Nebraska was magical.

It was, at first, strange to go back — after my graduate school misadventures, driving back felt like a reminder of my own failures, and of a particularly rough time during my own life. The weather didn’t help much, either: Tuesday’s drive was a terrifying haul through clouds, wind and billowing snow.

But on Wednesday morning, the sky was clear. Frozen grass sparkled like gold, and I got to watch cranes fly under a perfect blue and yellow dawn.

Sunrise on the Platte River

I’ve seen Sandhills before, and in Australia I had the privilege of seeing both Brolgas and Sarus Cranes, but these sightings of solitary birds simply don’t compare to the awesome sight (or the sound!) of a hundred birds packed together, trilling and trumpeting at each other from a narrow stretch of sand.

Sandhill Crane

Later in the day, I watched cranes feed together in groups of two or three in empty fields, surrounded by broken stalks of corn. Occasionally, they’d stop to dance, practice for their more serious courtship when they finally resume their migration to Alaska.

Sandhill Cranes

After a quick coffee break, I headed down to Kearney, where I stood with dozens of other birdwatchers to watch them tumble down to roost at night, jostling for space on a sandbar, or wading ankle-deep in the braided channels of the Platte River.

Sandhill Cranes

I think I’ve made my peace with Nebraska.

Sandhill Cranes

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