Thursday, February 21, 2013

60 Cranes

     Last Tuesday I made one last trek to Colasante Clinic.  Despite the cloud cover that afternoon there was light coming through the slats of the horizontal blinds on the windows in the exam rooms, and I could see as though through twilight.
      I crossed the huge, hollow spaces of my old clinic, peering into rooms that were as forlorn as the galleries in a ramiform cave.  The walls seemed to be weeping, as they do in caves.  I undertook this final foray to make sure the place was presentable:  floors swept, refrigerator clean, cabinets empty.  There were still pushpins in the walls, and cardboard boxes on the waiting room floor, so I cleared them out.
     I made sounds, "Hello!  Anyone here?" which stuck to the plaster and didn't echo.  I looked into rooms, remembering employees at their work stations.  I stayed about as long as I would at a cemetery:  ten minutes.
     Then I drove home and stood in my driveway, looking around.  The sun was halfway to the horizon, the air was quiet, a ladybug landed on my arm and flew off.  The dogwoods were blooming, and and so were the redbuds, and the Japanese magnolias.  They seemed to be having a party. 
     Now what?  I asked.
     That's when I heard the cranes.
     Every year, two sandhill cranes settle onto my property at the end of their fall migration.  They meander around the pond and eat the sunflower seeds I put out for them.  They lay a single egg, which hatches into a small sandhill crane, who grows up and flies away and never returns.
     Five yards from where I stood were "my" cranes, family members who had arrived to winter-over in Florida.  Their languorous backward-knee gait reminded me of slow dancing.  They were intent on something, and "craned" their necks to hear what it was. 
     Seconds after I spotted them, they took some running leaps into the air where they were joined, soaringly, by twenty-six others, their legs straight as arrows behind them, their necks elongated, flying in formation like a fleet of jets.  There followed a second group of eighteen, and a third of sixteen.  Sixty cranes, choreographed into three groups, flying west, probably to Payne's Prairie.
     There are only 5,000 sandhill cranes left in Florida, although there are 600,000 other crane species (greater and lesser sandhill cranes, and Mississippi cranes) in the United States.  Florida sandhill cranes are a protected species, threatened by loss of habitat.  They require grassy places near calm water, like marshy wetland, for nesting, and they lay only one to three eggs per year, incubating them for one month and tending to the hatchlings for ten months, when the brood reaches maturity.  The couple mate for life and tend their eggs and progeny together.
     My cranes have one baby a year, so their other eggs and hatchlings must serve as food for predators like the hawks, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, eagles, owls, bobcats and alligators who live in their midst on my property.
     Cranes, like all birds, represent freedom, flight, and the realm of the spirit.  In the west they are considered a clumsy species, according to The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, but elsewhere cranes are revered.  In Japan, cranes are associated with a long life and good fortune.  If you receive a thousand origami cranes held together by string, called Senzaburu, legend says you will be granted a wish.  In Ancient China cranes were considered a symbol of immortality.  Certain African myths hold the bird in high esteem because it seems to possess self-knowledge, and knowledge of God is considered possible only for those who have knowledge of themselves.
     When those two sandhill cranes appear each year in my backyard I feel graced.  Their long flight and annual return are signs of regeneration--like daffodils, ladybugs, hummingbirds. clover.  The cranes choose my property, but perhaps they consider it their property--and I am their groundskeeper.
     Sixty cranes!  That's a lot of regeneration.  They called to one another with their low-pitched warbling, and drew my two cranes into their enormous, tripartite flock for an aerial demonstration so deeply instinctual I couldn't guess what it might signify--but it seemed holy. 
     For me, after leaving the empty shell of my clinic one last time, after shedding the cloak of medicine as though it had in the end become a bristling husk that hurt to carry around, after returning home in a state of deep disquiet, seeing those sixty cranes was an affirmation of something primordial.  I may not have known what it was, but it was not nothing.  


  1. My sister is interested in hearing your radio show interview. But your link to it no longer works. When you go to that Web site there is no Jan. 25 interview posted any more. They only seem to have the last 10 days' worth of shows there.

    So if you can find a link to the show that works, please put that up. Otherwise, I suggest you remove the link on the right you have, as it no longer works and could be frustrating for your faithful followers.

  2. Will investigate and update. Sorry for the trouble.