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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Ancient Call of the Sandhill Crane

Air Date: Week of

Sandhill cranes come in for a landing at sunset (Photo: Georgia Richards, used with permission)

Each fall, sandhill cranes return to winter refuges in the southern U.S. and Mexico. Writer Jennifer Junghans reflects on what their ancient calls evoke in her when they return to her city of Sacramento, California each year.



Transcript

BASCOMB: Sandhill cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any living bird species, going back at least two and a half million years. Today, some overwinter in refuges near cities like Sacramento, where writer Jennifer Junghans lives.

JUNGHANS: Each fall I wait with anticipation for their arrival. The unmistakable call of Sandhill Cranes overhead, reaching the end of their fall migration from their breeding grounds to overwinter in warmer destinations.

[SANDHILL CRANES CALLING, MACAULAY LIBRARY AT THE CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY, CONTRIBUTOR: DENNIS LEONARD]

JUNGHANS: It’s a sacred call to me — an auditory equinox twice a year marking the turn of the seasons. So enchanting I’m inclined to trumpet a call of my own, announcing the magnificence of the moment to all who will listen. Marveling at the wonder that we have chosen the same geography to call home for the next six months.

[MUSIC: Blue Dot Sessions, “Thread Indigo,” Textiles, Blue Dot Sessions 2020]

JUNGHANS: While the numbers of these ancient birds have been reduced to a fraction of what they used to be, we haven’t yet upset the rhythm of their migratory patterns. An unspoiled grain of wildness I feed upon, to satisfy my hunger for joy, solace, strength and comfort. The same way I feed on the warmth of the sun beneath my skin.


Sandhill cranes rely on open meadow and wetland habitats (Photo: Jennifer Junghans, used with permission)

[CARDINAL SONG, GENGHIS ATTENBOROUGH VIA FREESOUND.ORG, CREATIVE COMMONS CC BY-NC 3.0]

[WOODLAND BIRDSONG, JUSKIDDINK VIA FREESOUND.ORG, CREATIVE COMMONS CC BY 4.0]

JUNGHANS: The musical notes of birds.

[WOOD THRUSH SONG, PEACEMEDITATION VIA FREESOUND.ORG, CREATIVE COMMONS 1.0]

JUNGHANS: The shade of trees. Wild places to wander that are alive with creatures.

[RUSHING RIVER SOUND, CASTLEOFSAMPLES VIA FREESOUND.ORG, CREATIVE COMMONS CC BY 3.0]

JUNGHANS: Rushing rivers. Symphonies of croaking frogs at dusk.

[FROGS CROAKING, DANJOCROSS VIA FREESOUND.ORG, CREATIVE COMMONS 1.0]

JUNGHANS: A ripe fig begging to be plucked. Earth beneath my bare feet.

[MUSIC: Blue Dot Sessions, “Thread Indigo,” Textiles, Blue Dot Sessions 2020]

JUNGHANS: I think my whole life has been about getting back to nature, an idea that’s weaving its way back into our global consciousness with forest bathing and a focus on reviving outdoor play among children. A reckoning that we have lost something we instinctively need. I think about that a lot in the context of our expanding footprint and advancing technology. Our communication with others reshaped into the form of a tweet, a text, a ding or a like. Concrete jungles sprawling over wild land to house us in mega homes we’ll work the rest of our lives to pay for. A continuum that shuttles us further away from nature, from the way things used to be.

[MUSIC: Blue Dot Sessions, “Thread Indigo,” Textiles, Blue Dot Sessions 2020]

JUNGHANS: But come fall, when the Sandhill Cranes trumpet their arrival home, the distance between me and the natural world compresses. Seated at dusk at the edge of the marsh where wild things live, I watch the silhouettes of these grand birds parachute against a blazing orange and pink sky.


Sandhill cranes have long tracheas (windpipes) that allow them to produce their unique trumpeting call. (Photo: Georgia Richards, used with permission)

[SANDHILL CRANES CALLING, MACAULAY LIBRARY AT THE CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY, CONTRIBUTOR: PAUL MARVIN]

JUNGHANS: They break the still of the water, and gather and murmur in legions to rest in the shallows. It’s magical to witness. And it summons the ancient memories buried somewhere in my being of the wildness from where we came. The same wildness that’s the missing link between our past and our future. And what we do with it will govern how well we fare as individuals and a species.

[MUSIC: Blue Dot Sessions, “Thread Indigo,” Textiles, Blue Dot Sessions 2020]

JUNGHANS: I wonder. What are we willing to do with our blip of time on this planet, to ensure that our descendants so distant they will have forgotten us, can still measure the seasons by the ancient call of the Sandhill Crane?

[SANDHILL CRANES CALLING, MACAULAY LIBRARY AT THE CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY, CONTRIBUTOR: PAUL MARVIN]

BASCOMB: That’s writer Jennifer Junghans with her essay, “The Ancient Call of the Sandhill Crane.”

 

Links

Learn more about Sandhill Cranes

Writer Jennifer Junghans’ website

 

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