This morning, I was sitting eating breakfast when I received a call from a friend of mine, insisting that I get on my bike that moment and join her and a few other park seasonals to search for cranes. I hesitated a moment, thinking about leaving my butter and syrup-laden pancakes and then snapped into action. What better way to spend a morning than seeking out ancestral descendants of dinosaurs floating over Gustavus?
This migratory phenomenon happens twice a year in spring and fall. Sandhill Crane, which nest further north, pass through Southeast Alaska en route to wintering grounds in the Southwest. They may pause briefly and land but more often they are seen and heard in flight.
I am generally content to keep my feet on the ground and lift my binoculars to the sky in search of my avian counterparts. Yet, there is something so unearthly and haunting about these cranes that it touches a desire buried deep within to lift off, feel the air encircle my body, and fly among them.
I mentioned earlier that there are no human roads to Gustavus and Glacier Bay. But what of the paths that weave through the air? One of the most wonderful earthly feelings is the moment one’s body plunges into a body of water and is enveloped completely. It is the feeling of the water – be it glacial, tropical, fresh or salt – and it is also the sense of having left one world for another, one where humans are visitors for but a brief moment in time.
I wonder if one would experience a similar sensation taking flight with migrating birds, to feel the air encircle one’s body and watch the earth pass by below. Riding my bicycle home, I imagined the air currents I created were similar to those the cranes were riding above me. How can one attempt or even hope to capture this experience without being able to truly experience this phenomenon?
Technically, today is Labor Day, though I must claim some ignorance on the true origins of this national holiday. I think I prefer my friend’s description of today as “Mountain Day”. She went to Mount Holyoke for college and on a beautiful fall day such as today, classes would be canceled, the library locked, and dining halls open only in the morning for students to pack a lunch. On these days, students would climb Mount Holyoke and eat ice cream upon reaching the top. And why not? On days such as these, why should anyone be obliged to remain indoors? Especially in regions when a day of sunshine can be a rare and precious commodity. I say, “carpe diem”!