Letters From the West

Sound of sandhills revives ancient memories

At first the croaking seemed disturbingly out of place.

The neighbor’s turkey gobbling was a new sound itself, adding to the crowing of his rooster. But the croaking was a wild sound.

I was clearing my back yard of last year’s tomato plants, and lemon balm when the distinctive voices of sandhill cranes filled the air. There weren’t any fields near my house and I had no obvious explanation.

Sandhill cranes (Idaho Statesman file photo)

Sandhill crane (Idaho Statesman file photo)

The sound instantly transported me to the Marsh Creek meadow in the Sawtooth National Recreation area. The shrubs of my garden became sagebrush, which I could smell in the summer heat. My cherry and apple trees turned into lodgepole pines reaching down to the edge of the bubbling creek filled with wild salmon.

Tall gray sandhill cranes strutted through the wet meadow with a few lookouts watching for wolves and coyotes that would interrupt their search for seeds and insects. The croaking got louder and returned me to reality.

I looked up to see several long V formations high in the sky above of migrating sandhills. Some stayed on their path north while other cranes caught the thermals and circled.

The sound had connected me with a wild past, a shared memory of a time before our civilization. The deep stirrings of the human soul that can be evoked by the song of the sandhill is a power we lose in a society tied to screens.

With all we share to remember on Earth Day, this ancient calling is perhaps the most sacred.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West