18 May 2012


The Anhinga is one of the strangest birds I have known.  I never get tired of watching them when they are at work -- if I can keep up with them.  You see, they are not like other water birds.  Related (a bit distantly) to the Cormorant, they have a longer neck than a goose; tail feathers that spread widely and a large wingspan.  Their beaks are narrow and sharp.  

The big difference from other water birds is that Anhingas (like cormorants) do not have water repellent feathers.  When in the water, their bodies are submerged.  All one can see is the head and part of the neck.  Because the Anghinga has a very long neck, one can mistake this bird for a water snake, as it swims.  This has led long-time Floridians to call them "snake birds."  Anhingas dive and can stay submerged for a substantial period of time....only to pop up some distance away or within the shoreline water grasses.  While submerged, they scoot along the bottom of fresh water lakes or ponds looking for small fish, frogs or other small marine life as their diet.  

When finished with its swimming expedition, the Anhinga must dry its feathers.  It can be seen with its wings and tail feathers spread wide and its neck either fully extended upward or curved down to its chest.  It will remain like this until dry enough to fly.  Their low level flight looks ungainly and awkward.  However, once it gains altitude, it soars quite well on wind currents.  The male Anhinga is usually all black.  The female has some brown on her neck.  During mating season, males develop a line of white feathers along the front edges of their wings.  The picture above is a male Anhinga drying his feathers.

When I was a teenager, I often went fishing with my maternal grandfather.  As I have mentioned in other places Grandad Burden was an entomologist and true outdoorsman.   He taught me to fish, hunt and track.  The hardest thing to learn was to track an Anhinga on the move.  They are very quiet swimmers and exceedingly efficient in the water...moving at surprising speeds.  Their heads very suddenly disappear below the surface, and, except for the ripples created by their submerging, they travel with speed and stealth underwater.  It makes them very effective aquatic hunters.

My Grandad could usually predict where an Anhinga would surface, and I never could understand how he knew this.  All he would say is, "I think we will find this fellow right about there..."  He would point and be within a few yards of where the bird would, in fact, surface.  One acquires this skill, I suspect, from years of observation and participation in the environment.  I have not known many folks who could navigate the waters, woodlands and swamps of Florida like my Grandad.  I always felt safe and oriented when with him.  He taught me a great deal, and I still retain a lot of that to this day.  

I do have a point here.  There was an Anhinga in our pond this morning.  It was swimming and hunting for breakfast as I consumed my first cup of coffee at sunrise.  I did track him for one dive but then lost him after that.  I thought about how well adapted the Anhinga is to its environment.  It lives its life within its capabilities and specialties.  It lives by its very nature.  

My grandad did not change the environment to suit him.  He adapted to the environment in which he would find himself.  He developed skills that would allow him to shift and reshape himself to listen, observe, smell and move in ways that would say to anyone with him that he was perfectly comfortable and capable in the place he found himself.  

We are at home in the environment of our body and essential character....Imago Dei...God's image.  Often, it seems, we work very hard to make that something that it is not...to rewrite the script of our being.  Often, we overthink what it all means and lose the meaning altogether in a jumble of words, conjectures or synthetic ideologies.  

True character is in the oneness of relationship for its own sake.  Our nature is to love, to adapt to be open and to express the Christ in us.  (It is a point of observation that when my grandad worshipped ... he was Episcopalian ... he rarely picked up the Book of Common Prayer...why?...because he became familiar enough with it to make it part of his interior landscape).  

St. Paul reflected that wherever we find ourselves, we are at home.  There is nothing about creation that should be "unhomelike" to us.  

Love and Blessings,


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