“Crazy Person” Follow-up

Regular readers will recall when last week, Brooke Pennypacker wrote about our adventures last year when we left Columbia County in an attempt to make it to Green County. His post was titled “Crazy Person.” Brooke spoke of landing short of our destination, only to encounter a group of students who were out on a class trip that day.

We received the following last evening and encourage you to read it to see just how much of an impact that day’s adventures had…

Dear Operation Migration,

I want to begin by saying “Thank you” to all of you for the amazing work that you do. My son and I have been following your work over the past several years. We are often learning new information about whooping cranes, and are in awe over your continuous dedication to your work. I really appreciate your efforts to keep the general public informed of your work and the progress of the yearly training and migration with your use of the crane cam, Field Journal, fly overs, and now the recent addition of the Sunday afternoon live chats. The fact that you are willing to pull us in and allow us to be a part of your world is truly remarkable.

That being said, I hope you don’t mind me sharing a story. I felt compelled to write to you after reading Brooke’s “Crazy Person” entry in the Field Journal. I really loved reading his humorous perspective on the events of that day.

As I mentioned, my son as been following along with me. He is currently ten years old, but for as long as I can remember he has had a big heart and awareness for animals, plants, and conservation. In May of 2013, we visited our local zoo for their International Migratory Bird Day event, as we learned that members from Operation Migration and International Crane Foundation would be there. It was at this event where we met Doug Pellerin and spoke with him for a bit about his role with Operation Migration. Doug let my son try on his helmet and crane puppet, and I took a photo.

Fast forward to fall of 2013. As a means of encouraging students to write on their own time, my son’s classroom teacher set up an internal writing system where students could write about and share their own thoughts and topics of interest with members of that class. My son chose to share his knowledge of whooping cranes and Operation Migration. He described the training, the trikes, the migration route, and the flight cam. He included the picture of him wearing Doug’s helmet and crane puppet, and even provided a link to your web site for all in his class to read and learn about. He later took this blog and turned it into an informational piece of writing that was also shared with his class.

Being from an area in between migration stops #3 and #4, I pay particular attention to arrival and departure dates of these stops. I recall the day you left Columbia County for Green County last year. While I am not a chatter on-line, I did try to look in at the chat every so often to see if there was any indication that the cranes made it to their next pen site. I recall reading several comments throughout the day that cranes had dropped out at various locations, and I could not wait to get home from work to see if there was any updated information. I did receive an update, however, not in the way that I had expected. My son gave me the first hand news in the car ride home from school that day.

My son had gone to school that day with the excitement of heading out on a class field trip. The trip was actually planned for a week prior, but was rescheduled due to, well…poor weather–an issue I assume you all know quite well. That morning, four classrooms of students made their way out to this great Conservancy just outside of town to study the geography, geology, history, and culture of this area of Wisconsin. I have to say I felt like a bit of a “crazy person” for having the fleeting thought that maybe, just maybe, if my son looks in the sky when he is out in that field, he might catch a glimpse of a couple of trikes with whooping cranes following close behind.

My son was working with a small group of students on a side project pertaining to the Conservancy, and thus were off investigating with a chaperone in a separate area from the rest of the students. Soon, their attention was drawn to the sky. There was a small airplane flying overhead, but it isn’t all that unusual to see and hear small planes in this area with the local airport not too far away. But, as they took another look they realized they saw more than the small airplane. Can you imagine the awe in these kids and their chaperone as they saw Brooke and 4 whooping cranes float from the sky and land literally right in front of them? My son saw it happen, but couldn’t believe it was real. He looked to the sky again, and that small plane was still overhead. They all froze…not with fear, but with wonderment. My son recalls Brooke holding up and waving his hands, which was the clear signal to stay back. They slowly retreated and made their way back to the rest of the group.

