Writing inspired by the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest.
Ten million years
Sun shimmers on a river
one mile wide, three inches deep.
The Platte River stretches wide beneath the skies,
offering refuge to weary travelers,
as it’s done for 10 million years.
And the Sandhill cranes come.
From the broad expanses of Mexico and Texas
before there was a Mexico or Texas.
Choosing Nebraska before there was a Nebraska.
To rest and feed and dance and chatter.
Before searching out even broader expanses
in Canada and Siberia.
As they’ve done for ten million years.
Earlier we watched them in fields,
their feathers the gray of winter clouds,
eating to store power for the long flight north.
The cranes dance with wings spread,
leaping in the air. Why?
For mating, for territory, for joy.
All the time chattering
to each other day and night,
their call the hoarse, throaty sound of frogs in a marsh.
Twilight beckons, and we line a bridge across the river,
searching the horizon, waiting, hoping.
Will they come here, tonight, to this stretch of river?
Will they bless us this one year out of ten million?
Smudges become faint lines in the sky.
Cranes leaving the fields where they spent the day,
to seek the shelter of the river,
safe from predators.
Drifts of cranes, forming and re-forming
With all the permanence of smoke.
Line after line.
Groups of three, ten, a hundred, ten thousand.
The sunset so beautiful.
The river so perfect.
We will them to land.
But they do not.
This is not Disneyland, we say,
laughing to hide our disappointment.
Still the Sandhill cranes bless us
as they pass through this
narrow bit of the Heartland.
Fulfilling their life cycle.
Migrating as they have
For 10 million years.
**The fossil record indicates Sandhill cranes have been migrating through Nebraska for 10 million years. This year, an estimated 500,000 cranes will make the trip. Modern farming has reduced wetland along the Platte River by 90 percent. We wondered how long abundant corn will be an adequate tradeoff for the wetlands.
I’ve never thought of myself as a fearful person. Sure, butterflies are normal before I speak, and alone on a dark street at night, adrenaline races and I’m particularly watchful. But I’m not afraid as a general rule. Yet, when I joined an estimated 25,000 women and men at the Des Moines Women’s March, I found myself face-to-face with my own fear.
One of the speakers – a 65-year-old lesbian – recalled life for gays and lesbians in the early 70s. “There was a time,” she said. Then she shared the reality of life for homosexuals at that time. A time when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. A time when gays could be forced to undergo shock or conversion therapy to “cure” them. A time when you could lose your job, or be kicked out – possibly even killed – for being who you were.
The description of the reality of that time hit me like a wrecking ball to the chest. Because I knew it personally.
Facing my own fear
I married for the first time in 1968. Four years later, I learned that my husband was gay. For a variety of reasons, we elected to remain married. To remain married and to present ourselves as a “normal” couple. At least part of my personal decision was influenced by my upbringing when I learned that how things looked to others was a most important consideration.
In choosing to keep quiet, we also chose to don the cloak of secrecy and fear. At any time someone might discover our secret. The ramifications could be many, and none of them looked good. Would he lose his job? Would I lose mine? What would happen to our families? Would we and they be shamed in public, ostracized in church, lose our friends?
Meanwhile, others – mostly on the coasts – were coming out of the closet and out of the shadows. They were marching. Demonstrating. Speaking up and out. They were brave. Maybe they felt fear, but they didn’t let it stop them. Because they stood up, they effected change. Not right away. Not all at once. Not even yet. But bit by bit.
Divorce did not remove the fear
When my husband and I divorced – almost 36 years ago – I thought I’d left that time and that fear behind. Listening to the Women’s March speaker, I realized how grateful I am for the people who marched for change. We’re all better off for people who march.
We’re better because of the suffragettes. We’re better because of the Freedom Riders. We’re better because of LGBTQ activists. We’re better because of activists who believe women should have control of their own bodies. We’re better because of people who will not accept being demeaned, downtrodden, or beaten any more. We’re better for those who put their fear aside and act.
Another woman faces down fear – Mesothelioma
Coincidentally, shortly before I faced down my own fear at the Women’s March, I received an email from Heather Von St. James. Heather is a 10-year survivor of mesothelioma, a cancer that took one of her lungs. Talk about fear. Instead of being ruled by the fear, Heather started “Lung Leavin’ Day.” Every February 2, Lung Leavin’ Day not only marks another year of survival for Heather, but also an opportunity to educate people on mesothelioma – and the value of overcoming fear. Follow any of the marked lengths to read more about Heather’s story.
At the March, I realized I still hold some fear in my core. The March helped solidify my sense that I was done with hiding. It’s time to face fear rather than let fear own me. Everyone had their own reasons for marching. I didn’t realize moving beyond fear was one of mine. Now I know.
To get past fear? Get up and get marching.
So, dear readers, how has fear been a factor in your life? What fears to have? How do you set fear aside?
Marching to support a cause is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. The suffragettes marched more than 100 years ago to secure the vote for women. Civil rights activists marched in the 1960s to raise awareness of the inequities suffered by African Americans. The LGBT community rose up in the 1970s.
Achieving human rights is not a one-and-done deal. Each right is fought for. And once achieved, there’s no guarantee you’ll keep those rights. If it were not so, we would not be here in 2017 still marching for those same rights.
On Saturday, I joined more than 20,000 women, men, and children for the Women’s March in Des Moines. We united in spirit with the millions who marched worldwide in support of a full range of human rights.
The reasons why people marched varied. The messages they carried, equally so.
I’ve been on the political sidelines my whole life. I’ve let others carry the load. This past year, though, I’ve seen how easily rights can be trampled on. How people are marginalized and dismissed. I’ve seen us going back – and not in a good way.
I elected to get up off the couch and engage. I didn’t realize what an empowering experience the march would be. Speakers roared into microphones, got us chanting, shared their stories, inspired.
When we finally marched around the Capitol grounds, I was reminded of being the slowest person in a marathon, the one who waits a half hour to even start running. In our case, there were so many people, the first people were back at the starting point before the last people began.
Participating in one of the fundamental rights of our democracy – the first amendment rights to assembly and free speech – was a powerful rush. Where will this all lead? Time will tell.
When I woke up a couple of days after the march with the words of the State of Iowa motto running through my brain, I knew I was in the right place, doing the right thing.
“Our liberties we prize. Our rights we must maintain.”
Ah, democracy. Did you march? What was your experience? If you didn’t march, what was your reaction?