This weekend has been unseasonably warm. Weather forecasts are predicting a return to colder temperatures, but in the meantime, the spring-like warmth had our family outside. The kids were cycling and drawing chalk pictures, and our whole family enjoyed a campfire in the backyard, albeit in mud, not on lawn. When spring temperatures rise, I also find myself outside for another reason. I am waiting for cranes.
Every spring and fall, sandhill cranes fly over the centre of the continent, headed north on a great trek from wintering grounds in the southern states and Mexico. They apparently congregate in the tens of thousands along the Platte River in Nebraska each spring—a spectacle I want to see some day.
On a few occasions, I have seen the cranes in spring as they flew over in groups of just a few dozen to several hundred. The day has always been warm in a spring-with-the-memory-of-winter sort of way. Their Vs are lanky and uneven. They fly high. In fact, if it weren’t for their chorus, which sounds from far off like they are chuckling, I probably wouldn’t notice them at all. In fall the experience has been similar, but the day has usually been chilly, with looming grey clouds that form the backdrop for the crane flight.
I don’t ever expect to see them, but I still wait. It is as if I teach myself to be present now—working, talking, going about my business—but mindful too for the sounds that I hope for beyond the present. I teach myself to listen, so when the time comes, I can avail myself to their calls and the sight of them for a few minutes as they pass overhead.
A couple of times I have been home when I’ve heard the cranes. Then I rush into the house, calling everyone to come out and watch. We stand in the yard together, looking skyward, as a high V passes and disappears from view before it hits the horizon.
In fall, 2015, my daughter, Claire, then almost three years old, was with me on a trip to Walmart. As I pulled the van into the parking lot, Claire suddenly shouted, “Dad, birds! Birds!” Doubtful, I said, “Okay,” and pulled into a spot. I stepped out of the van, began to unbuckle her, and then I heard them, barely audible over cars and people’s voices. Almost out of view, there were cranes.
I would like to think I learn to listen for things more important than cranes that are likewise not always clearly visible, things like grace and peace. Even more, I hope my children internalize that kind of mindfulness from whatever they might see from me. Even better than having Claire spot cranes from a van window in a parking lot, would be my children recognizing the Spirit as they walk along, or when they get up, or lie down. Then maybe they would come and say, “Dad, look what I’ve seen!”
As I hope for that day, I keep waiting for cranes.
Jeremy Hummel is an Associate Professor of Agriculture at Dordt College.