Each fall I have an assignation with a great hunter I met years ago. He sneaks into my life most often in the middle of the night; my reaction is ALWAYS an audible sigh followed by a rush of wonderful memories as I stalk him in the heavens. His name is Orion, and he is the constellation who appears in the southeastern corner of the heavens just after dusk in the fall of the year. His stunning belt of three stars is his giveaway in the far-off heavens—he is a strong and mighty warrior. We’ve known each other for forty-eight seasons, and though I have met a plethora of his friends since that time, none have fascinated me as he does. Orion, and not the calendar, acknowledge fall has arrived in my little world.

Two weeks before Orion appeared for his autumnal visit two weeks ago, likewise the magnificent sandhill cranes began to flock about the same time. They mesmerize me, and I am on a constant search for them all summer. They are illusive. I might see one or two in a year or none. I’m never mentally prepared when I do spot one standing in a field or near the edge of a woods. Their beauty astonishes me — I usually turn around and go back to observe their tall and stately stature.

Three weeks ago, seven sandhill cranes suddenly appeared to my left in a field near the corner of B and M near Long Lake. The scene imprinted on my brain, but little did I realize the best was yet to come. A week later, I was home and awake near Moon Lake—the time was dawn and I had just walked out on the deck with a cup of coffee. A new birdcall was in the air — the distinct rattle of sandhill crane. The cranes call is a rolled “r” in their throat that is audible 2.5 miles away from the bird. They also have a bugle call that is almost prehistoric and make a distinctive trumpeting sound as well.

My heart was pounding as I listened carefully to their unique rattling three weeks ago and I recalled that 650,000 of them gather every October at the Platte River in Kearney, Nebraska on their flight south. These birds have been traveling worldwide for millions of years. Astonishing.

Suddenly their trumpeting sound was moving toward me, and I realized they were lifting over the trees 200 feet south of where I was standing. They flashed by a mere 50 feet out from my second-story deck, lifted again and were gone. I was speechless; I was breathless; I had puddles in my eyes. I mentally began planning a day trip to Crex Meadows near Grantsburg during October. The cranes gather there at Glacial Lake this month and early November before beginning their journey south.

Once I pulled myself together, I relived those unexpected minutes with the cranes and then recalled two times I thought eagles were fighting over the water in front of the cabin. Later, I learned they were carrying on a courtship (the likes of which I had never seen) in hopes of selecting a mate for life. There actually were three eagles in the air and suddenly the cacophony of verbalization produced by them was almost unbelievable. They screamed and attacked each other while the female watched from a distance. When she made her choice, the intense courtship began with cartwheels and circles over the water, plus screaming by her mate to be. Eagles usually mate for life but continue to do the courtship dances and acrobatics each year to impress their mate. It is also a time of intense vocal calls which resonate for miles and miles. The female eventually lets it be known which male she prefers by flying with him for a while.

Keep your eyes and ears open next spring; eagles do their courtship dance long before there are on leaves on the trees. I’m thinking the best time to look for the cranes is in fall—when that guy named Orion appears right above the southeastern horizon at dusk.

Hey, live big, love big. Embrace this season of plenty as we wend our way into autumn, the most wonderful time of the year.

Roxie Olsen describes herself as a summer director for Camp Grandma Rox, winter language arts consultant and year-round family matriarch.

(Copyright © 2021 APG Media)

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