The wisdom of cranes

It was a beautiful day, but I had far too much work to do. Winter is coming and the tomatoes were still in the garden. The windows needed washing. The grass needed mowing. There was laundry waiting to be done. Supper wasn’t started. I had orders to fill and writing to finish. I really didn’t have time to be outside moving the fence for the sheep. I was grumpy and walking as fast as I could to get the job done. I wasn’t enjoying the fine fall weather and the lack of mosquitoes. All I could think of was the other work I had to do.

Then a faint, insistent, cooing broke into my bad mood. A flock of sandhill cranes called high above me. I searched the sky. At first I focused my eyes far too near. Finally, I saw them, tiny specks a thousand feet above me. They had their wings outstretched, soaring effortlessly on the air currents. The flock lazily circled, seeming to be in no big hurry, enjoying the day. Even though they appeared to be aimlessly meandering across the sky, they moved quickly south and out of my field of vision.

I thought of the many times I had driven somewhere, completely focused on my final destination. I have sped along the highway, thinking only about what I was going to do when I got where I was going. I couldn’t tell you anything about the fields, farms or towns I passed. We have made vacation trips up the Lewis and Clark Trail and never stopped at the historical markers along the way. I have zipped past scenic views thinking, “I’ll have to stop there someday.” I have flown to other states and cities, gone to meetings in some hotel, hopped in a shuttle to the airport and flown back home.

Most days we have a long list of things to do. We focus on getting to the end of the day and hope we get to the end of the list. Our focus is frequently on some goal, deadline, or future time when things will be different. We fantasize about getting caught up with our list and having some time to enjoy life. Most of us have another long list of things we need to do when we get caught up with our current list.

How different we are than those cranes. Each year the large, noisy birds fly from the southern U.S. and Mexico to the far north where they nest and each fall they fly back again. To watch them fly, you’d think there was no hurry. Their seven foot wings catch the air currents and rarely flap. They seem to float in the general direction of Texas.

If humans could fly, we would flap our wings and make better time.

The 15 pound, 40 inch tall bird seems to know that such an effort would take a great deal of energy. They seem to understand the efficiency of riding the currents. Perhaps natural selection has taken care of the goal-oriented flappers. Instead of living a crane’s usual lifespan of 20 years, the cranes who think they’re making time by pumping their wings probably burn themselves out and die young. It is the “smell the roses and enjoy the view” birds who live long and reproductive lives.

How many of our modern illnesses are related to stress? Don’t we burn ourselves up focusing on some future goal? A degree? A good job? A promotion? A big house? Retirement? Don’t we miss the view along the way? When was the last time you caught an updraft and just floated along?

On that fall day, I almost missed the cranes flying right over my head. I almost ignored the fine weather. I just about neglected to be thankful for the beauty of the prairie around me and the animals I was caring for.

I stood and watched as the cranes soared above me. I listened to their noisy cooing. I noticed the warm sun and the gentle breeze, the munching sheep and buzz of bees in late blooming alfalfa. I went back to my work with a different attitude.

May you stop flapping, spread your wings, and spend some time soaring like a crane.

Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains