Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why cranes fly -- a Saturday reprise


There were a few Comments here recently about herons, from right around the world. What is the power of this bird to touch our minds and hearts?

The naturalist Aldo Leopold was intimately familiar with the cranes of Wisconsin, cousins of our New England great blue heron, the Irish gray heron, and Adam2's aosagi from Japan, and wondered about their ability to move us so deeply. In A Sand County Almanac he watches as a crane "springs his ungainly hulk into the air and flails the morning sun with mighty wings." Our ability to perceive beauty in nature, as in art, begins with the pretty, he says, then moves into qualities of the beautiful yet uncaptured by language. The beauty of the crane lies in this higher realm, he proposes, "beyond the reach of words."

Words may fail, but poets have tried to capture the ineffable.

John Ciardi sees "a leap, a thrust, a long stroke through the cumulus of trees" and stops to praise "that bright original burst that lights the heron on his two soft kissing kites."

Theodore Roethke observes a heron aim his heavy bill above the wood: "The wide wings flap but once to lift him up. A single ripple starts from where he stood."

In Chekhov's The Three Sisters, sister Masha refuses "to live and not know why the cranes fly, why children are born, why the stars are in the sky. Either you know and you're alive or its all nonsense, all dust in the wind."

(This post originally appeared in July 2007.)