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Carl Wernicke: Iconic Scenes


No matter where you live, there are scenes that paint the picture of what makes your home what it is. Northwest Florida certainly has its share of scene-setters that put our own stamp on the world.

My wife and I saw one recently behind a house on the north shore of Santa Rosa Island.

A fisherman in shorts, T-shirt and a sun hat walked down to the water, put a green bucket on the sand and pulled out his bait net. As he was intently studying the water, a large great blue heron wandered up behind him. We call this bird Harry, and so far as I can tell, many people name the herons that hang out around their homes Harry. I guess it’s the H, I don’t know.

Anyway, Harry walked boldly up behind the fisherman, who hadn’t seen him. The man caught a small fish, but apparently it wasn’t the bait he was looking for, and tossed it back.

This appeared to disconcert Harry, who was watching closely and had perked up expectantly when the man plucked the fish from the net. At this point the man turned and noticed Harry, who was eyeing him with some disdain. Now, really, Harry had no cause for this, as he could in fact go catch his own fish.

But, we suspected this was a regular event, and Harry had no doubt become accustomed to being served his breakfast. Spend any time on Palafox Pier or the fishing piers, and you know how spoiled some of our local birds have become. Which, by the way, is why it was made illegal to feed dolphins in the wild; it is disruptive to their natural feeding habits.

Birds, however, do seem to be different, although just to be safe, when my bird feeder at home runs empty I let it sit for a couple of days just so they don’t get too dependent on room service.

Anyway, the man realized Harry was unhappy with him, and when we heard him apologize, we knew this wasn’t the first time these two had met. We heard the man telling Harry to wait and he would get him a fish, and he proceeded to spend some time casting near the shore, without success.

Now, if you have watched herons fishing, they are very patient birds, willing to wait in place for long periods for a fish to swim by. So Harry watched calmly as the man continued to fish.

After a while, the man did catch a fish, which Harry took note of. The man walked back up the beach and tossed it into the bucket. Harry then displayed some typical fishing characteristics, slowly stalking to the bucket and extending his long neck to peer inside. We figured there must be some water in the bucket, and Harry was watching the fish swim around, and felt the need to stalk it.

By this time the fisherman had caught another small fish, and walked back up the beach. He tossed it on the sand, and Harry pounced. He carried the fish into the water and dipped it; maybe he was washing the sand off, I don’t know.

Anyway, Harry promptly ate the fish, and moved on with his morning. The fisherman went back to casting, presumably to catch some bait for himself.

We went back to our own chores, content that things were as they should be.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.