Migratory dance of cranes delivers serendipity

I love serendipity — that unexpected spark of revelation that arrives via daily routines and extraordinary adventures, delivering messages precisely when we need them most.

Saturday was chalk full of serendipity, launched by an unexpected invitation from friends to check out the sandhill cranes. I was a walking ball of angst when the call came, grumping about the sorry state of a broken world.

"I know a place that'll really give us a show," Webster said. I climbed into a van with him and his wife, Scrabble, their daughter Fireball, Hunka Burnin' Hubby, and our son Magnet. We drove this way and that, down a gravel road that petered out and became a trail, stopping just short of a big swampy mud hole.

We clambered over a gate, through barbed wire fence and across a pasture, nearly losing an explorer in a hidden ditch along the way. True adventure is fraught with peril. Then suddenly the sandy bank of the Platte River emerged like a big lazy smile.

Mud squished underfoot as we crossed sandbars and skipped over channels in the fading light. "They'll be coming soon," said Webster. "We need to find a place to hide and be quiet."

That place was a duck blind, built by expert hands and camouflaged in reeds and grasses. We clambered inside, poking our heads through a slit in the roof. We snort-laughed at the peculiarity of six people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a duck blind, waiting for cranes.

A cold wind picked up and it began to rain. Dampness seeped into necks and shoulders, and GOR-TEX was added to mental Christmas lists. Magnet and Fireball wrapped themselves in patchwork quilts, looking oddly biblical — Joseph and Mary in a duck blind. Cameras clicked and we snort-laughed some more.

And then the magic happened. Little by little the cranes flew in — touching down with instinctual ease into the river's restorative slow-moving waters.

"Arial reconnaissance," Hunka joked. "They're checking for enemy forces."

Soon the waves rolled in — answering the call of an ancient alarm. We stood mesmerized as they flew in perfect "v" formations, necks stretched and feet tucked Pterodactyl-style. They flew close enough to hear wind whisper over wings, and their guttural, reptilian cacophony thundered like a thousand gongs. Birds upon birds filled the river until it became a teeming ocean of gray as far as the eye could see. Every bird faced upstream — a sight both fascinating and unnerving.

"This is where they yell, 'Attack!'" Magnet joked, but Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" came to mind. Cranes stood but 20-yards away.

They became silhouettes in the darkness. I thought sandhill cranes stood in the river at night, but I was wrong. They march as a slow moving mass upstream, long-necked soldiers stopping briefly to dance a jig or peck in the sand. Were they sleepwalking, we wondered? Did they wake up in Lexington wondering how they got there? We may never know.

The whole shebang was mystery and splendor, delivering a serendipitous message as old as time itself. Regardless of how hectic and frustrating human life can be, nature finds a way to show us someone else is in charge. "I was designed for peace and beauty," it seems to say, "Sit back and enjoy the ride." And though our time on earth is brief, future generations will undoubtedly be standing in duck blinds on the Platte River, watching the flutter of sandhill cranes march to a timeless migratory clock.

Tamera Schlueter

Tam Schlueter adopts a "strike-fast-and-keep-them-laughing" approach to writing. Her column appears every Thursday in the Hastings Tribune, and showcases the wonder of family, dogs, muscle cars, and folks with blue collars and no-nonsense attitudes.

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