs and the black eye looking as his head turns.
It is easily 3 feet tall.
We regard each other across the creek, whose waters the sunlight has turned from dark brown to the color of tea.
Seeing the great bird is an omen. I’m sure of it. And I choose to believe it’s a good one.