Sunday Morning: An epic spectacle on par with the annual wildebeest migration

sandhill-cranes-corn-field

Charu Suri @wsj.com: Have You Ever Seen the Crane?

North America’s sandhill crane migration is one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. To witness these frequent flyers on their favorite plains, head to Nebraska now.

From mid-February to mid-April (peaking during the last few weeks of March), the densest influx of migrating sandhill cranes descends on Nebraska. 80% of the planet’s crane population, 650,000 birds, have been making seasonal stopovers in the region for at least 10,000 years, an epic spectacle on par with the annual wildebeest migration in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

These slate-colored winged beauties with crimson foreheads and cream-colored cheeks gather along the sinuous, braided channels of the Platte River, which offer them protection from predators, and feast on corn left on the fields after harvest until not a kernel remains…(In a perfectly symbiotic dynamic, the cranes help the farmers by leaving them a clean field ready for planting the following year.)

I could hear the distinctive, low and throaty call of the crane — as insistent as cicada song — even through the closed windows of our car. (The song of one sandhill crane can carry well over a mile.)…It sounded as if an avian orchestra was tuning up just a few feet away, as a blend of sharp trills and lush cooing filled the air. Though the sun had not yet risen, I could make out the silhouettes of wings and of reedlike legs supporting the birds’ hefty bluish-grey frames. A few frisky, early rising males did the mating dance, flapping their wings and leaping a few feet into the air like giddy, light-footed schoolboys, while the females seemed to look on approvingly. But most of the cranes were still asleep, their heads tucked under their wings…The entire scene was accompanied by what sounded like countless chamber orchestras riffing simultaneously on Stravinsky.

Fun Facts on Sandhill Cranes: Sandhill cranes travel up to 10,000 miles, as many as 500 per day, on their annual migration from the Southern U.S. and Mexico. Their wingspan: 6.5 feet for adults. Their average height: Just under four feet for adults. Special Talent: They are known for their ability to dance. Like humans, they boogie to find a mate, relieve tension and just for fun.

Read more here: Have You Ever Seen the Crane?


Photo by Siena62 taken near Kearney, NE

The Biggest Thing There Is

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INTERVIEWER:

There’s a sense of great space in your poems. Would you trace that to growing up in Kansas?

STAFFORD:

I sometimes have thought about that, yes. In our world at least half of the world was sky; that is the way I’ve sometimes phrased it to myself. I mean, there’s the land, but it isn’t as big as the sky. Someone told me a wonderful story about a woman who came out from Nebraska and wanted to see the Pacific Ocean. The motel person said, Yes, you can see it if you walk down to the end of the road. This visitor stood there a few moments on the beach, and then walked back, and the motel person said, What do you think of it? And she said, Well, it’s all right, but I can’t help but think it isn’t as big as I thought it would be. This was the Pacific Ocean! Well, she was from Nebraska, I know about that. That’s the biggest thing there is—the sky! It’s there, and it’s an abiding puzzle, presence, and invitation.

—William Stafford, from “The Art of Poetry No. 67,” The Paris Review (Winter 1993, No. 129)


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