Morning’s Minion…

Yesterday we had our first below 20F walk. No biggie. If there had been a sharp wind, that would have been a different matter, but mostly calm. The light, silence, the blue and gold of the world without snow, ringed by the snowy mountains? How does it get better? It can, which is a little mind-boggling. From the distance a large bird was soaring, and swooping, and hovering — not all raptors hover that way. What was it? It got closer and hovered again, “Spiritu Sanctu.” I loved it. He hunted, swooped, lifted, hovered and again then dashed off across the shallow, frozen pond and I lost sight.

He was a hawk I had not seen before; a rough-legged hawk not that it really matters, but I couldn’t figure out from his markings or color what he was. I got a little irked at myself for trying to pin a name on him, but I forgave myself saying, “You’re a human. That’s what you do. His function in your life is to expand your knowledge and watch in silent wonder. One doesn’t obviate the other.” I thought about that some more — animals do the same without words. They need to know what’s up there so they can make the all-important “kill or be killed” determination. I shrugged, accepted my humanity one more time and moved along so Bear could smell the side of the road which was the whole point of everything.

Earlier yesterday I was just kind of minding my own business when something struck me. The Crane Festival Committee has shared my story about John Patterson because it opens with a little history of the festival. I had written them thanking them and telling them about John’s death. The chairperson wrote back that a lot of people have asked about Cooper the Whooper and she was happy to share that bit of history. Suddenly it hit me, 2023 is the 40th anniversary of the Crane Festival. Would the magazine like a story telling the history of the Crane Festival and its future plans? I wrote the chairman of the festival to see if she would be up for working with me and wrote to the magazine querying the possibility. By the end of the day I had a story I can’t wait to write AND the chance to write for the Crane Festival newsletter.

Honestly I am not very connected to my town. Covid and politics made me psychically move away, but I am deeply tied to the Refuge and the animals who live there and the people who, one way or another, traverse it, coming from all over the world.

Still, my town is part of the story. I was thinking that the lead for the article might be something a clerk said at the local Safeway after I’d gone to my first Crane Festival. I was there with my friend Lois’ developmentally disabled son. We were buying his favorite — Sarah Lee Pound cake. The kid in front of the cash register said, “Did you go to the Crane Festival?”

Mark said, “Yeah.” Mark is EXTREMELY adept at finding birds hiding in trees. He’d seen the mated pair of great-horned owls in a cottonwood tree before the naturalist did.

The kid said, “Did you enjoy it?”

Mark said, “Yeah!” in his inimitable way. He’s a little speech limited, but it didn’t matter. His eyes and voice said what his words couldn’t.

The kid answered, his eyes shining, “We are proud of our Crane Festival.” Maybe that won’t be in the story, but it is the spirit I want to convey. Mark’s feeling of wonder and the cash register kid’s pride in his town.

Since then eight years have passed. For me, thousands of cranes, hours at the Refuge learning about the wetlands. I’m very happy that I get to learn more about it and write about it.

But…this project coincides with the annual book-reading marathon and judging event, so I’m looking at a busy couple of months. The books are already starting to come in. Usually I finish the books by March, but I have until May so, really, maybe there’s no problem.

The featured photo by Roy Priest, Rough-legged Hawk.

18 thoughts on “Morning’s Minion…

  1. I think your connection to Monte Vista and the Crane Festival are stronger than you think! I love the story about Mark and the grocery clerk, as it epitomizes the importance of the festival and the joy of the town as its sponsor — it should be a part of the story, if not the lead! And it’s good to see you so enthusiastic about an upcoming project idea, too — it’s been a while since that happened! Pursue it like that beautiful rough-legged hawk!

  2. Congrats on the writing gigs!

    You’ve shared many wonderful anecdotes about meeting “crane tourists” at the Refuge in your blog, how excited they are, how far they’ve come to see cranes. You’ve got lots of material to mine, showing how important the festival is to the town (businesses), residents (like the clerk, like you), and visitors. Toss in the festival’s history, and it’ll be fantastic. Have fun!

    • Oh, Rebecca, I think this is going to be a lot of fun. I get to look at videos from the first festival — and yes! All the people I’ve met. Those stories are priceless.

  3. Oh, Martha–this sounds like fun-busy projects coming up for you–the Crane Festival, especially. Your love for the cranes shines through every time you write about them.

