Ten million years – Sandhill cranes awe and inspire

Ten million years

The Platte River is wide and shallow. The perfect overnight spot for Sandhill cranes.

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.

Sandhill cranes settle in after dark on the Platte River. Photo courtesy of Mary C. Gottschalk

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.

Cranes by the hundreds fly weave across the Nebraska skies.

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.
Including us.
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.

Writing fields lie fallow – Where will this lead?

When I sent my manuscript off to find an agent, I looked forward to taking a breather from the intense writing regimen I’d maintained for the last several years. In the past, each time I finished a book project, I knew what I’d write next. This time I didn’t.

Who knew taking a break could be so hard?
Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com

Memoir, fiction, children’s books, essays. All have popped into my mind. None of them ignite passion. I know myself well enough; if passion isn’t there, it won’t be long before I lose interest. Perhaps I’m not meant to write another book? The idea alternately exhilarates and frightens me.

Knowing I’m happier with a project, I signed up for two art courses so I’d have a creative outlet during this break. By stretching my mind in new ways, I anticipated I’d fill the time and achieve the sense of fulfillment I experience through writing.

Yet, the sense of calm I sought didn’t come. My reminders to myself to be patient; my self-assurances that my purpose would present itself; my intent to relax and enjoy this unscheduled time worked only intermittently.

When my husband asked me recently how it felt to not write after spending the past many years doing mostly that, I blurted out the truth: “I feel lost. Completely lost.”

Lying Fallow – Time to Rejuvenate

When I connected this past week with Shirley Showalter, a wise woman who also grew up on a farm, she likened my current state to ‘lying fallow.” Lying fallow is the agricultural practice of letting the ground rest for a season or more by not planting it to a new crop.

Lying fallow is a metaphor I understand. It’s one that makes sense. By allowing time for rest and space for energy to regenerate, many new things are possible – in the land and in myself. Thinking about this time in a new way helped.

I recognize this time of lying fallow for what it is and what it isn’t. This time IS an opportunity to take a break, to try new things, to spend more time with my son and granddaughters, without the pressure of a writing deadline. It ISN’T a guaranteed next book idea; it isn’t productivity in the same way I’ve been accustomed to; it isn’t even a defined period.

Returning to writing

What seems clear after three months is that I miss writing. By stepping away from writing entirely, I let go of a tool that’s helped me through tough times in the past. I may not have a big project to work on, but even small writing projects can be useful. Writing this blog post helped clarify where I am, reassuring me with a sense of the familiar.

Whether it’s journaling or returning to more regular blogging or through essays, I’m going to capitalize on the comfort zone of writing often enough to let the writing help me think through this time of lying fallow.

For this season of lying fallow to work, I have to be patient. To curb my expectations. To rest. So here I am, doing my best to let this time be what it is, not to force it, to accept whatever happens.

Have you experienced a season of lying fallow? Or by other names, a sabbatical, a break, a breather? How has it been productive for you? I’d like to hear your experience as well as any advice you’d offer me.

What are you afraid of? How do you move past fear?

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.

In marching, I came 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?

This is what democracy looks like – Women’s March

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.

This marcher got to the core of a problem we have in Iowa and nationally – one group trying to force their idea of rights on others.

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.

It took a while for my friend and I to find each other in the crowd.

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.

A young boy carried his hope for the march.

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. 

Marchers wrap the entire Iowa State Capitol grounds.

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?