Late March, I am with new friends in Nebraska, where the Platte River braids close to highway. Dusk, twilight, pick your word. Soft full light. Cold enough for a scarf. Warm enough for uncovered ears.
We have come to see Sandhill Cranes, Ajijak , the Echo Makers. But we are not the first ones here. People from Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota sport lenses longer than my arm.
We are here for the mass reconglomeration on riverbank and shore. I am told there are 40,000 birds today and it’s almost an apology. Only 40,000 of the 500,000 who will cross this stream in the next few days.
Cranes appear, the red sunlight firing the white undersides of bodies and wings. Cameras click. More cranes, the sound of more shutter noise. The sky begins to fill.
“These people will leave before the real show begins,” Tom says.
And it’s true. When the light is gone, the people go, but the air is thick with fleets of cranes. Just now is when the heart-story starts.
If you wait, you understand that seeing cranes is irrelevant. Instead of a camera, I wish I had a microphone. The chorus of their calls rises and sweeps over the water. Waves of something deep. It’s not easy to lay the camera against my chest and only listen, but the sound is overwhelming, the scale of 40,000 voices.
This is orchestra and symphony, pianissimo and portamento, furia and gaudioso. I know “fugue” means “flight,” but I am not prepared for the voiced desire of a species.