Upon returning to the group, they could not contain their excitement. As my son describes:

“We ran back to find my teacher and tell him that we saw the cranes and the ultralight, and that the pilot told us to stay back. Some of the other kids wanted to see what was going on, so we walked back over and tried to hide in the trees at the top of the hill. I could not believe that this was real! Now my class can see what I have been sharing with them about Operation Migration. My teacher, the students, and the naturalist were so excited! I thought that it was so cool and I couldn’t wait to tell my mom, but I thought it would be cool for the other kids to know about Operation Migration so that they could learn about a bird that is endangered, and also I know that a lot of other kids like animals.”

When the class returned to school, they followed up with a discussion on the morning’s events. The classroom teacher followed up again with his students the next day, discussing Operation Migration and allowing students to ask questions and talk about this incredible experience. It definitely was made clear to students and parents alike what a rare and unique opportunity this was for all. My son was aware that Brooke was the pilot with those 4 birds, and thus providing the class with the name of said “crazy person.”

While I listened to him tell this story with complete amazement, I have to say I was also a bit nervous for the birds, hoping the students stayed out of sight and kept their voices down. Yet, I was so overjoyed that these students were able to see first hand the work that you do. These students left that field trip with a lesson like no other.

Even a year later, my son recalls that moment in the Conservancy as so surreal. Now, it’s a new school year, new students, and new teacher. My son’s class was instructed to write a short informational piece as an in class assignment. He chose to write about Operation Migration once again. He loves to write, so no, he wasn’t taking a shortcut from last year’s work. He just knows how important your work is and wants to share it with others.

So, Brooke, we don’t really think of you as a “crazy person.” In fact we are so grateful for what all of you do. It is amazing to see how much dedication, perseverance, and coordination it takes to do the work that you do. Thank you for opening your world to the rest of us; for sharing your stories, for letting us watch you in action, and for your overall commitment to the importance of whooping crane conservation.

Here is a link to a newsletter from Pope Farm Conservancy from fall of 2013 that featured a brief article on Brooke’s landing with the birds: https://popefarmconservancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/News-Updates-for-Friends-of-Pope-Farm-Conservancy-Nov-2013.pdf

We are hoping the weather improves soon, so that you can continue on with this year’s migration!


Anna Bechner and Ethan

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  1. Anna November 18, 2014 9:17 pm

    Thanks to all for the very kind words both here and on the chat. Also thanks to Heather for requesting to post our story for all to read. We have been so touched by a warm response from such a wonderful group of people. I also owe a great deal of gratitude to Ethan’s teacher of last year. While we have been long time followers of OM, it was this teacher who provided the platform for Ethan to blog and pursue his interests through writing, made arrangements for the field trip, and took the time to follow up with his class on this incredible event. Now, if only Mother Nature would show some kindness to help OM and these whoopers make their way south…

  2. jillbru November 14, 2014 2:52 pm

    Wonderful story; wonderful boychild! Brought tears to my eyes too. I know Brooke and the OM crew must be so very proud…

  3. Ann Gillis November 13, 2014 11:14 am

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us. Anna and Ethan we are grateful for you and we would like to keep in touch. Without a doubt you truly are one of us! I cried grateful tears when I read your story. Grateful for a really fine, loving mom encouraging a son she loves and grateful for leadership and sharing that Ethan is doing.

  4. Madeline November 13, 2014 11:02 am

    And not a dry eye in the house …

  5. Mary W-D November 13, 2014 10:11 am

    Thank you Anna and Ethan for sharing this delightful real-life story. I’m dancing a bunch of hoorays! I’m also smiling a lot as I imagine the OM team receiving this addendum to Brooke’s post. 🙂

  6. Carol Berglund November 13, 2014 8:35 am

    Thank you Heather and OM for sharing this letter. It brought tears to my eyes, too. Thank you Anna for being a wonder-full parent, sharing the wonders of our earth with Ethan and with us. Thank you Ethan for paying attention and caring and sharing with your class and with us. Thank you OM for all your work and for hanging in there as we pray for calm winds so that you can leave our currently cold county and get those young ones to warmer climes for the winter.

