Friday, December 02, 2011

Cranes

Up in the air is probably the easiest way to describe my life at the moment, which may explain why I have not been describing it. As it stands I have more than a dozen stories to tell. Sometimes the best place to start is in the middle and just jump back and forth until I am caught up and then move forward.

It was the time of year in America when the sandhill cranes migrated from one area to another. The migration took place twice a year, in the spring and in the fall. In the spring, the cranes would fly over my section of the Midwest on their way back north. In the fall, the same on the way south to luxuriate in the warmth of Florida or some other milder climate than the bitter cold that is the northern winter. While I would love to be able to see them every year on their migration, I’ve only managed to visit maybe three times.

The place to go is Jasper Pulaski park about an hour and a half south in Indiana. The park is surrounded on all sides by farmhouses and cornfields. The drive, once off the expressway, feels like a drive through corn country. There are fields and fields and fields, and where there are not fields there are quiet rows of trees standing guard over the land.

I learned about the crane migration from the Boy, who also took me on the first drive down to see them. It is an experience that I’m not sure I can do adequate justice to, with my poor fingers. You park in an open lot, and as soon as you step out of the car you are flooded with the noise of the birds talking to each other in the field. A lilting call begins, which at first makes you quiet, whispering to talk, but as you get closer the birds become a louder cacophony of sound and you would have to shout to be heard over them.

You walk down a windy path from the parking lot. Along the path there are a dozen signs, each with a question about the cranes. Some true and false, some general knowledge; a pop quiz. You can imagine parents stopping with children and holding them up to read each sign while trying to puzzle out the answer together. The signs are a bit ragged and warn, paper under plastic to protect them from the wet weather, and doing only so well. I have read the questions and have few answers, but the Boy can answer each one. At the end of the trail an arrow points to a master sign that has facts and truths and you feel like you have learned something for going through the experience.

You get to the end of the path and there is a wooden fort in front of you. You almost feel like a sentry about to go on duty as you climb up to take post overlooking the field below. At the top it is thin and narrow. There are three magnifying sights mounted for looking out into the field at the birds. Now, you are right in the thick of it.

I still remember the first time I went. An hour before sundown, climbing up the stairs to look out into a field on a cool spring day. I skipped work to go, I needed to do something to live. When the Boy suggested it, it was all I could think about. So we went, and there was magic and wonder as I stood in the middle of the tower and looked out on thousands and thousands of birds, dancing, and whooping, roosting, resting, after their hundred miles flight that day. Overhead they fly in, sweeping down in well formed lines until the very end when they are cocking their legs down to come in for the touchdown.

There is a simple quiet majesty about it, that is beautiful.

Recently I had been doing some writing. I feel like I am always doing some writing. For some reason I was looking up dinosaurs or writing about dinosaurs. The thing about dinosaurs is that they don’t exist and they do exist. Dinosaurs have essentially evolved into birds. The writing was something about modern-day dinosaurs, and birds are basically the only modern-day dinosaurs that we have. This is important because it is hard not to think about dinosaurs when you are watching the cranes fly in.

We drove down to Jasper Paulaski after a long day of work for both of us. The dogs came with us making it rather an affair. Tino, of course, demanded to ride in the driver's seat, even though I’m terrified he is going to cause a car accident some day with his insistent lap riding. Gracey, however, being the size of a dinosaur herself, rode in the back.

The air was crisp and we listened to Phil Ochs and John Prine as we went down the quiet country roads. The music fit the setting and the sun began to hang low as we reached our destination. We parked in the mostly empty lot. The birds were loud, a noisy volume that just hands in the air. The dogs were excited, I was excited. I found that I couldn't help but to look up and around and behind me to see if there were birds coming in.

We walked past the tattered quiz questions and up to the overlook, pushing mosquitoes out of the way. For the most part we were alone, aside from a lone biker couple that came in later. It was me, the Boy, the dogs, and the birds. I took pictures with my camera phone as they swooped in over us. With each well-conditioned V that entered our view we watched with quiet amusement as during the approach the formation got sloppy and eventually dissolved. I thought of dinosaurs as I watched the legs extend out in front of one bird, and fall behind another. Each bird had a different thought on how to come in for a landing. Each executed it differently. However, we could agree that it did seem fairly accurate that the birds were saying “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap,” until they finally hit the ground.

I could see by looking out over the fields where the hot spots for landing were. The sound of the the cranes grew louder as they begin to whoop and dance, tossing bodies up into the air in the most carefree ritual ways. Finally they had a chance to stop and rest after a long day of flying. In the field there were about twenty deer scattered about and relaxing in the side of the park that was strictly off limits to hunting. The birds twirled about. Gracey, the large dog, really wanted to go down to the field and say hello and investigate the noise a bit further; however, we were content from our perch to look down.

The moon broke into the sky to hang opposite the sun, and for a while it was bright blue sky, with an orange glow in the distance, the moon on one corner, and hundreds of birds overhead. It was beautiful and I was lost in it.

The sun set on us as we walked out of the woods, all our speech was overwhelmed by the whoops of boisterous dancing birds in an expansive field.

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