While visiting Nebraska in March 2003, I found a source of hope that I now share with
audiences everywhere I travel.
It was the very day that the first bombs dropped on Baghdad. She was on a two-day break during her jam-packed
U.S. lecture tour, staying in a cabin built by the father of a friend, wildlife photographer Tom Mangelsen.
She planned to use the time to write and to witness the magnificent display of the tens of thousands of
sandhill cranes who gather in the Platte River valley every year during their northward migration.
Early in the day about 2,000 cranes alighted right outside the cabin, closer than they had ever been before.
For nearly two hours, Dr. Jane was mesmerized as first one group and then another danced, leaping up again and
again with outstretched wings, picking up bits of straw and clods of earth and throwing them in the air. Later
by the river she sat for hours and watched as 6 million cranes and snowgeese flew past to their roost. Sometimes
they came in great clouds, sometimes in delicate skeins that traced changing patterns in the sunset. Most amazing
was the cacophony of their calls and trills. Their voices spoke of the wilderness, the freedom of the skies, snowy wastes, far-off lands.
Their magnificent display seemed to speak as well of resilience, hope, and a call to action. Despite all the
harm humans have done to the environment, the millions of birds who gather along the Platte River each year
still get enough nourishment for their marathon flights to their nesting grounds in Canada, Alaska, even
Siberia. Though they face an increasing number of threats from human activities, their age-old migration
continues to be a most amazing phenomenon. To ensure that sandhill cranes continue to thrive, people must work
harder than ever to preserve the Platte River and all the last wild places, to heal the harm we have done to the
environment, to live in greater harmony with nature.
When Dr. Jane returned to the cabin that night, she heard the terrible news that the bombing of Iraq had begun
and she felt dismayed. But, sitting by the fire with a candle that she had lit earlier with a desperate prayer
for war to be averted, she thought of the cranes. They symbolize peace for so many people around the world.
People can view them on their great migratory journeys as peace messengers, their display along the river as a
Dance of Peace. They symbolize hope even in darkness. They promise peace in the end. Meanwhile, Dr. Jane
believes that humankind must become far better stewards of the natural world, so that all are ready for peace
when it finally comes.