Sandhill Cranes Described Poetically

March 26, 2015

“The blood-red head bows and the wings sweep together, a cloaked priest giving benediction.”
— Richard Powers, The Echo Maker

Watercolor sketch of sandhill crane

Watercolor sketch of sandhill crane

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.  The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.”
— Also Leopold, from “Marshland Elegy,” A Sand County Almanac

Their beauty may lie beyond words, but as I was reading about sandhill cranes in preparation for my trip to Nebraska, I came across so many wonderfully descriptive and poetic passages by expert writers.  Sometimes the writing was as lyrical and beautiful as the physical birds.  While I was crane watching, it was rewarding to overlay my observations with these writers’ words.

” . . . in the faint light of the new day, I could see cranes downriver, emerging from the water like the pilings of some abandoned, improbable ruin.”
— Paul Gruchow, “The Nebraska Sandhills: The Flight of Cranes,” from The Necessity of Empty Places

Early morning on the Platte River; view from a blind at the Rowe Sanctuary

Early morning on the Platte River; view from a blind at the Rowe Sanctuary

“The cranes stood like a congregation in the shallows of the river.  I could see their long necks now, could watch them stalk about as if on tiptoe, could observe them stretching and settling their wings.  Already some of their brethren from the sandbar farther south had taken flight, heading from the river to the fields nearby to feed for the day.  They showed the characteristic profile of the cranes, necks straight out, legs tucked in, feet trailing behind like rudders.”
— Paul Gruchow, “The Nebraska Sandhills: The Flight of Cranes,” from The Necessity of Empty Places

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“Into this single field were crowded tens of thousands of cranes, standing in gray ranks like weathered corn. . . . Hundreds more were landing every minute, planing down at a shallow angle, bugling and calling.  When an especially large flock would begin its approach, the clamor was almost deafening, as the incoming birds sideslipped and tumbled like falling leaves, spilling air from their wings, then straightening out an instant before impact and thumping down, one after another.”
— Scott Weidensaul, Living on the Wind:  Across the Hemisphere with Migrating Birds

IMG_1585

Morning dawns accompanied by the unbroken clamor of the cranes.

Morning dawns accompanied by the unbroken clamor of the cranes.

“At the rim of the horizon, the sky began to lighten.  The sound of the birds was hauling up the curtain of the day.”
— Paul Gruchow, “The Nebraska Sandhills: The Flight of Cranes,” from The Necessity of Empty Places

” . . . the primeval sound rushed in, halfway between a croak and a song, the music of dry bones rattling.  It surged and fell in a regular rhythm, like waves of water washing against a shore. . . . The sound of the sandhill cranes is like the roaring of the sea in a conch shell; when you have finally heard it, you recognize that you have always known it.  It is like the cry of a loon or the howling of wolves or the warning rattle of a snake, an article in the universal language.”
— Paul Gruchow, “The Nebraska Sandhills: The Flight of Cranes,” from The Necessity of Empty Places

“Crane chorusing can only remind one of listening to an amateur performance of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ as chaotically sung by a vast assemblage of tone-deaf but enthusiastic lovers of fine music.”
— Paul A. Johnsgard, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes:  Ancient Voices Over America’s Wetlands

IMG_1544

“The thousands of cranes . . . rose into the air as one body, the force of their wings sounding against the weight of the air like the rolling of a thousand snare drums.”
— Paul Gruchow, “The Nebraska Sandhills: The Flight of Cranes,” from The Necessity of Empty Places

Watercolor sketch of sandhill crane shortly after taking to the air

Watercolor sketch of sandhill crane shortly after taking to the air

IMG_1587

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“The daily return of the cranes to the [Platte] river near sunset is not so much a sudden explosion as a gradual build-up of tension and beauty, in a manner resembling Ravel’s ‘Bolero.’  As the western skies redden, the cranes fly up and down the river, calling with gradually increasing urgency, evidently trying to decide where they might safely spend the night. . . . The decision to land is finally made by a few adventuresome souls, and the rest of the birds tumble in behind, all calling at the tops of their lungs.”
— Paul A. Johnsgard, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes:  Ancient Voices Over America’s Wetlands

IMG_1518“A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.”
— Archibald MacLeish, from “Ars Poetica”

 

 

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3 Responses to “Sandhill Cranes Described Poetically”

  1. Diana Studer Says:

    spilling air from their wings


  2. […] Sandhill Cranes Described Poetically | Rosemary’s Blog 032615 Rosemary Washington: “Their beauty may lie beyond words, but as I was reading about sandhill cranes in preparation for my trip to Nebraska, I came across so many wonderfully descriptive and poetic passages by expert writers. Sometimes the writing was as lyrical and beautiful as the physical birds. While I was crane watching, it was rewarding to overlay my observations with these writers’ words.” Paul Gruchow: “… the primeval sound rushed in, halfway between a croak and a song, the music of dry bones rattling. It surged and fell in a regular rhythm, like waves of water washing against a shore. . . . The sound of the sandhill cranes is like the roaring of the sea in a conch shell; when you have finally heard it, you recognize that you have always known it. It is like the cry of a loon or the howling of wolves or the warning rattle of a snake, an article in the universal language.” […]


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