An Address to Cranes
I have written a number of pieces about cranes. This is one another.
Seeing you there, I take comfort in your presence. One is standing in the water, safe from predators, as the other flexes his wings in a landing posture, beak agape. I hear the rattling call telling me all is well in the world of cranes, my land of solace.
I first learned of you reading Aldo Leopold, the Wisconsin naturalist who lamented the sadness of marshes that held no cranes. He saw you as a disappearing species, just like your cousins, the whooping cranes, cut down to just a few hundred.
You may have visited my childhood home in Ohio, but I never saw a crane, not even a photograph. A crane was a machine, an earthmover, or a steely blue-gray bird I would later call a heron. The confusion is understandable. Linnaeus named that bird the "heron crane." Audubon called one species of heron the “little blue crane.”
Later, I saw you in my adopted home of Tennessee, along its mighty river. I saw your winter dance as beaks gaped open, and I heard your call from miles away as you flew over or I approached your cold-weather refuge. I authored poem after poem of your mystic personas.
Year after year, the bird alerts tell me you have returned. "The cranes are back"—an annual event, but in the longer view, back from the brink. You fooled old Aldo Leopold and everyone else, abounding in tens of thousands beside the Tennessee River and along the Platte.
You always return along rivers, and we hold a festival here, though it did not occur in the years of Covid-19. I looked out at the November fog and said, "The cranes are back." With no festival on the way, I drove to the refuge to seek your presence there, me older and not knowing if another November would come.
Peter Matthiessen called cranes The Birds of Heaven and described every species named. He called you "The Bird from the East," as you are known in Siberia, where some members of your tribe nest, returning across the Bering Strait to America for the winter.
But you will always be the birds of Tennessee for me. You returned as I knew you would, back from Wisconsin marshes where you appear in pairs to sing, dance, mate, and nest. Welcome home.