Yesterday we took the scenic drive through Stanley Park on our way home. As we drew near the nine o’clock gun, we spotted a heron on the top of the cage that surrounds the gun. I turned to tell my daughters about the heron I had seen last summer witlessly perched atop the cage as nine o’clock approached.
For those of you not accustomed to one of Vancouver’s favorite nightly traditions, the nine o’clock gun is a cannon that fires every night at precisely nine p.m. It has done so since my father was a child. In those days there wasn’t a cage surrounding it, nor timers warning of the impending boom. (According to wikipedia, the cage was placed around the cannon after some UBC Engineering grads stole it in 1969. It was returned after a ‘ransom’ was paid to BC Children’s Hospital.)
Anyway, last summer as I biked home along the seawall of Stanley Park, I realized I was only a few minutes away from nine o’clock. I pedalled like mad to reach the gun before it boomed across the inlet and reverberated off the towers that line Coal Harbour. Who doesn’t like to have their heart thrown into their throat for a moment?
When I arrived, the timer was already counting down to warn that the gun was ready to sound. Everyone who had gathered to witness this event was full of excited apprehension. Everyone, except the heron who was perched on the cage. I had not known that a bird could embody a look of terror so completely as that heron did when the cannon blasted. It flung itself backwards into the air a tangle of legs and wings. Its face grimaced with horror, confusion, and embarrassment. At last, in a cloud of smoke and astringent gunpowder the heron regathered its dignity, cast a reproachable look at the cannon, and swooped off into the night.