Writing inspired by the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest.
Spring inspires poetic thoughts and emotions. Here’s a Haiku tribute to the migrating birds I saw during a recent walk.
Cedar waxwings come.
Harbingers of spring
The Cedar Waxwing is a social bird almost always seen in flocks. They particularly enjoy berries, according to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Though I have seen them almost exclusively in the spring, apparently they are around most of the year.
What says spring to you?
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?