Many of the best animal stories are fables. So I thought I’d write one of my own. It was inspired by the photograph above, which was given me by a friend.
Not long ago there was a heron that was born in the countryside close to the city. Where he grew up there were fields and rivers and lakes. But though there were fish and frogs to eat, they were clever and watchful, and they often knew when he was coming because of the deep dark shadow he cast upon the water. He had to spend long hours trying to catch his food, and he was very thin.
One day the heron heard that an easier life could be had in the town where there were lots of small ponds containing fish that had never seen a heron before and so would not be frightened of his shadow. The heron said goodbye to all his family and set off for the big city.
He flew and he flew across fields and houses and came to the city. And sure enough there were ponds, lots of them, full of fish. But he soon found they were guarded by people who owned them, who kept the fish as pets and didn’t want them to be eaten by a heron. Whenever they saw him they would chase him off, or their dogs would run at him, barking.
Disappointed the heron began to feel hungry. “I had heard such wonderful things about the town, he said, “but no-one told me the people would be like this.”
Just then a fox walked past. “Why so sad?” said the fox.
“I’ve come all the way from the country hoping to find some easy pickings,” said the heron, “but I’ve found it’s not so easy to make a living after all.”
“Don’t you worry,” said the fox. “My ancestors came from the country and learned how to get along. Now I have all I want to eat and hardly have to travel to get it. Why, I’m so full now I can hardly move.”
“Show me,” said the heron. So the fox took him to some of his favourite places. There were the refuse bins at edge of the park. “Always good for a sandwich or a pizza,” he said. There were the skips behind the supermarket: “Fancy some cake?” There were lots of bins put out along the streets each night.
But the heron wasn’t impressed. “I’m used to catching my food alive,” he said. “Here it’s all dead. And what’s this plastic stuff?”
The fox sighed. “You’ll never make it in the city if you’re so fussy,” he said, and he went on his way, shaking his head.
The heron watched him go. “Fussy, indeed!” he said to himself. “I’ll show him. Perhaps if I get up very early I can get to the ponds before the people are awake.”
So the next morning he got up just as the very first sliver of light was making its way above the horizon. Hoping he wouldn’t fly into anything, for it was still quite dark, he flew towards to the nearest pond where he had seen fish swimming.
The fish seemed to take no notice of him. The heron was so thin and pale that in the dim morning light he merged into the background so that he was almost invisible.
Snap! The heron’s beak stabbed at a small fish and brought it up out of the water, wriggling helplessly. With a quick flick of his beak he tossed it in the air, caught it and swallowed it.
The other fish were so unused to this sort of thing that they didn’t notice that one of them was missing. Snap! went the heron’s beak, and another fish was gone.
This is good, thought the heron. He carried on fishing until the sun was just above the horizon and there were no more fish in the pond. Feeling full and very satisfied he flew away to a safe place where he tucked his long beak between his wings and fell asleep.
The next morning he did the same thing, but at a different pond. Again, in the pale morning light he was unseen by the fish, and he had his fill.
The heron was very pleased with himself. He tried his trick again and again and he became quite fat. Then one morning he found a nice little pond in a garden where there were lots of fish, and he began to eat his fill. But unseen by him the same fox who had spoken to him before had sneaked up behind him. This time the fox was hungry and he rushed at the heron just as he was nonchalantly flipping another fish into his beak. There was a great struggle in which the fox bit the heron and the heron stabbed at the fox. It would have ended badly for one or both of them had not a man come out from the house alarmed by the great noise he had heard and chased them both away. The fox slinked off to his lair and the heron flew slowly and painfully back to the countryside where he spent some time preening his feathers and waiting for his wounds to heal. Then he went back to fishing in the rivers and ponds and catching what he could. He became thin again, but he lived to a great old age.
And the fox? Soon after this episode he was run over by a car and killed while crossing a road.
Fables usually have a moral tacked on at the end, in case you didn’t get the message yourself. So how about:
The easy life isn’t always the best life.
Or: Disaster strikes when you’re not looking.
Or: Stick to what you know.
Or: Whoever cared about the fish?
Or make up one of your own.