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Dispatches from the Road: Kearney, Nebraska

March 20, 2008

I just returned from the University of Nebraska, Kearney, where Joba Chamberlain, Ho-Chunk, began his college studies. Poet Allison Hedge Coke (who brought me to UNK, a great poet and teacher and author of Dog Road Woman, Blood Run, and recent memoir Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer) tells me that Joba was picked up by University of Nebraska, Lincoln because of his baseball prowess. From UNL, the Yankees snagged Chamberlain, and, as the old saying goes, the rest is history.

crane blind The Ho-chunk pitcher grew up in Nebraska where the Sandhill Cranes migration happens every year as it has for 44 million years. Incredible as it sounds that is what the scientists tell us about the cranes. The oldest bird species. Who can ponder 44 million years? Beginning around Feb 16, through April 15, the cranes fly in up and down the Platte River.

This is a picture of one of the Sandhill Crane blinds at the Rowe Sanctuary, just outside of Kearney Nebraska. We gathered at 5:30 in the morning and quietly walked out to one of this crane blind and witnessed the swarming of some 500,000 Sandhill cranes at sunrise. An incredible site, the sound is as loud as the loudest freight train.

Another connection for me is that my colleague, Richard Powers, won the 2006 National Book Award for The Echomaker, and it’s set in Kearney, Nebraska. Powers teaches the graduate fiction workshop in the MFA program at Illinois:

Again there is only here, now, the river’s braid, a feast of waste grain that will carry these flocks north, beyond the Arctic Circle. As first light breaks, the fossils return to life, testing their legs, tasting the frozen air, leaping free, bills skyward and throats open. And then, as if the night took nothing, forgetting everything but this moment, the dawn sandhills start to dance. Dances as they have since before this river started.

sandhill cranes

Credit: Allison Hedge Coke

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