Holding My Breath

When I was a kid, I thought there were only two times when you held your breath – when you stuck your head under water and when you asked that special someone out on a first date. That was until I started working with cranes. Then I found myself holding my breath every time I approached the crane pen each morning. You just never know what you’re going to find because night can be a really really long time for a crane… especially considering the fates never sleep and they’re not always friendly. It’s not until your vision is filled with that most beautiful sight of everyone A-OK that one’s breath returns to normal.

I found this daily reaction curious… secretly embarrassing even, but never mentioned it to anyone. Not exactly macho, you know. Then one early morning at Necedah years ago, Brian Clauss from Patuxent and I were approaching the crane pen at Site 4 when he whispered from under his helmet, “It always amazes me how every time I approach a crane pen I wind up holding my breath! Guess I’ll never get used to it”! Clearly Brian was more comfortable with his masculinity than I was with mine. “Me too!” I answered in relief, the closeted breath holder in me finally coming out.

Then last summer, while driving from somewhere to somewhere else, Bev looked hard past the steering wheel into the distance and said to me, “You know, every crane flight when I fly over a nest, I hold my breath till I see the chick.” “I know.” I replied, knowing all too well how tough those nest surveys had been for her. Thirteen chicks hatched last spring, but one by one they disappeared until only one surviving chick remained, a la death by a thousand cuts. That’s a lot of breath holding.

Now, as I sit in the blind gazing out at the 2014 crane colts as they do their pre-migration chick things while the hands of the migration clock tick louder and louder, I catch myself starting to hold my breath.  There is, after all, a fairy tale quality about this project which often obscures the reality that after fourteen years of heroic effort and the expenditure of millions of dollars, its ultimate success remains very far away from a sure thing. Which means, I guess, that there is certainly enough breath holding to go around.

One of these days, perhaps today, or tomorrow or the next, I’ll approach the pen and discover to my amazement that the old, familiar breath hold is gone… and that there is an Easter Bunny and a Tooth Fairy and a Santa Claus on his way to my RV with my pony.  And that there is no climate change, that the world is flat and politicians speak only the truth… and that God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world.  Maybe someday.

But I’m not holding my breath.

Share Button


  1. thunder402 March 30, 2015 9:38 pm

    Brooke – Wow

    You and OM work so hard to keep one step ahead here. I appreciate all your hard work you do for the cranes.
    I hope I am here the day you see the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus with your pony. And the day all is right with the world. Never giving up HOPE.
    Thank you for sharing a part of your heart along with the dedication to these wonderful birds. Just look how far you have come. This whole OM team takes “My Breath Away!”

  2. Warrenwesternpa March 30, 2015 6:09 pm

    Holding My Breath Brooke Pennypacker

    Hello Brooke,

    I have had a couple of “bad hair days” and your essay was a “breath” of sunshine. Obviously it is also to your readers.

    Congratulations on winning an Eagle Rare prize too.

    And I see “Liz Conde” left a note. “Hi” Liz! Hope you are enjoying retirement.

    God bless you all!

  3. Kay Blackwood March 30, 2015 3:58 pm

    Your post made me giggle for I hold my breath each time I see a new post from OM hoping that it is good news about the cranes!

  4. Mollie Cook March 30, 2015 1:30 pm

    Journey North reported that 7-14 reached Wisconsin on March 25th ……..last report from OM was Carroll County Illinois on the 25th. Can you please clarify? Thanks!

  5. Margie Tomlinson March 30, 2015 12:52 pm

    Breathe, breathe, Brooke! There is a Higher Power that is in control.

  6. Mollie Cook March 30, 2015 10:01 am

    Brooke………we’re all holding our breath with you. Not to the extent that you & others are but we genuinely love these birds too & care about their survival. Thank you for sharing your heart & the fact that you & Brian can ADMIT to being a “breath holder”, makes us admire you even more than we already do. So carry on with the “breath holding”! I hold mine each morning before I check the field journal & there are times when the breath holding turns to knots in the stomach. Each day we must ask God to watch over them & protect them because He sees what we can’t.

  7. Patricia Kramer March 30, 2015 9:44 am

    But knowing you and your team are out there giving this amazing difficult project your all helps the rest of us breathe a little easier knowing that there are good forces in the world pushing in the right direction. Thank you.

  8. ffmn March 30, 2015 9:18 am

    Whew Brooke, that column spoke volumes !!! We can all relate in some manner in our own thought world. Thanks for what I consider a ‘special column. Pat

  9. Tina Nauman March 30, 2015 8:54 am

    I help KY Fish and Wildlife count how many eaglets hatch and how many fledge by accessing nests by kayak that are out of the way for flight nest surveys. I go far more often than I have to just because I want to sit and observe and share some time with these magnificent birds. I hold my breath as I approach every Bald Eagle nest until I see the eaglets. I had no idea how many of us do this but, really, I’m not surprised.

  10. Patricia Ewing March 30, 2015 8:02 am

    Well said, and thank you for all you do….

  11. Christine Nitz March 30, 2015 8:02 am

    Had to laugh at your email received this morning about “holding your breath”! It’s funny since when I was watching live cam of the migration going South last year – I would also hold my breath as I watched those jewels in the sky fly! Just truly take your breath away!
    Thanks again!!


  12. Liz condie March 30, 2015 7:19 am

    Delightful read Brooke old friend.

  13. Patti Hakanson March 30, 2015 6:50 am

    Awesome entry as always Brooke…Good to know that-we as craniacs are not the only “breath holders”.
    All is right, with the world…. yes, maybe someday. Safe journey back north when yours begins, stay safe our colts, God Speed….