There is a little park in Thomaston where I sometimes go to watch the river. Today I saw a bird on the far shore, standing on the rocks, facing me straight on.

From that angle, all I saw with my well-worn eyes was a tall bird, a gray and white figure with a long curved neck, its down-turned beak a needle pointing at something directly between our faces. A heron or a crane.

There was no movement as I got out my glasses. Long chest feathers ruffled in the breeze.

The first time I noticed a great blue heron was on Mount Desert Island, almost 40 years ago (I had to pull up the calculator for that – It seemed way too long ago). I say noticed, because I had probably seen one before and been too caught up in people and things to pay much attention to the sort of creature that stands, motionless at a distance, waiting for something of which I am also unaware.

Thank you for hanging on through that run-on sentence.

This morning’s bird stood poised and still, while I reached across the cabin of my car to pull the binoculars from the pocket of the front passenger door. It took me some time to get the focus right. It had been some years since I regularly used them and my vision has changed. It was hard to get my left eye, always a wanderer, to look in a direction parallel to the one my right eye and the binoculars had agreed upon.

As I tinkered for focus the heron lifted one leg and turned slightly, offering a clear view of the dark feathers at the top of its tucked-in wings. After a while I lowered the binoculars and decided to step out of the car, wanting nothing between me and bird but the river and the air we both breathe.

When I returned home a snippet on the news had me opening up the search engine. Brittany is burning.

The summer I sailed on the Corwith Cramer we spent a precious handful of days in Dournenez, a small city just south of the tip of Finesterre, at the mouth of the Pouldavid River on the northern headland of the Bay of Biscay. Three or four days during which I experienced great loneliness and profound joy. I have wanted to return ever since.

As we walked up the steep narrow streets and out into the countryside, my eyes were caught by the lush greenery to the north, the parc naturel régional d’Armorique, a nationally-protected natural park of 483 square-miles that, I later learned, reach from the Atlantic Ocean across sand beaches to the uplands of Mont d’Arree. I have dreamed of visiting the fertile beauty of that distant forest.

For the last half-dozen years I have thought of going back, even considering moving to Brittany and improving my language skills, becoming an expat in that beautiful place. During COVID’s isolation, I browsed French real estate sites and translated the value of my savings into euros.

As early as the year 2000, my friend Chris was admonishing all who would listen to stop getting on airplanes if we wanted to keep a breathable atmosphere. Oil trader Matthew Simmons was telling us about peak oil; most of us ignored all the warnings. Since the great fear fostered by the early days of the pandemic passed, friends have been posting pictures from their visits to Portugal and Ireland and Italy. I admit to some jealousy, to bargaining with myself about my own need to cross the ocean.

But now, Brittany is burning.

On the heels of a fire in the Mont d’Arree district that reduced more than 4,000 acres of forest to smoking ash, an illegally started garden-waste fire spread across 75 acres in a town to the northwest, both the result of heat topping 104 degrees Fahrenheit in a region where the temperatures rarely reach 80 F. We made this happen, with our constant travel, our desire for the new and different, our need to hold the whole wide world in our small human hands and take a selfie to prove we were there.

Here in Thomaston, the heron remained still as I stepped from the car. For a long moment we shared the space of the river, but I wanted to be closer. As I moved forward, the bird turned its head, stretched out its impossibly long wings, and lifted off.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.