I was really pissed when I opened my e-mail in Portland, a month ago, as my wife and I were getting ready to fly back to Tucson, after a trip to Eugene. “Your flight to Kearney has been cancelled.” The online travel agency didn’t offer a suggestion, only a telephone number to call. This was not what I needed to hear in the morning. The good news was that I could get to Kearney that same day from Denver, in order to volunteer to help out with the Sandhill Crane migration at Rowe Sanctuary. The bad news was that I would land at about 4:45 p.m., 20 miles from Rowe, with the evening tours beginning at 6.

My stay this year was already shorter, because we were in the middle of a move, and I was lucky I could even go. But, I was about to lose an evening in the viewing blinds, which is my selfish reason to go. I guide people to the viewing blinds at Rowe Sanctuary, because the cranes may only be seen close up if people are hidden. Nebraska is the only state where they are not hunted. If I am not a guide, I will “tag along,” to be in the blind, if a space at a window opens up. One always does. I admit it, I am selfish. But I clean toilets, do odd jobs, make morning coffee, act as a roving naturalist, and sleep on the floor in the gift shop. In past years, I taught a beginning course on Cranes for interested tourists. I have taken people out to the photography blinds and brought them back, cleaning up the “chamber pots” they use during their all night stay along the river. That may sound gross, but I enjoy driving out and back, and almost everybody who goes there loves it. I’m not religious, but when I hear somebody say, “I feel closest to God when I am by the river with fifty thousand cranes,” I understand the spirituality. Yeah, I wanted to get to Rowe early in the day, and it wasn’t going to happen.

I found the flight had been cancelled, but I went on line two days before I left, discovering it hadn’t been cancelled, so I tried to get on it. No such luck. I would be leaving in the afternoon, getting there in early evening. The day I left, I arrived in Denver, at 1030, knowing the Kearney flight departed from a different concourse at 1035. But, as I walked from the far end of B concourse, I glanced at the first monitor, looking for the Kearney flight. “Whadda know,” I said to myself, glancing at the yellow “delayed” on the screen, “let’s give this a try.” I didn’t really think I had a prayer of making the plane, but I doubled my pace, weaving through the crowds like an expert slalom skier. “It never hurts to try,” is one of my mottos; another is “All they can do is say no.”

I was seriously hoofing it, so much so that I got on the moving walkway, in order to add another mph to my speed. When a walkway wasn’t working, I took it, because nobody else was on it, and I had a long empty straightaway. I caught the airport train perfectly, got to the A concourse, and blasted up the stairs so fast that the guy in front of me doing two at a time was in my way. I blew by him, not even running, and turned on the gas at the A concourse. I went downstairs to where the small plane check in counter was, asking if the plane were still there. It was, planned departure at 1100.

It was 1055.

I had gone from the plane, through 2 long concourses, a connection, a train ride, and some stairs in 25 minutes. This is hoofing. I jog-walked the last 300 yards to the gate, asking, a bit breathless when I got there if I could get on, assured I could. I then asked if I had time to go to the restroom, although that was really pushing my luck, but again, all they could do was say no. I had enough time to make the calls I needed to arrange a pick up in Kearney and send an SMS to my wife.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I had an 8 a.m. flight to Dallas one time, and as I started walking to the gate, I noted a monitor that said the 8 a.m. flight was delayed. I saw there was a 7 a.m. flight not cancelled, and it was 6:45. I literally walked to that gate, getting on board the 7 a.m. flight, with more time for my connection in Dallas, which was tight to begin with. Lucky? Yes. Very. But I made my luck, too. I thought fast, looked at options, and asked unabashedly.

Much success in life is luck: a photographer who has a person bankroll a book he writes, becoming famous as a result. An amateur astronomer who happens to discover a comet, because he happens to be looking in the sky for one, was out on the right day, in the right weather, and looked in the right place. Some have become famous as a result of their luck. But they made their luck, too. They didn’t bemoan their failures or their work. They put themselves in the situation where the probability numerator might increase with the denominator. When both increase the same, the overall probability increases. It is a mathematical fact.

I could have just as easily sat in the airport and waited the 4 hours for my flight. Instead, I looked at the monitor, knowing these small planes are often delayed because of weather or not having enough pilots or flight attendants. I had nothing to lose by looking, except the few calories by hoofing. I made my luck. Life doesn’t often work out the way we want, but sometimes there are opportunities that arise, taylor made for those who aren’t quite ready to call it quits and are willing to go for the long shot. To most people, getting on that earlier flight wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. To me, it did.

Later, I learned the flight I would have taken was delayed 4 hours.


Cranes over the setting sun.

Cranes over the setting sun.


Evening cranes

Evening cranes

Morning crane "blowoff" from the Platte River.

Morning crane “blowoff” from the Platte River.

Fog cranes.

Fog cranes.

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