Ten million years – Sandhill cranes awe and inspire

By Carol / March 22, 2017 /

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.

Subscribe below for blog updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Posted in ,



  1. Merril Smith on March 22, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    A beautiful post, Carol. I don’t know anything about Sandhill Cranes, but it’s amazing to think of them following this path for 10 million years! Imagine what their epic tales must be like. The photos are beautiful.

    I Googled Sandhill Cranes and discovered that they are sometimes spotted in NJ. One post I read mentioned there’s a theory that the tale of the Jersey Devil came from someone spotting a Sandhill Crane. 🙂

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 22, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      The number of years struck me, to, as you can tell. Those migratory habits are really ingrained. Yes, the tales they could tell about changes in the land over all that time, not to mention changes made to the land.

      While we were talking with people in Nebraska, we heard of some cranes nesting in New York. Some are reported to show up in a wetland north of where we live, though I’ve not seen them. I had to Google Jersey Devil. I can see some resemblance, though the Jersey Devil is no where near as attractive. 😉

  2. Nan Johnson on March 23, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Splendidly written, Carol. I love the language you use. You make an important point at the end, too; our wetlands are an essential ecosystem, but disappearing. Couldn’t agree more.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 23, 2017 at 10:03 am

      Thank you, Nan. The ability in such a short time to cripple or destroy something that’s been going on for so long hit me hard. Of course people are working to protect the wetlands. I hope they succeed.

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on March 23, 2017 at 11:18 am

    What you express about the sandhill cranes is what I feel about the Canada Geese that come to our nearby lake at the first sign of spring and disappear as winter encroaches. It is most beautiful to watch them staging in late autumn. What a glorious creation God has given us! Thank you for sharing your poem.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 23, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      We have many Canada Geese here, though increasingly they stay all year instead of migrating. They are such large birds, I image they do make a beautiful sight when they fly enmasse. The sights nature gives us are almost always more impressive to me than what’s man made.

  4. Randy Happel on March 23, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Carol, I’ve always known you were a brilliant writer, but this is a masterpiece. I may be a bit partial, given that Nebraska is my home state, but you’re description, communicated through words, creates a visual experience that those not present can experience emotionally. You are amazing. I’m proud to be a member of the PR writers fraternity, albeit humbled by the incredible writing talent that comes so easily for you. Thanks for sharing … you are truly a credit to our profession. All the best, Randy

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 24, 2017 at 8:59 am

      You are most kind, Randy. Thank you. The cranes were an inspiration. Thanks also for joining the conversation on my blog. I hope you’ll return often.

Leave a Comment