No mere bird
In 1937, when the father of wildlife ecology, Aldo Leopold, wrote the essay “Marshland Elegy,” the Greater Sandhill Crane was in steep decline. The essay, part of Leopold’s seminal work, A Sand County Almanac, laments the loss of cranes in the marshes of Wisconsin, his home state.
The Greater Sandhill subspecies has rebounded from fewer than 1,000 birds to more than 100,000 — a fact that I’m sure would delight Leopold were he here today. In this issue’s cover story, I write about the plight of the Whooping Crane. It occurs to me that although Leopold had Sandhills in mind, his essay certainly applies to Whoopers in 2019. Here is a frequently quoted yet apt passage:
Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.
This much, though, can be said: our appreciation of the crane grows with the slow unraveling of earthly history. His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene. The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills. When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia which underlies and conditions the daily affairs of birds and men.
No mere bird, indeed.
Matt Mendenhall, editor