The View from 10,000 Feet

twojackI went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain.
There’s more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in a crooked line.
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine.

–Indigo Girls

Sometimes you need a little perspective.  Recently, my family and I traveled to the Canadian Rockies to see the mountains and the wildlife, and to take some pictures.

In middle age, I had forgotten to take into account the altitude and the toll it would take on our bodies.  So that was a bit of a shock to get used to…harder to breathe and exercise, less stamina.  For people who normally live at 500 ft. sea level, a week at 5000 feet was a bit rough. It’s subtle however.  You don’t really feel anything at first, it kind of sneaks up on you.  And we spent  a lot of time going up and down mountains as well, so we were much higher than 5000 feet at many times.

But the thing that stayed with me the most was the lovely quiet.  Standing at the top of a mountain, I had a moment, and one that will stay with me for a long time.  The trees and the mountains, so majestic, were perfectly natural in their environment.  The wildlife, so real and unfettered in its surroundings, was also natural.  The only thing for as far as I could see, that was not comfortable and completely natural in this environment, were humans.

We are the disturbers.

In order for us to be there, we have to change the environment.  We have to chop the trees and move the mountains for our roads and buildings.  We tear up the earth for ski runs and paved trails.  We carve a way so that more of us can come through and enjoy the scenery.  And the more of us that are in any given place, the further everything gets from its natural state.

A little depressing.

In fairness, Parks Canada does a remarkable job in the National Forests to protect everything.  In fact, they would much rather scare off the humans than disturb a bear doing its bear thing.  I think that’s admirable. I think it’s necessary.  Because it seems to me that we are the ones who can cause the problems. We are the ones that disturb the balance of nature. We are the ones who interfere, who travel with all our RV’s and campers and rental cars.  We are the ones purchasing souvenirs, bringing our lunches into campgrounds, making garbage. A bear on the side of the road can cause a traffic jam for half a mile, with people jumping out of their cars trying to get a picture, creeping right up to the animal with their cars, crowding, crowding, crowding.

Don’t get me wrong. We did the same thing.  Are you kidding?  Of course we stopped to see a bear eating along the roadside.  But we were not part of the crowd that was walking up to a wild animal.

Truly, it was  an amazing trip with a view that we could not imagine, being from the flatlands of the midwest. But it really pointed out to me how uncomfortable and intrusive we humans can be.  It’s good to see that the world holds vast places where we are small and insignificant. And that the wildness and the wilderness do just fine without us.

I’m adding a gallery of some of our pics:

The Beauty of the Cranes

In almost any culture, crane sightings are meaningful.  They are signs of joy, life, wisdom, beauty, elegance, and grace.

My family drove out to see the Great Crane Migration.  In case you are not familiar, every year between mid-February and mid-April, 80% of North America’s Sandhill cranes come to eat and bulk up in a 50 mile span of the Platte River in central Nebraska.  The area is estimated to feed around 500,000 cranes.  This year, the experts thought there were even more than that.

Jane Goodall rated it as one of her top ten nature attractions in the world.

The birds spend every night in shallow water – the Platte River. It offers them protection because any predator could be heard splashing as it approaches.  But during the day, the cranes spread out to all the local farmer’s fields.  They will gain approximately 32% of their body weight in preparation for the rest of their journey.  Eventually, the cranes will spread out over North America, including arctic Canada and Alaska and some will travel as far as Siberia to roost and lay eggs.  The young will grow to full size in the summer and travel the whole distance back with their parents in September.  Like many birds, cranes mate for life.

Sanchill Cranes in flight. Keep in mind, these birds are almost 4 ft. tall.

Sandhill Cranes in flight. Keep in mind, these birds are almost 4 ft. tall.

We spent time in a bird blind, waking at 4:30 am.  This experience itself is almost supernatural. We awoke in the dark and joined others at the Rowe Audubon Sanctuary.  It was 17 degrees outside with a straight 20 mph wind.  The sanctuary has no lights outside, as that might disturb the birds.  The guides walk you down the half mile to the river in pitch blackness, with an occasional red light so no one falls.  Everyone must silently enter the blind making as little noise as possible.

Unfortunately, on our day, someone the night before had used a flash camera and so the birds got spooked and were a bit of a distance from the blind.

But as dawn approached, the birds began to stir.  The sound is incredible.  As they take flight, their sheer numbers are nothing short of amazing.

During the day, you really see them everywhere.  In the sky, in the fields.  The behavior is fascinating, as they never seem to change.  This has been going on for 600 years, maybe more.

If you’d like to see them yourself, visit

Watch the crane cam around 7-8 pm at night as they gather to rest, or 7-8am in the morning as they take off for the fields.  You get a real feel for the auditory experience as well.

The lesson for me is to recognize our role in nature. We belong, but we don’t own.  We can celebrate it, but never control it.  Peaceful harmony is the goal.  And it only took 500,000 cranes to remind me.

Cranes eating in corn fields.

Sandhill Cranes eating in corn fields.

Cranes take flight in the morning.

Taking flight in the morning. My view from the blind.