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The Sadness of Marshes: An Excerpt from The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes

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In the evening, returned to the river, I enter a good blind with a wire-mesh roof strewn lightly with sticks, where I listen for a while to the spring redwings and a solitary cardinal, setting up his territory from a perch in an old cottonwood by the water. Soon a horn note comes downwind from a sky losing its light, and within minutes, the first thousand cranes are circling the river woods and gliding down into cropland and meadow, from where they will make the short flight to the channels. Soon the legions come straight in, many thousands at a time, filling the river dusk with yelps and beating wings; the birds are still falling as the darkness comes, falling among black limbs of old broken cottonwoods, falling until bar and shallow are shrouded in shifting shapes, the nearest scarcely fifty feet away. Already some are quiet. They drink from the silver glitter of the braid as evening deer step out from the night willow and move in peaceful silhouette among them.

From The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes
Peter Matthiessen
Paintings and drawings by Robert Bateman
North Point Press, $27.50

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