Sandhill Cranes

While Sam and I hung ornaments on our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree, I heard the buzz of the neighbor’s chain saw. Then I heard something else. Could it be?

“Sam. The sandhill cranes are here!”

We rushed out the front door, me in my slippers on the snow-covered walk, to gaze up at their long, uneven V. My scientist friend explained why one tail of the V is so much longer than the other. “It’s because there are more birds on that side,” he said.

My heart, ready to burst, sang with joy amidst the heartache as we watched and listened. My four children are a long way from Indiana. Now with seven grandchildren and three more on the way (twins included), families do not venture home to us for the holidays. Hanging their homemade ornaments is a bittersweet hour of my year.

The raw power of nature digs deep into my soul. The cranes sing hope to me. I don’t know why they affect me so much. Maybe it’s because they fly over Flesher Pond only twice a year – in spring and fall migration. One of Indiana’s best wildlife shows is found in the marsh in northern Indiana Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area from late September through December. Flocks of cranes stop to feed, dance, and roost. Then they fly south over us.

Maybe it’s the seldom available events which mean so much. No. That can’t be right. Spending holidays together every year was the norm in my childhood. It was good to look forward to grandparents and cousins, and favorite aunts and uncles. All the gifts, and loud, noisy fun. And the good food – the ham from Grandpa’s pig; hot buttered yeast rolls; and my favorite, Grandma’s dried corn, soaked and cooked to perfection. Everyone needs family.

But many don’t get that happiness. I treasure now the few and in-between times. Traveling to New York in the fall to say Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas all over one weekend is gold. In Seattle, I wait until summer when the weather on Puget Sound is perfection. Once, my younger son took me sailing on Lake Union for the afternoon. Just the two of us. Pure gold. Christmas in July.

God bless those of you who celebrate life and good gifts with your family each year. The Eternal Father, strong to save, sees and hears your praising hearts. For the rest of us, He hears our aching hearts. And those that are broken, too.

I remember my sister when, as a teenager, she fell off her horse and broke three ribs. She couldn’t take a full breath for the knife-pains. Twenty-five years ago, the first Christmas after my divorce was the hardest. The children were at their dad’s, and I was alone in the house. That morning, I couldn’t take a full breath either, for broken dreams and fragmented lives.

The years gone by have eased the pain. Now I am content when I hear the sandhill cranes, and run outside to say hello again for the two minutes it takes them to pass over. These in-between moments are golden.

“How all his malice serv’d but to bring forth Infinite goodness, grace and mercy shown On Man by him seduc’t . . .”

John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Lost