Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Day with Nothing More Urgent Than This

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Day with Nothing More Urgent Than This

Article excerpt

At the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, the sandhill cranes are not yet awake. It's early February, barely dawn, and a brightening sky throws pewter light over the shallow pond in front of me, its surface rough with ice. Backed by cottonwoods and distant hills, the far side of the pond is still deep in twilight, but I can hear the snow geese there, conversing among themselves with a nasal chatter. In the middle of the pond, the pale sheen of the ice helps to illuminate some dark silhouettes: the silent rounded humps that are sleeping cranes.

The stark form of a cottonwood juts out of the pond near them. The angular lines of its upper branches are sketched in deepest black against the opalescent sky; a dark oval on one branch will resolve into a bald eagle as the illumination increases.

The frost on the boards of the observation deck presses its chill up through the bottom of my boots, and I think of the birds on the pond, standing bare-legged in the icy water. The cranes winter here, in the Rio Grande Valley of south-central New Mexico, as they have for generations. In a few weeks, they will begin to fly north, toward the Canadian plains to breed and nest. They will fly through my home state of Colorado, stopping in fields and wetlands to rest along the way.

A few years ago, my husband and I went to see the migrating cranes at a refuge near Colorado's southern border. At the edge of a field where grain had been cut and left as forage, we watched the large, smoke-colored sandhills fly in for the night. Gliding down with hollow cries, they'd alight with a few bouncing steps, and then straighten. Long-necked and long-legged, they arranged the distinctive flounce of feathers at their rear with a few shakes and stalked the ground with deliberate steps, an endearing mix of gawkiness and grace.

The field where my husband and I stood watching was just a few miles from a major highway that I had traveled uncountable times growing up. Going to visit my grandparents or riding along with my father on business trips, that road had been, I thought, drained of all novelty. Yet here I was, in my 30s, watching a spectacle I'd never seen before. …

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