We may well be about to begin the first week of active combat in the Third World War. All of Blogistan, as well as the mainstream media is full of points of view on what to do in Iraq and why. Everybody is shouting, and few are listening. The President's mind is made up. Saddam Hussein's mind is made up. Chirac's mind is made up.
Fortunately, every now and again I get a reminder that something exists beyond what we humans are busy doing to each other and, perhaps, something that will survive our own stupidity. I got a reminder of that this week.
Nebraska's location means it lacks a few geographical features I'd have if I designed my ideal place to live: it has no beach; the weather is too damn cold in the winter; there are few trees; and no mountains at all (the "Bohemian Alps" don't count). But, of course, the yin and yang of life means this lack in one area is made up in another. The Cornhusker state sits on the flyways of major bird migrations. Twice a year, especially in spring, we are blessed by the passing-through of two major migrations: the sandhills cranes, which stop over along the Platte River, and wild geese.
You have to go to Grand Island and Kearney (about a hundred miles west of here) to see the cranes. It's worth it, though. There are literally tens of thousands of them, either feeding in fields of stubble near the river or flying along the river seeking new forage (they eat bugs) or places to roost. At sunset they come in by formations, squadrons, fleets, all in massive, sweeping V-formations to land on safe islands in the river to rest for the night. There's nothing like it. If you find yourself driving along Interstate 80 for the next month or so, stop off at Crane Meadows near Grand Island. Take an hour to see the cranes. It will improve your mood tremendously.
Impressive though the cranes are, I am infinitely more inspired by the sight of the geese who pass over Nebraska on their way north this time of year. Imagine it: you are driving along a small rural road under a clear sky. Off on the horizon to the south, you see what appears to be a small whisp of cloud. As you drive, you notice the cloud is growing quickly. And it's heading your way. Unlike most clouds, it's shifting, changing shape quickly. Then you can make out the first individual formations: thirty, fifty, a hundred white specks, twinkling in the sunlight as their wings catch the rays of the sun and scatter them across the prairie. Behind them are more -- two, three, ten, twenty more formations, covering a mile wide. By the time your path and theirs intersect, the sky is covered from horizon to horizon with shifting V shapes of geese. Now you can see that some are darker than others: snow geese fly with Canada geese; Canadas with blue geese; all bound north for their summer lands with one purpose: to feed, to breed, to spend their lives doing what geese do, peacefully, without disturbing anyone else except that part of the natural food chain to which they belong. As one leader tires, another quickly takes its place with no wrangling or fighting: the others in its formation keep follwing. Should a few from one formation fall behind, another formation picks them up and they fly on. You stop your car -- you have to; you can't let this go unobserved. Now you can hear them calling to each other clearly; the unmistakable "honk" between individuals.
Sometimes it happens at night: I'll be in a parking lot and hear their call. I block the light from the sodium vapor lamps that are everywhere, and I can see them; the moonlight reflecting off the white wings of the snow geese among them. If I am very lucky, I'll see their sillhouette against the face of the moon, and I weep for joy.
All too soon they're gone, leaving no trace behind -- except the overwhelming sense of wonder that only nature can evoke.