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 !
I am not quite as obsessed with cranes as a fishing buddy of mine is. His ringtone on his mobile is a honking crane, and often when we are fishing quietly side by side, in response to a small passing speck in the sky, he will blurt out “wattled!”, referring to his identification of the species.
But they are the most stunningly graceful birds, I will admit. Their presence on our waters is a rich blessing for reasons I struggle to describe. Perhaps it is their size, perhaps it is their muted calls, perhaps it is the rarity of them, or their sensitivity to a fast degrading environment. Either way, they are a treasure, and beautiful to behold.
We get three species in these parts:
The Blue Crane
A hand carving of the Blue Crane, completed by my father (DP Fowler) just a few weeks ago.
This morning as my vehicle sputtered reluctantly to life, it coughed out a slug of yesterday’s dust through the air-vents, long before it breathed any warmth into the frigid cab. The dust in question was the only pervading reminder of our travels in Trout country.
I had been a dastardly day. High wind, coming out of either the South or the West or some cold place in between. Wind that , having touched some sparse dirty snow somewhere, then thrashed the surface of the dams into icy whitecaps.
We tried to fish of course. The canoe was duly launched, and wrapped in heavy jackets and beanies, we climbed clumsily aboard and dug the oars deeply into the crystal clarity of a deep green lake. On arrival at our normal spot we dropped anchor. More correctly, we dropped both anchors. Heavy weather calls for such measures. PD asked for instructions on the anchor protocol. “Just throw the thing overboard” I yelled into the wind. And he did.