I arrived in the Gila River valley in New Mexico in mid-September to stay at a friend’s property for a few months. Shortly afterwards, migrating Sandhill Cranes began showing up too. I heard them before I saw them, and my first reaction was, “What the heck is that?”
If you haven’t heard the calls of a Sandhill Crane before, you might not immediately identify them as coming from birds. They have been variously described as “loud, rattling bugle calls,” a “deep chesty squawk” and “kar-r-r-r- o-o-o.” I’ll take a stab at the challenge and offer: “a moody trilling trumpet.”
These helped jog my memory as I was writing this piece (since the cranes here don’t vocalize on command) but they all seriously lack compared to the real thing. They might capture the sound but not the spirit.
The first time a group of them flew overhead, I couldn’t help but to stop and stare in awe. Their silhouettes were certainly striking—with necks extended forward and legs stretched out behind—but it was their voices that really took my breath away. I will offer the words “haunting,” “otherworldly” and “preternatural,” though they all fall short. I felt like I was hearing the echoes of dinosaurs (and given birds’ evolutionary heritage, I guess I literally was).
But of course there is nothing alien about these creatures or their noises. It is I, raised in cities by a dominator culture, who doesn’t belong here, or rather, who doesn’t know my place, or how to find it. Such is the tragic estrangement of Western Civ.