Senior prose


A MOURNFUL WHOOPING CRY 

by Don M. Blews

 

            I was listening for a distant sound warning us it was time to leave this wetland, when I heard her spirited whooping cry. Her bugle tones bellowed to the far side of the marsh, filling it with the song of life. I turned to see her slim legs carry her above the water as the tips of the marsh grasses caressed her belly.

            Her body was the purest of white except for the seductive black cheeks and the bare crimson patch on her forehead. Following urges deep within me and the lure of spring air, I waded toward her. Strutting away in anxiety of my advance, she flaunted her classy rump, displaying the tell-tale ruffled tuft of our species.

            She quickly resumed feeding, snaking her slender neck through the tall grasses below. Well-endowed as the perfect marsh feeding machine, she was able to catch any fish darting from her shadow. Showing no restraint, she plucked a baby alligator from the puff mud with her long bill.

            Suddenly our heads rose in unison to the distant sound we were waiting for, bringing our attention back to the expanse of water and saw grass. Recognizing the flutter of activity above, we knew it was time. I watched as she graciously lifted her wings for flight. The jet-black wing-tips revealed her wingspan.... greater than a lofty eagle's. As she ascended, I sensed the clamor overhead getting closer and promptly followed.

            Now airborne, a few more brisk down strokes will bring us to thee flock soaring far above. This journey would bring us to our summer nesting grounds in a wilderness region clear across the country due north. And, as in seasons of the past, instincts were playing havoc as I gazed at that vision of splendor with her neck outstretched and sinewy legs trailing behind. The urge increased until we were almost a pair, but first our journey.

            During migration one of our greatest assets is the ability to accumulate untold miles with effortless gliding. Drifting aloft we see the tiny treetops of the forests and the reflecting clusters of water steadily rolling beneath us as if we were stalled in the air. Although we are relatively safe in the sky today, an old terror still lurks in the beauty below.

            Since the humans first stepped foot on our soils, my great forefathers were hunted relentlessly for their tasty flesh and precious feathers. Though this breed of humans has died off and a new breed has begun to consider us natural residents of this land, we still fear their weapons of past destruction.

            Halfway across the country and many sky miles behind us, our flock reached the big feeding stop. The broad river below reached out with its flowing fingers as if to swallow the encroaching grain fields. Before moving in, we circled the surrounding prairies to spot any disturbances since last year. Once on the ground, it was time to rest and appease our appetites before lifting off on the last leg of our journey.

            On arrival at our old breeding grounds, a remote bog nestled in the safety of virgin forests, I found myself standing face to face with those ebony cheeks and slender neck I had found so seductive. One look at the glow in her eyes and the situation was soon out of control as we leaped into the air with our four eyes locked in lust.

            With wings spread to their limits and legs frantically kicking, our hearts bolted as lightning from a furious sky. We repeated this frenzied act over and over, bowing before each wild leap in the air. Looking as if in a furious fight, we were merely crazed by passion.

            To heighten the frenzy, she wailed loud, croaking calls. Tantalized by her cries, I returned the favor. The enchanting bog, our sensual dancing, and carnal wailing, brought on unrestrained antics with all the rage of a bull moose and the tenderness of cuddling doves.

            As many sunsets passed, other instincts took over as we found ourselves building a nest of uprooted marsh grasses and assorted plants from the bog. Soon, the result of that fiery spring dance brought a clutch of two blotchy, buff colored eggs.

            The eggs finally hatched after sitting with them for many more sunsets and sunrises. Cautioned by instinct and memories, we knew we had little time to prepare our brood for the southbound flight before the unforgiving northern winters set in. And so we concentrated on raised our young while watching another summer pass.

            Fall has arrived at the bogs and much has changed. The green has been squeezed from the leaves of the forests and swept with shades of autumn. I see the wood frogs are disappearing to their underground lairs of winter. And, it is that time of the year when the air has begun to carry a chill to our bones and a restless feeling to our feathers. Our young ones are now strong enough and we are anxious to leave before the big freeze.

            Once again, I see those black wing-tips lift her body like a smooth white cloud toward the flock soaring far above. This time we join them as a pair on our fall migration to the coastal marshes of our winter home where we may, once again, have the fortune to catch a small alligator or two.

            Upon our return south, we found as with each new season, less undisturbed marsh to feed in. Since the killings have supposedly stopped, there has been a new threat to our existence......the human's development of the marshes. It appears man carries an inbred need to aimlessly expand his territory beyond that of reason.

            Today, as my young ones’ trumpet within earshot and my mate feeds within eyesight, I scan the diminishing marshland before dipping my bill into the dwindling supply of fish. I am a strong and proud bird, but with my flock being the last on earth and my relatives still disappearing I fear for the future.

