By Darrell Gray

I conceived “Ready for Take Off” while watching a heron fishing at the edge of a pond. Some years ago, I had the pond on our land stocked with one thousand native westslope cutthroat trout. Two to three inch fish were brought in two plastic bags and dumped in a small, deep, newly created pond. The first to arrive to feast on this bounty were the kingfishers. That summer the trout population lost about a quarter of its members. I fed the trout daily with dried pellets.

Westslope cutthroat are wild, wary fish. Slowly they got used to me. I loved the daily ritual of feeding the fish. All sorts of other aquatic life found that pond. I’ve spent many hours watching the water skippers and the dance of the dragonflies. Alders and willows began to sprout on the banks of the pond. Lupines, cattails and marsh marigolds loved the edges. Aquatic plants of various kinds sent their tendrils up from the bottom. Hawthorn and cottonwood flourished nearby. Ducks and occasional geese made their appearance.

Over the years the trout grew. Soon they were too big for the kingfishers. Others came for the fun and feast. One morning we watched (from the house) a grizzly with two cubs. She left the cubs on the bank and dove in. Her fishing lesson, that day, was unsuccessful. Another day a river otter made its way to the pond. I have three small rock islands in the pond. We watched as the otter chased these fish in tight circles around the small islands. The fish kept circling the rocks and the otter went round and round until it finally tired of the futile game.

Osprey started making their appearance. In time the fish got so big that the osprey were unable to fly with them. They flopped up a storm to get them to the edge of the pond. They dragged the whopper-sized fish out on the bank, where they consumed only the head and left the rest of the carcass.

The herons showed up the second year after we stocked the pond. They had quite a time flying in and out of the pond. The pond is ringed by tall trees. Taking off, the herons would head for a small opening in the branches and fly through the trees Star Wars style until they could achieve enough elevation to escape. Incoming was a little awkward as well. But once they reached the edge of the pond, they were elegant in their stillness.

They would patiently wait until their quarry finally got close enough, and then spear the fish with a lightning-quick thrust.

For this sculpture, I wanted to capture the heron at the moment of takeoff. Herons are gangly and graceful at the same time. This sculpture consists of a steel frame with forged legs. The frame is covered with hundreds of individually crafted and textured copper feathers.

In every issue of Whitefish Review, editors select artists and photographers to showcase their work. Issue #16 featured Bigfork sculpture artist, Darrell Gray. Purchase copies of the art and literary journal at www.whitefishreview.org or visit your local bookstore.