Waters & words : a celebration of flyfishing

The call of a crane

A kind and generous friend recently asked me to describe to him in words, the sound of a crowned crane. I suppose it was because I had recently done a short piece on cranes. Perhaps it was because he hasn’t heard a crane before, but on reflection, I think it had more to do with him setting me a writer’s challenge:


The sound of a crane comes on the wind. A wind that whisks through swaying grass, and moans off against the far hill, like air over an open bottle. A wind that briefly rattles the thousand  paper leaves of an autumnal London plane, and huskily departs in waves. And then suddenly, and cutting through the wind’s hissing, in far off pines, comes an ever so slightly mournful sound. Guttural and powerful in an understated way, that surprisingly carries the soft tune above and through the swaying, hushing breeze. A tempered rattling and ribbing sound, accompanied by a soulful background whistle, as liquidly tranquil as the voice of a beautiful backing singer, whose silky tones I once fell in love with.  “Mahem”. That is the word one can hum to one’s self through the haunting call. A short “Ma” and a slightly rising “Hem”. Each ending call overlapped by the call of the mate, steadily  beating her lovely wings beside her partner as the graceful birds first come into sight over the hill. Fighting the wind, but with a style and grace that matches the music of their ever approaching call. They descend, and alight with neatly folding wings, as they also fold away their final  pretty call, and settle on the tapestry of gently rolling veld.


That’s my best shot at it !

2 responses

  1. Wonderful description of a bird I’d love to hear some day. Of course, words get in the way of writers who attempt to bring a crane’s sound to the reader. I once attempted to describe the sandhill crane’s call in an essay. I wrote, “The trumpeting cry was almost hallucinatory, an impossible blend of sounds like that of a pileated woodpecker’s shrieking mixed in with an ambulance siren.” Like you, I took a shot at describing the nearly impossible clarion call of cranes. Thanks for sharing this.

    April 23, 2013 at 12:25 am

    • I had in mind to upload the MP3, but I see I need a credit card for that!
      The real challenge is that what you and I have done here is to use descriptions of sounds to describe another sound. That is well and good, assuming one has the gift of hearing……………. Therein lies my challenge.

      April 23, 2013 at 5:50 pm

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