This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack for the Third Week Of Middle.
Thousands of sandhill cranes are leaving the Platte River area in central Nebraska this month, flying north to their breeding grounds. I went to see them a few weeks ago, arriving at the river in the evening.
The sky was full of great plumes cirrus clouds, the wind steady east, the water spinning around the sandbars beside me. And then the cranes came and came and came, always east to west as if guiding on the red setting sun.
Their constant trilling chatter accompanied wave after wave of undulating formations that slid from “vees” to horseshoes to ragged lines and back again, their rows making me think of clever, determined phalanxes, charging with determined, gritty, gangly discipline, held in place by their relentless, guiding conversation.
The darker the sky, the more flocks appeared, often in tandem, sometimes stretching all the way across the sky from north to south, and as the sun went down, a great number of the birds swarmed together, circling onto the mud flats to spend the night, and I could just make out their posture and position, standing together, close ranked, always in conversation.
When I left the motel to return home at dawn, the cranes continued to arrive from the east, and they kept flying toward me as I drove down the freeway into daybreak, their mutating patterns, still filling the sky to my right and to my left.
The sun rose deep scarlet through cirrus clouds, and I watched the black, rippling swoops of cranes against it, and I drove on for half an hour, for thirty miles, below the giant birds advancing faithfully to their meeting place, just like they have been doing for a million years.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the fourth week of middle spring. In the meantime, think about next spring. Plan to see the cranes. Put it on your life list of things to do before you die.