Last week, I dreaded picking up a newspaper; despaired of the suffering and unkindness that seemed to permeate the world. Everything seemed off-kilter. Unpredictable.
And then, they came. Waves and waves of sandhill cranes.
Each spring, they cover Chicago’s skies, headed north. Late each year, often after the snow flies, they wing their way back south.
The cranes bookend the prairie growing season.
They arrive at the same time as fire; the prescribed burns that sweep the tallgrass clean, and create a clean slate…
…ready for the sums of a new year to be chalked upon it.
As I struggle to count the cranes flying over this week– 25, 50, 100, 2,000–I feel the excitement of what lies ahead.
But I know when they leave, I’ll feel a sense of loss. In some ways I take them for granted.
There was a time when I thought of the ash trees in the woodlands around the prairies as merely part of the landscape. I believed they would stand, year after year.
Today, decimated by a tiny insect, they are cut down and piled up as rubble: wiped from woodlands, streets, and our part of the world.
Only the scribbled messages left by the emerald ash borers remain.
My grandchildren will never know a world with ash trees. And I wonder. Like the ash trees, will the cranes be here one season, then suddenly gone? Leaving an empty sky behind?
The cranes are something we count on in Illinois. Like the sunrise and sunset; the blooming of spring bulbs…
…and the coloring of autumn leaves.
We depend on the cranes to mark the passing of the seasons.
Rather than worry about their loss, I’m going to store away the magical moments they bring. When I hear the loud cries of the cranes–like the erratic purr of a cat magnified thousands of times– I’ll remember to listen for the harmony around me, not the discord. The kind voices; not the strident or cruel.
Despite their whirlwind choreography, the cranes know where they are going. The present disorder of the world, I tell myself, doesn’t mean we’re headed for long-term chaos.
I’ll let the cranes remind me to be grateful for beauty, compassion, and grace; even when those things seem difficult to find in the world.
And I’ll count the days. Until the return of the cranes.
All photos copyright Cindy Crosby (top to bottom): switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Meadow Lake, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sandhill cranes, prairie interpretive trail, Fermilab, Batavia, IL; sandhill cranes, author’s backyard prairie patch, Glen Ellyn, IL; lupine (Lupinus perennis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; grasses in prairie planting, Meadow Lake, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; hiking the prairie interpretive trail at Fermilab, Batavia, IL; great St. John’s wort (Hypericum pyramidatum), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Meadow Lake, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), author’s backyard prairie, Glen Ellyn, IL; pile of ash logs and other trees, prairie interpretive trail, Fermilab, Batavia, IL; ash log with emerald ash borer gallery, prairie interpretive trail, Fermilab, Batavia, IL; yellow crocus, author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; purple and white spring crocus, author’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL; autumn color, East Woods, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; tree and shrub, prairie interpretive trail, Fermilab, Batavia, IL; red-winged blackbird, Meadow Lake, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; sandhill cranes migrating north over the prairie interpretive trail, Fermilab, Batavia, IL; prairie interpretive trail, Fermilab, Batavia, IL.