migration & grief

I’m in love with sandhill cranes. Every fall, around Thanksgiving these snow birds start arriving from thousands of miles away. They come in from Alaska, Canada, Nebraska and every where in between. They’ve come to overwinter in our warm climate.

We are so blessed in Gainesville, to share Payne’s Prairie with the cranes each winter. It was one of the first things about this place, that had me smitten.

Cranes + prairie wilderness = magical.

Crane tatoo
I love cranes so much, that I had one permanently inked on my calf! The calf is strong and grounded; the perfect place for the memory of a crane.

Their spectacular size and sound are impressive. You can hear them arriving long before you see them. In v-shaped flocks that undulate as they change positions and responsibilities in flight, they grace our winter skies and land, and announce dramatically their arrival.

This sets me off like a kid at Christmas! Every. Single. Time. “The cranes are here! The cranes are here!”

In a good year for human viewing, they’ll congregate in the hundreds or even thousands on the prairie. Roaming the same habitat are alligators, bison, horses, and countless other birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Sometimes a whooping crane or two joins the crane party.

I am a 20 minute bike ride from this magical and wild place. Gratitude.

Around Valentines Day when conditions are right, they start lifting off over several days or maybe even weeks, heading back to their summer breeding grounds. They circle high up in the air together first, before organizing and heading north. I suppose they are making group decisions, feeling the wind currents, and gathering momentum. All the while, announcing their grand departure for all who are listening.

It’s always hard to say goodbye, and I’m not alone in this regard. Plenty of Gaines-villians lament, as we bid farewell till next winter.

This tradition hard-wired in their DNA, takes them on a long and arduous journey twice a year. Some make it and some don’t. Regardless, the species continues this ancient tradition of travel, in pursuit of  mates and sustenance.

Migration is a testament of the will to survive. Even when obstacles are thrown in like habitat destruction, climate change, lack of food, predation, or hunting, migration continues.

Life goes on, no matter what.

I remember sharing the joy of cranes with my mother, during a particularly cold winter in 2010. It was just a few short months before that sweet soul passed away, migrating to another place. I remember another time, pointing to the sky from our backyard, with her and Mike’s folks, bearing witness to the massive flocks heading north for summer grounds.

The routine was dependable. It was Valentines Day after all, (plus or minus a few days), and so they were off.

Mom and me and cranes
My mother and I on a chilly winter day, out to see cranes at Payne’s Prairie.

After my mother passed away that following summer, I really needed the whole world to just STOP! My world had crashed down and come to a screeching halt, so everything and everyone else should take a breather and stop! I felt this same way when cancer entered my world.

Wait! Stop! I’m begging you; I just need a moment. 

But the cranes didn’t heed my irrational wishes. They kept their promises and traditions.

Life goes on, no matter what. That’s the beauty of migration, and also of metamorphosis.

It became comforting eventually, to experience and remember that life cannot be stopped. It will always flourish and go on, even if some things are left behind. The familiar patterns, that I had come to love and be grateful for, offered gentle solace and healing.

So every Thanksgiving season when the cranes herald their arrival, I give thanks. When they leave around Valentine’s Day, I feel love and compassion for all that has been lost, all that is, and all that is yet to come.

 

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