  4. One of the things I like about reading your blog (one that I hadn’t realized until this moment) is the huge difference in our experiences of the towns we live in. I live in a place about which my brother once said (quoting a co-worker), “There are only 50 people in Madison. The rest are an illusion.” I have a deep connection to this town. People used to ask if I was xx’s son. (My parents moved here 85 years ago.) Later they asked if I was eldest son of xx’s brother. My brother told me that he realized I was an adult the day someone asked him if he were my brother. I helped start some organizations which are approaching their 50th anniversaries. There are places I go walking/riding that are places I have gone to for 50 years or more. My neighbor and best friend has been my riding partner for nearly 50 years. I knew him and his wife before they knew each other. To experience your reality, where the connection to the land is strong but to the people less so, is to see another world – and to remember when I was a stranger in a strange land while living on the coast for ten years.

    • I can’t imagine belonging to a place. I never “belonged” in California (few people do) even though most of my friends were native Californians. There was also something different about me and people would remark about it. Here I will never belong because most of the people who are here are like you in Madison OR they came here for work so they have an identity and purpose within the community. Again, though, most of the people I’ve gotten to know BEST here are from families that have always been here, other than my two neighbors.

      I have been dismayed by the endemic racism between Anglos and Hispanics. After 30 years in Southern California it makes no sense to me and I miss speaking Spanish.

      California — if the people around me know it and most do from direct experience — is Sea World, Disneyland, the ocean. It’s not a small town in the mountains outside San Diego where it snows and houses are heated with wood or propane or both, and plumbing is on a septic and whatever that thing is outside the kitchen for gray water. No one goes from here to CA to experience that. California is also “woke” and high taxes and communism. Therefore I must be too… I guess I’m “woke” and I actually have lived under communism and the taxes paid my salary in CA and my retirement now, so…

      People generalize because it’s efficient and that’s OK. I figured out a while back that my role in this community is that of friendly outsider. It works. People generally don’t expect someone “like” me to appreciate who they are and what they do if it’s agriculture, but I love it and get it. Like when some friends took me to the rodeo thinking it would be my first experience. Pretty soon they saw it was NOT my “first rodeo.” It’s very weird coming up against someone’s idea of who you are, especially when they’re wrong.

      At first I was so happy to be here that I put all kinds of stuff I actually like and was used to out of my mind, but now I miss things. All that said, the inter-personal stuff that works is beautiful and I can live with that. And, as an outsider, I can write very well about my world. It’s a new identity but I like it.

      Nature has been my best friend since my childhood so that’s fine, too. And THIS nature is accessible, new, and filed with interesting animals and nice people — when there are people.

      • Belonging to a place on a human level is funny. I once lived about 100 miles west of here, in the country. I lived in “the old Henthorn place”. Had I lived there the rest of my life, it would still have been the Henthorn place. Maybe after I died it would have been my place but, arriving in adulthood, I would have always been an interloper. Xenophobia is worse if there is an externally visible difference. The non-human animals don’t care how long you’ve been there or where your parents were born.

        • I remember going to school one day, the first winter after I arrived in San Diego. I was wearing a sweater vest. One of my colleagues looked at me and said, “You’re not from here. You dress differently.” It wasn’t curiosity. In my experience the non-human animals just want to know I’m not going to hurt them. Maybe humans are the same in a way. Maybe I don’t expect (or hope?) the non-human animals are going to be friends. There’s a woman here who calls me “friend” and also “outsider.” I’m like, “No, they don’t go together. Be honest. Call me a utility because that’s what I am to you. Thanks for buying my painting, though.” 🤣

  5. Martha that hawk casting about must have been the messenger for your creative muse! I’m looking forward to hearing (and maybe getting to read) all about the history of the crane festival! Your projects has all the earmarks of community. Maybe it will transcend politics and small town cliques to bring everyone together. (I’m a little bit optimistic)…

    • It’s all right. I’m happy with this role in my community. I cannot really participate but someone who’s always been here cannot write this story, or John’s. I’m really grateful. I’ve been wondering what I’m doing here. This might be it.

  6. Congratulations Martha, this sounds like an amazing project! Wishing you lots of fun writing about these magical birds and how they bring together people and all the stories they carry 💖 xxx

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