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By Karen Haley, Friends Member

In the predawn cold of a New Mexico morning, the vinyl seats of an old school bus were hard and cold, but that couldn’t dampen the anticipation as the bus bumped along in the dark, heading into the refuge. It seemed a small price to pay for the chance to watch a ‘fly-out’ of cranes and other waterfowl from a pond deep in the Bosque del Apache refuge, where the birds had chosen to roost for the night. There was not much conversation as we slipped quietly out of the bus and were led close to the viewing area, forming a line along the road. Even without conversation, there was a definite air of excitement and expectation hanging in the crisp dark.

For a city dweller, used to ever-present street lights outside of a suburban house, the quiet dark, and the vast number of stars overhead was close to magical, and a shiver, more pleasure then chill, slid through me.

There were vague watery sounds beyond me, small splashes, attesting to the cleverness of those birds to roost in shallow water where any predator, such as the coyote we had seen at the edge of the field the afternoon before, would give warning splashes no matter how carefully it tried to move. The darkness lightened surprisingly fast as daybreak neared and I began to make out the bulky black shapes above the darker water.

To the east, the sky began to color with impossible shades of copper, orange, pink, and peach, streaked with deep indigo clouds, all of it too wide to fit in my camera frame… but still I tried. I snapped photo after photo, each time thinking it couldn’t get any more beautiful… and then it did, and I’d take another.

I was soon distracted by a few large bodies lifting into the air and silhouetting against the intense color of the sky. That was followed by a general commotion of calls and wings as the main body of birds, cranes and snow geese, rose in a bewildering confusion.

I was so busy looking and listening, I forgot my camera was still in my hands as I soaked up the sights and sounds, the vibrating air. Then it was over… a few birds were slow to leave the watery roosting place, but most of the impromptu flock that had gathered for the night, were already winging their way to the nearby fields to feed. I was surprised to see that the sun was fully risen, and daylight had slipped in while I was watching the morning ritual unfold.

I have a few photos, but they are nothing compared to the vivid pictures in my mind that I often revisit.

I would be tempted to write about how seeing something in person, rather than in a magazine or on tv, makes it more real and thus easier to care about and support… all of that is true… but it pales in comparison to the experience of it.

Because this refuge and the crane festival exist, an unremarkable, mid-western woman could stand in that pre-dawn quiet and know something memorable was about to occur, and have the privilege of witnessing it.

For me, this was a once in a lifetime thing to experience and to keep in my memory… this standing quiet and then having the morning fly-out unfold into the molten colors of sunrise. I am reminded that for the quiet watered places of the Bosque, this is an occurrence that happens every dawn for months on end, through the mild New Mexico winter… and that is its own kind of miracle.

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