The cranes walk along the roads atop the dikes at Bosque, and they often seem to stand vehicles down, in no hurry to clear the way. It's so good to see them rule the place, when they're hunted for sport all along their flyway. Yes. Sandhill cranes are shot for sport (and occasionally for food) in every state they migrate through. There are seasons and bag limits on sandhill cranes all along their migratory route. If you don't believe me, just Google "Sandhill crane hunt." If you're sensitive, don't. Most birders, who will travel hundreds of miles to watch their migration gatherings, don't know that these "ancient birds" that they admire so much are targets for hunters, and are as shocked as I was to learn it. I think they need to know it, and I often bring it up when I'm among crane fans, even though it doesn't do much for my popularity. Talking about crane hunting in such circles has roughly the same effect as cutting a giant fart at a cocktail party.... The thought of bringing these long-lived, monogamous, family-oriented and highly intelligent birds down for sport or roasting makes me physically ill.
So I click on the comments link and proceed to write about how much I hate the idea of a hunter bringing down any animal, yadda yadda--you know my my views on that--and I'm typing the word verification . . . and then it hits me: the flash of a very old memory. What is it? It was so long ago. . . .
I'm probably four or five years old, and I'm petting a crane. I think to myself in the present, "how could I have petted a crane?" But the memory is persistent; it flashes over and over until it is no longer a single frame but an entire movie: several frames running over and over on a loop. My little hand, petting the blue-gray feathers of a crane.
Suddenly the silent movie becomes a talkie: my father's voice is telling me it's a "heron crane." My sister Mary and I are petting the bird.
I'm sitting here now, knowing now that this is a Great Blue Heron I'm petting--and this heron was stuffed and mounted by my amateur taxidermist father. He kept it in his workroom, along with his bobcat skin and his mounted rattlesnake skin. Maybe my mother wouldn't let him bring this stuff in the house? I don't know. But the heron has been sitting in his workroom for a while, so it's dusty and a little worn.
I remember that I pet the bird every time I'm in his workroom, as I watch him cut wood to make cabinets, or sharpen his garden hoe on his bench grinder, or find a screwdriver to fix some loosened fastening in the house. I pet its soft slick blue-gray feathers, marvel at its long skinny legs, and stare into its yellow-with-brown-pupils glass-marble eyes.
Even now, I can smell the oils, the wood, the metal shavings, the paint and stain, the dust in that room.
And I can remember petting the heron.