            We are the tallest flying bird of this land, one of the largest birds in the world, and possibly one of the oldest of bird families in the region. The humans have found fossil remains of our ancestors in Idaho dating back over a million generations. Is this not proof of full rights to this land?

            As the humans continue to drain the marshes for their homes, I envision my family standing on parched soils of a receded marsh, picking the dried remains of small aquatic animal carcasses. Although our offspring will be on our tails a few more seasons, I wonder if they will ever return to the breeding grounds with their own mates. Will there even be any partners to vie for, or will they be the final thread to our extinction as the last Whooping Cranes alive?

            This I ponder in the quiet coastal marsh where I visualize a young, rusty colored bird not yet wearing his proud white plumage, but mature enough to voice his mournful whooping cry. This cry bellows like a bugle playing taps for a lost breed.

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            The selective habits of the Whooping Crane, grus americana, bring them from limited feeding grounds in Aransas National Wildlife Refuse on the Gulf coast of Texas, through a migrating stop-over near the Platte River in Nebraska. They spend their summer's exclusively in undisturbed breeding grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta, Canada.

            The Whooping Crane, with its wingspan of over seven graceful feet, was once only a feather from extinction. In 1941 there were only fifteen in existence, as reported in Endangered Birds of the World /The 1979 ICBP Bird Red Data Book. Thirty years later they were included in the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973.

            Compton's Encyclopedia lists an endangered species as "any plant or animal which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range." And any dictionary definition of extinct means no longer in existence. In our great biosystem this means the gene pool of a species, which man cannot manufacture, has completely ended.

            With ultra-sensitivity to human disturbance as the key to the survival of the Whooping Crane, will we be responsible for the end of a species whose ancestry has been dated to three and a half million years ago? Can we begin to see what we've done to the environment since we arrived in this country a mere twenty thousand years ago?

            The only other of fifteen crane species of the world to live and breed in North America is the Sandhill Crane, grus canadensis. The slightly smaller, gray Sandhill crane is more numerous with a wider migration range covering Northeastern Siberia, Alaska, and most of the Arctic Islands. Their winter grounds range from Florida and Texas to Mexico and California. With more remote breeding regions and a greater extent of winter homes, the Sandhill Crane is less vulnerable to the far reaching effects of human activity and saved from the fate of its cousin, the Whooping Crane.

            Today, toward the closing of the twentieth century, we can report an exciting increase in the Whooping Crane's populations. The American and Canadian Governments have passed tougher federal laws prohibiting the molesting of all endangered species. And wildlife conservation organizations such as the National Audubon Society have strengthened their powerful lobbying of the 1970's and aimed education programs at preventing hunting mortalities.

            Apparently the "fresh meat for survival" ways of our distant ancestors trickled down to our forefather's generation, giving them a license to kill ostentatiously. But hunting ethics have changed dramatically over the last hundred years and we have become sportsman with a new environmental friendly code of values. I have yet to meet a fellow sportsman who could, in any way, justify the hunting ethics of the early twentieth century. Today, those practices of the past are appropriately called poaching.

            Presently, a new threat is greeting the Whooping Crane on its home nesting and feeding sites: the claiming of new land through marsh drainage and development. In National Wildlife's annual environmental issue, February/March 1993, they reported, "Wetlands are being destroyed at the dizzying rate of 35 acres an hour."

            Many efforts to save the species from this latest impact of man come from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The USFWS's Whooping Crane Recovery Team has been protecting specific Texas marshes as migratory crane sanctuaries. The wildlife conservation organizations have also been powerful in this area, targeting education at reducing overzealous development and informing concerned citizens.

            The Canadian government is especially active in its quest to save the 'Whoopers' at their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park of the remote Northwest Territories. "To protect the Whooping Crane nesting grounds," Jessie Kitching writes in Birdwatcher's Guide to Wildlife Sanctuaries, "there is a height restriction for aircraft over the part of the park north of Highway 5. Also, when the great birds are nesting their area is closed from the ground."

            In 1976 the United States and Canada fostered practices that involved placing eggs of the Whooping Crane into nests of the Sandhill Crane. Since each crane has but two eggs, and frequently only one of these survive, this procedure is done with extreme care. After waiting thirty days for the egg(s) to hatch the Sandhill Crane spends two months rearing the young, seemingly oblivious to the pure white body(s).

            From this activity came a success story, most of the young Whooping Cranes have been reared by their foster parents and survive today to continue their species. One such practice taking place in Rocky Mountain, Idaho, known as the "Rocky Mountain" flock, had fifteen individuals by the mid-1980's. These fifteen 'miracles of nature and man', who wintered with their foster parents in New Mexico for the first few years, are now producing 'miracles' of their own.

