Kathy Miner, who wrote the story below from a HY2001 Whooper's point of view, reminds us: "In the fall of 2001 two ultralight pilots led a small group of Whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida as the first step towards restablishing a migratory flock. The following spring the surviving birds made it back on their own, and for the first time in 100 years,wild Whooping cranes flew over Wisconsin. This is the story of their journey as they might tell it years from now."

Contributed by Kathy Miner

Listen, little colt,
as the marsh breathes in darkness
and all becomes quiet: I will tell you what I know
of the Great Returning. Many nestings ago
two giant cranes, the biggest ever seen,
came from beyond the blue curve
and led us back, our tiny band following the wide triangles
of their wings, the strange purring of their bellies,
low over the ground to a place of salty water
many small islands
stretched hours of sunshine
and enough blue crabs
for all to eat. You will see this place yourself
when summer ends.

Forty-eight suns we flew with them
over the blue and the green and the brown,
the rise and the flat land, even the straight gray rivers
alive with growling beasts. We were afraid, then,
and tried to turn back; but gently the Grandmother and Grandfather,
for that is who they were,
pulled us along. We did not all survive
the journey: a screaming storm took one of us
early on, when our night shelter and our nerves collapsed
and we ranged in panic on the hillside, calling to our leaders for comfort,
hearing only the windís black answer. Why were they still
in that dark hour, why didnít they fly
to our side? One brother tried to go
for them, but was thrown back lifeless
to the ground.

In the warm land, too,
we found danger: two of our number perished quickly there,
caught by four-leggeds with pointed ears
and vicious teeth. Their bones now feed
the Florida soil. But five birds lived,
and remembered,
and one day were stirred into flight
toward the north,
toward the place of their beginning,
the place of our ancestors. Day by day
they traveled back, then year by year their numbers grew,
and today we are common and strong
in the wetlands of Wisconsin,
dancing in pairs on the marshes,
raising our long-legged young.

We do not know what became of the Great White-Winged Ones
nor the silent, shapeless creatures
who were their company, but owe our lives and yours
to their teachings, and so I tell this story,
that you may tell your chicks in turn
and all give thanks. May they come back for others
in the hour of need, for we are all
related. Now sleep, little colt,
sleep safely, safely sleep.

Copyright Kathy Dodd Miner, 2002. Used with permission.

Try This! Journaling Questions
Kathy Miner, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, told us this about herself and the poem you just read:

"I wrote my first poem when I was nine years old and in the fourth grade. That's more than 40 years ago. By now I have hundreds! I was inspired to write this particular one by a photograph that was on the Operation Migration website. It was taken from directly underneath the cranes and the ultralight while they were flying, on their way down to Florida. It just showed white wings against a blue sky. It didn't take any imagination at all to see it as one big crane and a bunch of smaller ones! That made me think about the birds' understanding of the trip, and how they might tell the story if they could. I decided to try and tell it for them. I wrote the poem in January of 2002, while the cranes were still at the refuge in Chassahowitzka. So when I wrote it, we didn't know yet if they would even make it back to Wisconsin. That part was just hoping. But everything else in it actually happened to them, as you know if you've been following their story."

  • Think about the "players" in this great drama, which has been called the conservation equivalent of putting a human on the moon. The pilots, ground crew, citizens who live under the flight path, Refuge workers who see the flock grow year by year, a biologist like Dan Sprague who helps train the newly hatched chicks and accompanies them on migration, one of the oldest flock members or one of the youngest ones--there are many points of view in this unfolding story. Choose one, as Kathy did, and write your own tribute, poem, or story from that point of view.
  • List clues in Kathy's story that give facts about the whoopers' first historic ultralight-led migration, which took off with eight birds in the flock. (To learn more about the very first year in the reintroduction project, see Journey North's 2001 Highlights here.)
  • Who are the Great White-Winged Ones and the silent, shapeless creatures? Why doesn't the crane in the story know what became of them?