Friday, September 28, 2012

midwest cultural tours - cranes (tsuru)

Whooping Cranes
I love cranes. Seeing cranes; hearing them; being in their presence. I don't recall ever seeing them near my hometown of Elroy when I was growing up, but two years ago, I saw them so many times that I stopped counting. I saw them in the bog near my home in Anchorage; along a trail a few miles from my home. I saw them along the 400 Trail when I biked from Chicago to Elroy that June. And I saw them in August near the apartment my parents had lived in for several years. I also remember driving my mom on an errand and having a pair fly over the highway directly in front of us. I nearly slowed the car to a stop to watch them. Cranes were very much on my mind in 2010. For their beauty, their calls, their size. Also their symbolism: longevity, loyalty, wisdom. It was as though they were telling me something.

All the cranes I saw that year were sandhills. The only variety I had ever seen. But the International Crane Foundation, just outside Baraboo, protects every species of cranes that exist around the world. African varieties, Asian, Eurasian, Australian, North American. (No cranes in South America.)

On a cool Saturday morning, Jon and I took a trip to visit the foundation. It was our last full day in Wisconsin before driving back to Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon. Though the foundation has been in existence since 1973, I'd never been there. I knew about it, but when I lived in Wisconsin I never felt compelled to visit. We were able to join a tour and learn a little about the different species, each of which were on display in their enclosures. I won't go into detail about the foundation, but one of their missions is to protect habitats of all crane species worldwide. That's a huge mission, especially when you look at the map and see just how much range they have, often crossing political boundaries.

Grey Crowned Crane, so beautiful.

Blue Cranes posing in front of their mural.

Whooping Crane. In the 1940s, there were only 21 in the wild.
So, it's fitting that between the public space and the facility where most of the cranes are housed and raised, the foundation has begun reestablishing habitat. Restored marshland and prairie, along with existing woodland. It lends an example of what kinds of habitats support crane populations and how important habitat is to the recovery of endangered birds, such as the whooping cranes. Jon and I took a stroll through the trails and had them all to ourselves, yet, we could still hear the calls of the cranes.

Along a path through restored prairie.

Mystery pods.

Outside the Education Center.

Besides being curious about the foundation and the work they do, another reason I wanted to make a visit is that one of my characters in the book I've been working on works at a facility that researches cranes. Whether it's a wetland reserve or a scientific foundation, I'm not sure, but I wanted to see how things were set up so I could get an idea of whether it would work for the book. (You see, it's all research!) I still haven't decided how I'll integrate the ideas into the book, if at all. Either way, I'm glad we visited the foundation so we could see the cranes up close. That alone is reason enough to visit.

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