She slowly dipped her body into the frigid waters of the Gatineau River. Her hardier friend beat her to it and paddled lazily nearby. The two women chatted comfortably about the momentous events of the past week. A husband buried. A family bereft.
As her legs and body cooled, then chilled, she announced she would swim across the bay before she became numb. A hundred meters or slightly more, not far. It is a familiar swim that she has been repeating for years over to the other shore. She used to set out very early each morning before sickness made it impossible for her to leave him alone. She had had to adjust her swim time to suit the caregiver's timetable. No more six a.m. dips.
But that early hour had held a mystical quality. The eastern bank was always still in deep shadow. The dogs would prowl the shoreline and complain to her as she swam, urging her to come back, afraid she might abandon them. As she pushed away from the shore, there might be a curling mist rising in the new day or the water might be very choppy on a windy morning, making her more focused and careful to regulate her breathing as she battled the waves.
There was always something magical to her about the other shore where her feet would grope for the shallow rocks. She would stop and turn, face east, and offer praise and gratitude, in the dawn light, for strength of body and the grace she'd been granted.
The return swim was always to the symphony of barking dogs but she willed herself to chant her prayer through her breathing, ignoring them while she could, eyes firmly shut, sunlight leaking through her lids. Tails wagged; sticks were retrieved as she pulled herself out of the water onto the rocky shore. She always felt restored and able to face whatever the day might bring.
Today, there were no such worries. A husband was gone. The dogs had been left behind at home, their walk earlier in the day. Her friend had summoned her outside now that she was unfettered and able to leave her house any time she pleases. An alien luxury. The swim across the bay was through calm waters, the air still and silent in the summer heat. As she approached the shore she caught sight of a shape ahead. Tall, statuesque, a picture of grace. The magnificent blue heron made eye contact, barely two meters away from her. She wanted to shout to her friend left behind but didn't want to break the spell. It felt as though he was waiting for her alone. She was entranced and awed and waited for him to make a move. After several minutes of complete stillness, he moved away slowly from her into the trees and disappeared.
Later, after her return to the other side and her excited account of her experience, they watched him take flight, his vast wingspan carrying him away from them to a distant bank.