  7. Cheryl Nichol November 12, 2014 8:28 pm

    ” Soon, their attention was drawn to the sky. There was a small airplane flying overhead, but it isn’t all that unusual to see and hear small planes in this area with the local airport not too far away. But, as they took another look they realized they saw more than the small airplane. Can you imagine the awe in these kids and their chaperone as they saw Brooke and 4 whooping cranes float from the sky and land literally right in front of them? My son saw it happen, but couldn’t believe it was real. He looked to the sky again, and that small plane was still overhead. They all froze…not with fear, but with wonderment.” Thank you, Anna and Ethan, for sharing such a once-in-a-lifetime experience that would be a dream come true for me, too. This is one of the best passages I have read anywhere about what it would be like to see a whooping crane. Ethan, keep up the great work in educating your classmates about the whoopers. You have my admiration. Anna, well done, well done, regarding your writing and your son.

  8. eugenia November 12, 2014 7:40 pm

    What a great story! Thank you, Anna and Ethan, for sharing it with us.

  9. Mindy Finklea November 12, 2014 7:28 pm

    Wonderful, wonderful story! Thank you so much Anna for sharing this with OM and therefore all of us, who watch each year, holding our collective breath, until they make it to Florida. Compassion for wildlife and other animals and respect for living things must be taught to the next generation and you have obviously taught Ethan well. Ethan, thanks for writing and sharing and spreading the word about these wonderful birds! Very proud of you! You are a leader in my book!

  10. Donna (keridee) November 12, 2014 6:23 pm

    What an incredible story! It’s too late this year, but hopefully next year, “crazy person” can make arrangements to personally meet Ethan. I suspect that this young man has a great future ahead of him! Thank you for sharing this story.

  11. Bonnie November 12, 2014 4:57 pm

    Oh My Goodness!!! Would have loved to have seen OM’s faces when they read this letter! Amazing, huh?!

  12. Linda Degnan November 12, 2014 3:42 pm

    What a wonderful coincidence that, with all the uninformed people out there, it was an Operation Migration fan that encountered Brooke that day, someone who understood the importance of staying back. Thanks for sharing the rest of the story!

  13. cgull November 12, 2014 2:42 pm

    What an inspirational story! Mom you are doing something right to have such a dedicated and sincere son on your hands. Well, at least you know what his major will be in college: “Craniology” and not the neurological kind!!! Ethan gives a WHOOP! Go OM! Go Whoopers!

  14. Veronica Anderton November 12, 2014 2:16 pm

    What a awesome story thanks for sharing.

  15. Bobbie November 12, 2014 2:02 pm

    WOW, this brought tears to my eyes. Thank you Anna and Ethan for spreading the word about Operation Migration and the wonderful work they do. Anna, you must be so proud of your son!

  16. Sybil LaChance Latham November 12, 2014 1:49 pm

    That was an amazing letter from Anna Bechner and Ethan! Those children have been touched and educated by OM and what the Whooping Crane means to all of us. So you see, Brooke, you may have thought of yourself as a “crazy person”, but to that young boy on the other side of that hill, he not only knew your name but much more about what you do and about OM. In real time, you gave him a “lesson like no other”. Brooke, methinks you have some homework to do tonight.

  17. Cathy (Clydesfan) November 12, 2014 1:11 pm

    I can scarcely contain, nor express my joy at reading this entry. I share Anna and Ethan’s gratitude for all Operation Migration does, but I am also grateful for this wonderful young man and his mom. Thank you Anna, for taking the time to share this absolutely lovely story, and for caring and inspiring your son to care about the natural world around him and those dedicated to the protection and conservation of these majestic birds and their habitat. It is heartening to see one so young be passionate and enthusiastic about such a noble cause, and bodes well for the future. This just has to be a huge and much needed “shot in the arm” for the wonderful people at OM. Maybe one day this fine young man will himself become a “Crazy Person”. To the OM crew, when you have your moments of feeling discouraged as I’m sure you do, just look upon this to remind yourselves how much you are accomplishing on many different fronts. What an inspiration, thank you so much for posting!