Far north in the Canadian prairies, the shallow waters of a lake ripple and stir. One golden yellow eye opens. The crane shifts legs unusually cold. An inhale of dark, predawn air. Something in the sluggish, heavy breeze whispers, “It’s Time.”
Wings spread and beating, the crane begins running and lifts into the air. One by one, then two, then ten, and then thousands follow, feathers flattening, necks stretching. The cranes circle higher and higher, waiting…waiting, and then they all hear the call, “It’s Time.”
The leader strikes for the south, unerringly drawn by invisible threads of instinct and compulsion. And without hesitation, great clouds of cranes follow, each curling the chorus, “It’s Time.”
In Southern Nebraska, I stood in our corral, hammer in hand and an old coffee can of fencing nails by my feet. My dog rests panting in the shade of a paint blistered shed and the horses, after checking that there were no oats to be had in the coffee can, drift idly away to graze.
A battered broad brim hat shades my eyes and my boots absorb the heat from powdery corral dust. Broken boards and bent, rusty nails – out, new boards and straight, shiny nails – in. Pounding, pulling, stacking, sorting, the job progressed.
Suddenly, one by one, the horses lift their heads and uneasy, look to the north, ears pricked, testing the wind with soft fluttering nostrils. The dog raised himself up, took a few steps out into the sun and also looked to the north, the soft leather of his nose twitching and searching. A queer feeling like a small frisson of electric current darted throughout my body. Sharing the unease of the animals, I slowly turned and looked all around me.
Dropping my jaw just a little to hear better, I too looked to the north and wondered, “What is it?”
Then, I heard them. The voices of a vast multitude, drifting and floating on the wind. Peering skyward, sweat streaking my face, my eyes reached out for …. what? And then, I saw them. The first ragged V’s from the north, flying at such a height that they appeared to be only slender, ragged lines in the sky. But the curling song drifted down and I knew, “It’s Time.”
The cranes called their siren song to me as they swept by so far above, “Hurry! It’s Time! … Hurry! Follow me! .. It’s time .. it’s time .. it’s time…” Their faint, haunting cry softly faded and they vanished from my view.
A bitter and deep despair filled my being. I longed to race madly down the road, flinging hammer and nails and boots to the side while my heavy, pounding feet suddenly become weightless as my arms reach out to cut the air and lift and soar. I want to escape the earth’s clutches and cry “Wait! Wait for me! I’m coming!”
But I cannot.
And so I stand, stupidly staring up to the sky. A cry twists in my throat and tears sting my eyes. Boots permanently anchored into hot, dusty earth; Boots made of concrete. I want to leave so badly.
But I whisper to the cranes, “I cannot… I cannot come with you.”
The dog heads back to the shade and flops down. The horses once again lower their heads to graze but I cannot go back to broken boards and bent nails. I am stuck in the dirt and they have left me. Because, “It’s Time.”