About the Herons

By Alison Alstrom


I imagine myself arriving, maybe mid-morning, to the sight of him shuffling his feet in his deerskin slippers. Slippers replaced every few Christmases by my mother, at least once by my sister and me. Feet, shuffling. I’ve pointed it out to him – Pick up your feet, Pop – worried it will only get worse over time, shuffling evolving to dragging of feet, then tripping, a fall or two, maybe the fall. He shuffles while carrying the coffee from counter to sink, or – from bedroom to kitchen – a book of crossword puzzles, called Super, or Mega, a pencil closed up in the pages. Thick black Costco readers slide down the bridge of his nose. I pour myself a coffee, help myself to a handful of nuts from the huge plastic jar to the left of the sink.

Then I enter the dark bedroom, where I’m hit by the scent of her. A smell so native to me i t’s hard to describe – intimate, animal, a distinctive sour note – which quickly dissipates, becomes the wallpaper. She’s in bed with a migraine. So many hours she’s spent in bed like this, years of hours, I’m sure of it. Her still-smooth, brownish skin, paler now, is framed by close-in corkscrew curls, dark grey where they’re damp at the temples, and around those a layer of peppery wisps. She looks up, glad to see me but not effusive, slides a book down from where it was lying open over her bosom. I stretch out sideways on the foot of the bed like I’ve been there forever, which I guess I have. Hi Mommy, I say, and we talk about things, mundane things mixed in with deep, poetic things, all the things evenly weighted. I might show her what I’ve brought to wear when we’ll go out together later, she with her walker or cane and he shuffling, in outdoor shoes by then. She gets up, winces for a second as the pain in her head surges, and pulls items from her closet to show me back. 

Longing. The word evokes a time-frame with no known end. How long? Long. Maybe as long as there is. This longing is a free-falling, is an inhale without an exhale. I am in Portland, Oregon and they are 600 miles away, sheltering in place. 

I see their small house, a shambles, really, there among the large, moneyed homes of a new kind of Californian. The air outside is crisp-cool-salty-damp, and the light sparkles brilliantly, plainly. Inside, the odor of dog pee from where Maggie, also a curly grey, returns again and again to relieve herself right in the middle of everything. This frustrates me, makes me crazy, while mostly they don’t even notice. 

Beyond that, the bay. And the seaside flora, home to many birds named in my mother’s cheerful Facebook posts, until lately, since she started posting only “memories”, as if only seeing life when looking backward. Before, she’d write often about the herons, who soar away for months at a time, but always come back again, to her delight. 


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Alison teaches yoga, writes, paints, makes music, gardens walks and in many other ways lives in Portland Oregon.

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