Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Readers

I’ll miss the usual switch of the sugar and salt, and other pranks that my grandkids like to do on April Fools Day. Soon we’ll all be back together again. Over the years we’ve had a lot of stories; our family was heavily into foolery. I’m sure you have a few stories of your own. This is an April Fools Day story about how I got my friend Dale to build three colossal heron nests on our creek.

There’s a men’s prayer I learned from Red Green years ago:

I’m a man; I can change, if I have to,
I guess. Amen.

Most men make a mistake now and then, say the prayer and move on.

Dale is one of those rare breeds of men who are always right and never wrong. More women than men seem to know men who know everything. Why might that be? Dale’s infinite wisdom has been a burden for many of us, but he has a good wife, and his fridge is usually full of beer. Dale worked for the military and is better at giving orders than he is at receiving instruction. He is an expert on everything. Even topics he knows nothing about.

We used to make a rink out on Coady Creek near the house. It was a great rink about a natural rink’s size, with several trails heading on up to the beaver dam. The boys found a few of those signs you see on the highways, warning you of potholes or road construction. They placed the signs near the holes in the ice so we wouldn’t lose any kids. Dale used to sell Christmas trees, so we had all kinds of string lights to add to the rink after Christmas. When the ice got thick, I ploughed the rink with my tractor, Mahatma.

Dale and his wife also had four kids about the same age as our kids, so if the moms played goalie, we had two hockey teams. The beavers built a dam downstream that summer, so the pond got substantially more extensive, but many bushes got flooded and drowned. The kids had a grand old time knocking down over three hundred dead twigs that were about 4ft to 6ft high with their hockey sticks.

During March break, the temperature went up to 75 degrees (using the old system) and the snow and ice melted like spilled ice cream on hot pavement. The hockey sticks and benches started floating away.

Bernadette noticed that all the twigs were floating down to the culvert and wanted me to pick them up before they plugged things up.

The water was about a foot deep over the ice, which looked like a big job. The kids all disappeared and went to where the kids go when there is work to be done. I was feeling overwhelmed when I saw Dale’s truck coming down the road. What were my chances in talking him into helping me stack up the twigs into piles? No one in their right mind would want to go out there. Fortunately, Dale was a legend in his own mind.

I fed Dale a story about “The Government” wanting people on wetlands to build enormous nests for the soon-to-be arriving Blue Herons. I appealed to his sense of engineering expertise and asked him how he would make three huge nests for the Herons. I didn’t tell him that Herons nest high up in trees like storks in Holland on church steeples; Dale took over planning like a General preparing for an attack. I felt like Private Gomer Pile listening to my sergeant.

Dale identified three sites equidistant from each other, where we built three huge nests out of the twigs. When we finished, my bride called us in for lunch, but Dale insisted that we spread a bale of hay in each structure to attract the Herons better. Dale rolled around in each nest to be sure that they complied with his military specifications. You could fit four or five people in each nest. We completed our building campaign and patiently waited for the herons to occupy their nests. I was grateful and knew the sticks wouldn’t drift away to the culvert.

Bernadette and I raised domestic geese, and she collected a few huge goose eggs and painted them blue. We went out to the closest and biggest nest and beached the canoe on edge. Bernadette put the eggs in the nest, and we left.  A week later, on April 1st Dale was invited over to inspect the nests.

We went to the first nest with the canoe, and Dale carefully peered over the edge and exclaimed,” They’re here! Don’t touch the eggs! If you do, they won’t come back!”

We returned home; Dale was ecstatic and excitedly told all the neighbours about his “Heron Nests.” Most of the neighbours knew herons only nest in trees, but they didn’t say anything. They knew that Dale was always right and never wrong. You can’t mess with that.

We always have a jar of pickled herring in the fridge. When we run out of herring, we save the juice and make pickled eggs. Bernadette fried up some chicken, cut it into small pieces, added some spices, and labelled the jar “Pickled Heron.” Dale admitted that he had never heard of pickled heron. I explained that blue heron numbers in Holland would go through the roof without being culled regularly because they ate so many herring. The herons were eating all the herring, so the pickling company changed back and forth between pickled herring and pickled heron so that they could stay in business. Dale went on to wax eloquently about sound business management and creating new markets. Several times Dale has asked for a jar of pickled heron, and we’ve always obliged.

When Dale found out that he’d been had, he was upset for about ten minutes and then regained his civility. The nests lasted for about three years before sinking into the swamp. Several generations of Canada Geese used the nests while they were still afloat. Dale has been a great friend for years, and I value his willingness to jump into projects and be there when you need him.

If you come up with a project that needs the expertise of a man who knows everything, please let me know. Dale will probably do the job for a jar or two of pickled heron. Don’t throw out your pickle juice.