The first spring after we moved into the house nine years ago a pair of yellow-crowned night herons nested in the empty lot across the street. They came back every spring, new pairs joining them every few years. This spring their nesting habitat spilled over to our yard with two nests in the pecan. We watched them break off twigs, maneuvering them across the fork in the tree branch till they locked into place like a kind of hammock.
Their waste rained down on the fig trees. Dropped or rejected twigs became heron trash (etymologically, "fallen leaves and twigs"). White urine streaked the green leaves like a Pollock painting. A tight ball of crushed crawdad shells landed on the Thai basil. This morning I found a little crustacean's pincer arm on the eggplant. This fall when I sweep off the roof I will find a charnal ground of shells and tiny frog bones.
The heron are supposed to breed in swamps and bayous, but here they are in the City of Living Garbage, nesting in the Boggy Creek Watershed. Maybe they hunt in the greenbelt where the creek flows a few blocks away. Every year they migrate from Central America, the Caribbean, and mangroves in the Yucatan up to Austin and beyond. They seem so worldly and free, flying in from places I've never been, without airplanes or passports. When winter comes, the heron will fly South to overwinter in some remote swamp or art yard, their bodies composed in far-flung landscape patches.
Inside the vivid blue eggshells are white clinging membranes that dry into paper. On Easter I met an Australian painter and ceramicist who uses only dirt for pigment. He told me the color blue is hard to find in soil, but red, brown, black, white, yellow dirt pigments are abundant in the landscape. Blue and green can't be found except as subtle hues. He shows me the pan flute he made from different-sized plastic bottles held together with blended-up paper pulp, painted with dirt. He records ambient sounds of nonhuman worlds, then layers in his own music. The heron let out throaty caws. Now we can hear the fuzzy hatchlings peep for food.
The egg is the throwaway, temporary habitat, a little atmosphere of its own nested in this one. We put the eggshells in the Museum of Ephemerata. What fragile, worthless things--why save them at all? Collecting the eggshells borders on hoarding, but the blue is so beautiful.