It’s easy to become jaded when dealing with the public.  I became jaded in medicine, although to be fair to my patients, long hours, lack of sleep, frequent interruptions and hurry had a lot to do with my frame of mind.

I volunteer serving the public each spring when I go to Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska to help visitors see the Sandhill Crane Migration, one of the great sights in nature.  I am one of maybe 120 volunteers, most of whom live in the surrounding area, but easily a dozen or more of us are from out of state.  They stay longer than I.  Many have no pets, no children, and can leave a house alone for a long period of time.  They come to Rowe for 2-3 weeks during the 5 week crane season and find their niche.  I come for 10 days at most, maybe less, depending upon other commitments, and I don’t fit easily into a niche.


I’m not much of a birder, although I love Sandhill Cranes.  I don’t know Nebraska like many of the volunteers, who either live here or grew up here.  I can’t advise people about certain towns that I have never been to, wetlands that I haven’t visited, birding areas I may never see. I’m not good with my hands, so I help if I can, but construction projects around the place are better left to others more skilled.  I have learned to drive an ATV, so I deliver people who go overnight to photography blinds, with all their gear, and contribute a little.  While my trailer backing skills are not great, I can fill in and do the work.  I learned.

I can do menial but necessary things like clean toilets and mop floors.  I can sweep outside and pick up trash.  I drive vehicles into town for supplies.  I feel most at home, however, taking visitors to viewing blinds.  I become a different person when I teach, for I know cranes, I have been in each of the viewing blinds in all weather conditions, with many others or alone.  I’ve seen a lot, but I still learn something new every time I go in.

This past year, Rowe staff developed a video that they play at each tour’s onset, explaining the mission and the rules of the Sanctuary.  This is a good idea, which will get better with modification.  It is important to standardize the rules of the Sanctuary and to impart certain basic information.  The video, however, took away one of my few strengths, my standing in front of 30 people going to a viewing blind, where it might be cold, hot, wet or dry, and convey, with enthusiasm and clarity, that they were going to have a special time, because I knew I would.  I would tell them that the cranes are one of the top sites in nature for me.  I told them I would learn something new, because I learn something from every visit to the blinds, about people, birds, or myself.  I would then take them to the blinds, apologizing for my lack of enthusiasm.  They laughed.  I was in my element.  My tours went well, and I believe many visitors were happy.  At least I think they were.



Now, my connection is replaced by a video.  I’ve lost some of my only niche, connecting initially with the visitors.  Once in the blinds, I want to be quiet, unless there are questions.  People ought to experience the cranes on their own, not have a play by play.  I want to state my love for the Platte River, the need to conserve this area, the Central Flyway, and to support Rowe.  Last two years, I had staff from Audubon Nebraska on my tour and was told I asked for support in exactly the right way.  Of course I did.  I was teaching, I knew what I had to teach, and I understood the material completely.  It was like my teaching high school geometry or algebra, a piece of cake.

On my fourth trip in to the blinds this current season, now having been in one more than a hundred times, we had a good group on a sunny, warmish evening, including a young boy of 12. While waiting for the cranes to come in, we saw nine deer and several wild turkeys.  The boy was clearly interested in all and asked about the reflectors on power lines that spanned the Platte.  It was a good observation, and I told him so.  The reflectors have cut in half the number of cranes dying from power line collisions.  He was engaged in everything.  I told him I heard a pheasant near the east end of the blind, and while he might not see it, he might take a look.  He went.

About half way through the tour, the cranes began landing where sunlight was reflecting off the river.  I made a comment to everybody, “Cranes are now on the river,” a signal we now needed to be quiet.

“Did somebody text you and tell you?” a woman asked.

“No,” I replied, “I saw them.”


The tour went well, the world on the Platte’s unfolding as it should. We saw thousands of cranes land, they moved downstream, walked and flew past the blind, bathing, dancing, drinking, preening, doing things cranes do. The sunset was lovely, the tricolor sky beautiful.  At 8:30, we began to leave.  I went by the young boy and his mother.  The boy looked at me with his brown eyes, saying:

“This has been the best day of my life.  This was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I am coming here every year for the rest of my life.

“How do I volunteer here?”

I was no longer jaded.  I had let the show of the cranes devolve into a show I was giving, taking people to the blinds.  I had made the mistake of thinking I mattered.  Well, I did matter, a little, but the cranes mattered.  The river mattered.  The flyway mattered.  Nature mattered.  My job was simply to take people to nature, to be on the flyway, be by the river and see the cranes.  By doing that job, and doing it well, I offered the possibility to people—this night, a 12 year-old boy—that an experience in life may be transformative, changing their world forever.  Life won’t be the same.

In short, it was about a young boy, a bird called a Sandhill crane, a migration, and a river.  Nothing else.  Nothing more.

Nothing more was completely enough.


One Response to “DE-JADING MYSELF”

  1. steve nash Says:

    Fantastic self-realization and so well put. Keep it up.

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