Ten Thousand Cranes

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I was walking a windy wooded trail
weeping golden leaves from paper birch and poplar
when I first heard their calls above me
sounding like a discordant chorus of ravens;
I wanted to see them,
so I pushed my way through the tall Calamagrostis grass
and senescent red fireweed
to the sandy shore of the lake…

Searching high into the moody turbid sky
I saw them drifting in the tail wind,
some in perfect long vees and broken beaded necklaces,
others like Roman phalanxes marching,

or Buddhist rosaries thrown at the muddy clouds,
suddenly dissolving their ranks into raucous crowds
and circling as in a vortex
directly overhead,
noisily gabbling and squawking,
even whispering
down at me, it seemed,
kettling in pulses round and round and round
in their infinite ocean of wind and light,
then in a few earnest flapping wing beats
sliding easily back into formation
and winging their way east again
toward warmer climes
still many days away
in the marshes and playas of the Southwest…

Following them, almost crashing into each other,
were larger unbroken chains and phalanxes
of the straight-winged birds,
soaring and flapping like ancient pterosaurs,
marching steadily by the hundreds and thousands
across the blue irises of my straining eyes,
more than ten thousand of them,
and still marching
till the end of the day when they
settled and roosted in the looming darkness of night
in the marshes of Healy Lake and gravel bars of the Tanana River
so they could sleep to rise again at the first light of dawn,
then push into the warming air,
pointing their long stretching necks
along the serpentine flow of the silty river
to its headwaters and beyond,
joining other flocks in the thousands
and tens of thousands heading for their wintering grounds
far to the south
where they will rest finally
and prepare for the northern spring
when they will do it all over again….

Frank Keim, in Healy Lake, Sept. 15, 2012

Immigration in Nebraska