Questing for cranes: a fall/winter tradition

I’ve been so in love with the world, lately. Or, let me qualify that: I’ve been horrified by much of what I see in the news and much of what I know is happening in the world, but that makes the actual real world I see around me, the little joys I see playing out on the streets as I bike past, the acts of kindness as someone waves me through or smiles as they go past — it makes those sweet little gems all the more precious. It makes them break my heart open.


(Cackling geese at Sauvie Island today)


I cried today, literally cried, when hundreds of snow geese flew over my head in their ever-shifting V formations, the flash of black and white drawn by their wings in flight, their insistent honks as though they needed to convey something very important. I pulled my bicycle over and I watched them — I let that absurd beauty just wash and wash and wash over me, and I cried.

I cried the other day too because a young man was shot dead not four blocks from our house, and as I walked past the impromptu shrine on the corner I saw a different, alive young man, legs sprawled out on the sidewalk, weeping, lost. The traffic on Division Street kept swooshing by, and he held his head in his hands and wept.

I’m not sure, sometimes, how to hold all these different things in my heart and not let it explode, the wrenching and the heartbreak, the joy and the overwhelming beauty of a picture-perfect fall day with the soundtrack of sandhill cranes. Their coexistence makes me tender, makes me love the world so fiercely, all its fragile, precious, short-lived pieces.


(and its colors:)


This post has diverged, I can see, from what I meant to write when I wrote the title. I was going to write about how I biked out to Sauvie Island today in my annual pilgrimage to welcome the sandhill cranes and other winter birds back to Portland, and how it was a too-perfect-to-hope-for fall day, and how the world was veritably vibrating with life. I was going to write how the real, tangible, in-my-face earth, the bigger-than-only-human dramas, the wind and the trees and the random little flies that hitch a ride on my jacket as I bike — those remind me, always, that this thing we call life is not just the politics of our world or the horrors of our leaders, although those, certainly, play a role.

But I can see I got distracted by snow geese. And that seems appropriate somehow.

Sometimes this world is just too much to hold at once, but I love it so recklessly.

Welcome back, sandhill cranes, snow geese, and everyone.


  1. <3 This makes me think of one of my favorite memories. Shortly before we moved away from Portland, I was biking… somewhere… from our house on Skidmore. Just as I was getting going, I heard a far-away bird sound that I wasn't familiar with. In the middle of the city, cars and houses all around me, I stopped, looked up, and way, way up high – almost unseeable – were a handful of sandhill cranes flying over the city, calling as they went. It's funny how those moments stick with you? BTW, I am finally reading Braiding Sweetgrass (suggested by you, many years ago), and it's exactly what I needed at this moment.

    • Awww that’s a sweet memory — thanks for sharing it:) Also, I am very excited that you are reading Braiding Sweetgrass. I just watched most of a virtual talk by Robin Wall Kimmerer and was reminded how much I loved that book and her thinking. I’m glad it’s good for you right now! :)

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