On the greatness of Herons—Audubon's + IRL ones August 07 2018


Plate 211: Great Blue Heron by John James Audubon
10"x8" ($24) | 14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 30"x24" ($800)

Introducing the newest limited-edition print to join our collection of Audubon images is 20x200 founder and fledgling birdwatcher Jen Bekman, whose early a.m. nature walks have her falling in love with her local flora and fauna—namely, one especially elegant, elongated avian habitué. Read on ... 

Today’s release, Plate 211: Great Blue Heron, is the fifteenth (!!) Audubon edition we’ve included in our ever-growing Vintage Editions collection, which means we’ve already shared loads of context on Audubon’s life and career. With that in mind, I’m going to focus on the inspiration for adding this particular bird to our menagerie, which has to do with two specific Great Blues, the urban shoreline they inhabit, and how getting to know that place and its myriad avian residents has sustained my soul and fostered an amazing friendship as I, a lifelong New Yorker, settle into my new life as a full-time San Francisco resident.

Heron’s Head Park, a small bit of greenery and wonder that has flourished along the industrial waterfront of Southeast San Francisco since 1999, is not in fact named for its dignified denizens, but rather for the outline of it as seen from above, which bears an uncanny resemblance to—you guessed it!—a heron’s head. Made up mostly of marshy wetlands, Heron’s Head and its neighboring slice of reclaimed waterfront, India Basin Shoreline Park, are flanked on either side by industrial sites, and yet they host a flourishing, complex ecosystem which hosts over a 100 different species of birds.

I’ve never been much of a morning person, but in recent months, I’ve been rising at 6am to walk a couple of miles along this stretch of shoreline with my friend Anne (co-founder of Winnie and a recent 5+5 contributor). Our walks have spanned two seasons now, and what started out as a way to squeeze in just a bit of low-key exercise before the madness of our respective days took hold has become an important ritual that sometimes is the only thing to carry me through a very bad day.

The walking is good and the talking is good and the coffee we drink while doing the walking and talking is good too. And the neighbors, regulars walking together or with the various dogs we’re getting to know, they’re good too, as are the “hi, how are yous” that we exchange with them. Also good: how the same place can be simultaneously familiar and brand new depending on the movement of the tides, the height of the grass and which flowers are in bloom, or maybe it’s the slant of the light, or the movement of the fog?... 

And the animals! They’re so good too, the occasional harbor seal spotted in the Bay and the aforementioned doggos, but mostly so many different kinds of birds, so varied and interesting and weirdly proportioned that we now often juggle binoculars between us in addition to those coffee cups. And we stop the walking and the talking and gawk at these fantastical creatures for so long that we can probably hardly call it exercise at all anymore, but really who cares? It's a balm to be among these living things, knowing that they keep on doing their thing after we’ve gone, no matter where we go and what we get up to and whatever terrible things might be happening elsewhere.

And of all the living things we encounter there, it’s the Great Blue Heron that invariably stops us in our tracks. There are (we think) just two of these solitary creatures inhabiting our little stretch of bayfront and coming across one of them feels like the best possible omen for the day ahead. They are so regal, still and ancient-looking, it seems just crazy that they’re out there on the edge of our city, about a mile from our homes in the year 2018, living their quiet bird lives. I mean… you see the print we’re releasing today, right? Look at that gorgeous thing, more like a pterodactyl than a pigeon, with its spindly legs and formidable beak and—holy smokes!—have you ever seen one flying across the sky? It’s really something. It might sound corny, but it feels like such a gift that Anne and I can go hang out with them, whenever we want. All we need to do is get up early enough to squeeze in that walk together, which has made the getting up part easier than it’s ever been for this here night owl.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman