Cranes sound a spring reveille

During March, my afternoon constitutional sends me to the sugar bush on the back of our farm. Normally, we finish sugaring by the first day of spring, but this year the ground lies imprisoned with frost, drifts of snow block sections of farm roads, and not a pussy willow shows a silver tip.

I trudge though a planting of pines and hope - since the thermometer shows 37 degrees F. - that the sap is flowing. As I near the back pond, still gray with rotting ice, the rasping cry of a single sandhill crane ripples through the surrounding woods.

Four feet tall, his forehead brushed with red, the great bird arches forward, his black-tipped wings brushing the pewter-colored ice as he rises into the gray sky. He calls for his companions, but I do not hear their reply. I wonder: Was this bird a scout sent ahead to select this year's breeding site? I slip into the stand of maple trees and peer into sap buckets. Only a few are half full as the trees struggle between winter and spring.

Later that evening as I go out to collect eggs, I hear the cranes. So high up are they that they are mere specks wheeling in a mighty feathery nebula above our barn. Their cries sift down like the snowflakes spitting upon my cheeks. Somehow these imposing birds can feel the heartbeat of the earth far better than my booted feet. The lengthening days draw them northward and their cries trumpet over the fields, a fanfare for spring.

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