The Sewing Box and the Great Blue
By Hannah Gorski
A classmate tells me she’s paddling up Salt Creek to retrieve the dead heron our class found on the last trip. My eyes shift from the paper I’m reading to squint over the harbor. I remember the bird, a Great Blue, the largest heron in North America. I had not expected that blue, tangled mass strangled by skeins of fishing line. The bird’s sodden feathers spread with the pulse of the current and his neck, devoid of any muscle tension, hung on the water. The clear membrane over his eye, used to clean his vision during life, reached from the corner socket but never fully rinsed his death-sight. I remember imagining his final hours, caught in a line so carelessly discarded, and unable to understand why he lost his flight — and that’s when nature caught me in the throat.
My classmate and our professor think it would be good to preserve the bird for future students. I agree and together we load a canoe with supplies. Our professor says a colleague gave instructions to preserve the bones: “Wrap the body in window screen and put it on an ant hill for a couple days.”
We set out to find the heron, and we all feel a little uneasy. We don’t find the bird, but at the Fourth Street Bridge I see a scarlet flash from the water. At first, I think it’s a tackle box, but it’s not. It’s a sewing box.
I take it home. I separate the unruly strings and place the spools upright on a cookie sheet. I find an envelope of 12 sewing needles that cost 10 cents. Manufactured in England, the long eye needles have started to oxidize. Everything looks old. I read different button companies: Genuine Pearl, Quality Button, and Lansing. The spools are from Clarks and Talon. My mind wanders to the exchange at the sewing shop; and how, somehow, the bobbins and buttons survived their history to land in my living room.
I take the weekend to clean the box and preserve its history. I use a toothbrush to scrub the fabric. I scrub the hinges and the supports. I scrub the screws and connectors. I scrub the lock and key until they shine. It’s easy to focus on small objects.
However, the creek is a living system and it requires direct care. The numerous species who make the creek home deserve better than what the Great Blue Heron got. I wish we could have saved his body, rinsed the muck and pollution and dignified his skeleton with preservation. Display his insides, the structure of his bones and the way they fit together to show us how to fly.
Hannah Gorski, from Richfield, Minnesota, graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a Master of Liberal Arts. This piece was written for a nature writing course and first appeared in the Salt Creek Journal, a nature writing project conceived by Dr. Thomas Hallock, professor of English, literature and cultural studies at USFSP, and funded by the university. Gorski now lives in Mexico and teaches English online.
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