            Will these commendable actions be sufficient to determine the future of such a majestic creature? Most likely, considering these actions are only the beginning of an encouraging change in man's attitude over his environment. The same bounding energy that has gone into man's selfish dominance over his ecosystem, is now being applied to rebuilding and preserving that ecosystem.

            "Given a few more years of this continent-wide concern," reports Compton's Encyclopedia, Online Edition dated January 31, 1993, "the graceful 'whoopers' may become an inspiring example of what can be achieved for wildlife when conservationists, good sportsmen, and an alert public work together." 

The End


 

CREEPING WRATH 

by Don M. Blews 

 

             I caught him creeping behind as I cruised the highway. He was edging toward an exit ramp to my right, but I wasn't sure if he was going under or over my car. I did know he was angry as he tried crawling up into my trunk. Those twisted lips, his windshield, and a hood was all my rear view mirror revealed of his body...... no grill or headlights.

            Watching him wave an arm like a mad viper and contort his head as a coiled reptile, I sprang into my own mad mode. "This fool can't crowd me," I yelled as if he could hear, "I want my space." I slowed down so I wouldn't get clobbered, but honestly hoped he would not so I could collect from his insurance and his rates would climb. "That'll fix you," I cheered. He only crawled closer as if to say, "Oh yes, I can crowd you, what are you going to do about it?"

            Then his opportunity came.... a way around the traffic. With a vengeful roar he swung into the right lane of sand and gravel attempting to have me 'bite his dust'. He made an impression as he slithered past me with his gravel flotsam ricocheting off my body. "God, it’s over," I spoke a little and shook a lot, "that guy is heading for an explosive heart attack." I cursed his creeping soul and eventually forgot his maniac antics, accepting him as a future traffic fatality. However, I must thank him for teaching me lesson number one: drive defensively and don't irritate the other driver, he may be writhing with haste.

             How misguided was I to think it was all over? Again, he came into my life as I was cruising a rural highway laced with 'S' curves. Startled by his hood ornament almost on top of my trunk, I saw the curve of his hood and the bugs glued to it. Once again, his grill and headlights were hidden from view. Although I couldn't make out his face with the sun's glare, the memories of those angry twisted lips were vivid.

            "What do you want?" I yelled, "I'm already doing five miles an hour over the limit!" There was no way to stop for a road hazard, and just enough blind curves to make his passing impossible. And with him being so close behind in this traffic, a high speed rear-ender would be almost imminent.

            While he waved his fists and poised his head like a king cobra ready to strike, I recalled the first lesson he taught me and decided to eat my pride and not provoke him. Revving up to ten miles an hour over the speed limit, I thought he'd be pleased and back off. This was not the first time I underestimated him as my mirror exposed his coiled rage. Even closer now, I couldn't believe he wanted to continue his deadly game.

            Finally, there it was.... a straight-a-way ahead. In a venomous roar he slid to the left and sprang on up the road, making it clear to me and the other drivers that I had again, 'bit his dust'. I thought aloud, "God, that's over now," before renewing my curse on his creeping soul.

            As in past show-downs, I accepted him as another traffic statistic and forgot about it. Now I must thank him for lesson number two: drive defensively and don't speed up to appease the other driver, he may be ready to strike. We still meet on the roads, but I try not to react and cautiously hold my speed while leaving him room to wriggle around me. His creeping wrath has solved nothing, but sure does make some drivers nervous enough to perform unwise maneuvers.

            Perhaps if I could tell him I was apprehensive and not just apathetic toward him, it would not hurt his ego to back off. Unless of course, he prefers to take the perilous road and continue teaching other drivers the two lessons he taught me. I suppose there will always folks with the extra time, energy, and daring to take on that deadly responsibility.

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             The National Safety Council shows that out of improper driving, which accounts for 67.2% of all auto accidents reported in 1992, 16.5% of those accidents came from speeding too fast and a full 7.2% from following too closely. Whereas, passing stop signs accounts for only 1.6% and disregarding signals for 3.6%. It’s sad that tailgating carries such an "so what, I can stop in time" attitude, by drivers who are so quick to follow other proper driving disciplines like stopping at lights and using turn signals.

            With a 1993 United States population of 258 million people as published in the !994 Information Please Almanac, and a Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration report showing almost 143 million cars on this countries roads, you can hardly avoid a tailgater.

            According to the National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, motor vehicle accidents leading to death in 1992 numbered 41,710. Using simple division, we have a conservative 12 auto related deaths every minute of our lives. And, according to 1991 figures of the National Safety Council, there was an auto related injury every twenty seconds. As one statistic only leads to another in a growing society, that tailgater poses a creeping threat of a deadly kind.

The End


  



© Don Blews 2016