Two days late…

A Chinese proverb says “the longest distance in a great journey is the first step.”  An OM proverb says, ”The longest distance in a journey is the last step” as the ever friendly weather gods push the prospects for the St Marks Flyover further and further across the first page of the 2014 calendar.  And as everyone knows, close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades.  But there must be a proverb somewhere that says something to the effect that the second to last step in a long journey is so fast that if you blink you’ll miss it because that’s the way the last flight went.

Richard and I launched into the dark morning sky for the short flight to the pen while I wondered if there was such a thing as real day light in this part of the country.  We rotate leads and this would be my last of the year, so I naturally expected a glorious morning filled, like the first one after the biblical creation, with all the benevolent colors of nature in attendance, nurturing clear emotions of hope, accomplishment and promise while a celestial band played wistfully in the distance. Not!

Before I could call my broker and instruct him to sell my stock in sunscreen, I was in front of the pen waiving my magic glove for the release as Geoff and Colleen swung open the pen panels for the second to last time and out roared that amazing cloud of white….like white doves from a magician’s top hat.  The chicks were obviously as intent as I was to get the whole thing over with.  We climbed together up towards a dark canopy and, assisted by a slight tailwind, we slid across the subdued, uninspiring landscape leading from Georgia to Florida.

But no matter.  Today’s flight was not about the below but about the above.  I sat blessed with a ringside seat watching in relaxed awe as the birds did their thing, moving with and about the trike wing with the accomplished grace mixed with a touch of insecure awkwardness of young ballerinas on stage at their first recital.  First all eight on the left wing, then three and then four shifting over to the right.  And after a while one slid directly in front of me, so close I could almost reach out and touch its tail as his wings cranked rhythmically in the warm air and his head looked side to side for acknowledgement.  “Yes, #7.  You’re very special. Now get your butt back in line with the others.”

How far these chicks have come since they were simple passengers contained in those little egg time capsules collected from the abandoned nests at Necedah and sent to Patuxent for their official beginnings. And amazingly, all the offspring of parents that have also made this journey years ago behind these strange aircraft. Then there are the faces…. the ones belonging to all the dedicated and skilled people who made this moment possible.  Who truly cared.  Some thoughts, if allowed, have the power to overwhelm and so can only be permitted to seep into one’s consciousness a little at a time, especially if one is sitting two thousand feet above good ol’ Mother Earth.  If our flight log books were filled with awe instead of just hours, they would be full indeed.

Soon we were down, birds in the pen and again airborne to hangar the trikes.  There is but a millisecond, maybe two, to savor the magic of my last lead for there is the next thing to be done, to scramble towards, always in ear shot of the ticking clock and its attendant responsibilities.  Preparations for the next day’s Flyover and the day after that and the day after that…. all crowding out the present and turning it into the past with such speed that you wonder if it ever existed at all.  But I guess “last leads” are like that.  One step at a time.


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  1. Jeannie Ulrich January 7, 2014 12:30 pm

    Brooke you write so well. I now have tears streaming down my face. Thanks for all you do for us, OM and these Whooping Cranes. My students and I will be here all winter anxiously awaiting your winter reports. Thanks again for bringing us along.

  2. rusty&barbara richardson January 6, 2014 5:08 pm

    Thanks Brooke, you make us feel as if we are right there with your words. Can not wait for the “book” on the adventures and life of the OM team. Would be a wonderful read. You do make us smile, laugh and cry at the same time.

  3. Barbara Barber January 4, 2014 2:36 pm

    That man sure can write!

  4. Bert Burton January 3, 2014 7:35 pm

    Well spoken, Brooke…as always! Thanks for bringing these beauties to their temporary Winter abode.
    As one journey ends, so begins another…

  5. Lori N January 3, 2014 4:11 pm

    Your words are always wonderful as is all the work you have and will do for the cranes and all things connected. We are looking forward to seeing you at St. Marks. Safe and happy travels!

  6. Matt Vaughn January 3, 2014 12:08 pm

    To the OM staff and pilots, the end of a journey is near. It has had its up and downs, but that comes with the territory. You can rest easy to know that what you all have accomplished for these beautiful cranes will be seen for years to come. It fills the heart of many who have been following this process. Not many good things happen in this world compared to what you have done. Thank You So Much !

  7. Christie Sloan January 3, 2014 10:53 am

    Thanks for your published reports, Brooke, always interesting to read, and for all you do above, below, and behind the scenes.

  8. Ann Gillis January 3, 2014 10:41 am

    Brooke, You are a good writer. Thanks for taking us along with you on this fascinating journey as you and the others gave such good care to our big baby burdz. You are able to make us feel we are there with you and we are there with you in spirit. Thank you. Thank you.

  9. Margie Tomlinson January 3, 2014 8:11 am

    Yes, indeed, Brooke! You always say and do it so well! Thank you for continuing to take such good care of our birdies! ((<3))

  10. Kay January 3, 2014 7:57 am

    Thank you, Brooke, for all your public leads and for all the unseen work you have done on behalf of the now not quite so endangered but always idiosyncratic whooping cranes. It certainly has been my pleasure to catch glimpses of your helping and insightful ways.

  11. Richard P. Chase January 3, 2014 7:22 am

    Thanks to you again, Brooke, for making the flight interesting as well as the on-board camera makes the flight awe-inspiring for those of us that are able to watch. Certainly, I have never piloted an ultra-light but your reading your reports lets my mind slide into the pilot seat and enjoy the ride.

  12. Fern Culhane January 3, 2014 5:44 am

    thanks for all your work Brooke, I always enjoy your lead reports too!