There are a few locations in North America where meetings with sandhill cranes spontaneously occur; southern Wisconsin, especially in early spring, is one such place. The surprised rural walker is allowed a very near approach, not dissipating but intensifying the sense of the bird’s otherness and ancientness. No attempt here to suggest their amazing cries and movements, or their tranquil sense of ownership of the ground beneath them. Instead, celebration of the persistence of these birds, as they inhabit less and less of our planet with undiminished dignity.
1. Encounter. In responding to my spontaneous close meetings with cranes, I wanted to make a music which happens naturally (perhaps reacting to a surfeit of in-your-face, “impressive” pieces, some my own). Eclogue—a pastoral, idyllic poem.
2. Flight. For these birds flight seems to be a formal, un-hurried, sensuous ritual.
3. The Sadness of Marshes. “The sadness discernible in some marshes arises, perhaps, from their once having harbored cranes.” Since Aldo Leopold wrote this, a half-century ago in A Sand County Almanac, the cranes have somewhat recovered, but many of their former haunts no longer host this bird—“symbol of our untamable past.”
4. Dance-Variations. While the chorale-tune subject of these four dance-variations is known here as “Now Thank We All Our God,” its origins are three centuries ago in Europe, making this song of thanksgiving many millenniums younger than the crane species.