“A crane’s just flown past” she shouted. We rushed to a window in time to see this beautiful creature – long of leg and neck - land on a TV aerial and look around, down Clarendon Crescent and across Clarendon Square.
Cranes are unusual in the UK. Even rarer in Leamington. We know that there are just 10 breeding pairs of cranes in the UK, in two locations: one to the east, in Norfolk; one to the west in Somerset. So this one was presumably on his or her way from the Scandinavian breeding grounds to Spain, Portugal or Morocco.
We also know that, when migrating, they are gregarious, often flying in a massive flock called, variously, a “construction", a “dance", a “sedge", a “siege", or a “swoop" of cranes. So many collective nouns would certainly suggest that, even in the UK, they are more often seen in numbers than individually.
But this one was alone, and seemed to be in no hurry. It stood proudly on its perch for about ten minutes before launching itself head first to the south, its neck suddenly longer, its legs straight back, its wing span vast, its under feathers black as pitch.
We watched it out of sight and I returned to the ballgame. We had won 19-3.
I am not a subscriber to the Greco-Roman (faux-) science of ornithomancy or, indeed, any other kind of -mancy. I do not believe in augurs, or messages from non-existent gods.
But something about this crane – our crane – insists on being symbolic and remaining so in my mind.
I find that the augurs claimed a bird flying from left to right, as our crane was, means that we will achieve our goals with ease; that because it is a crane, it has a species-specific meaning also: that we should use all the wisdom at our disposal; and because our crane was gray, it presages peace and contentment.
All of which I will take happily. But the image that remains with me from this sighting is of the single individual, divorced from society, but pursuing his goal with commitment and determination, obsession even.
It’s the existential moment: Lear on the heath, Ahab on the quarterdeck, our crane on his/her TV aerial, contemplating the thousand miles he has come and the two thousand miles to go.
“ … and I just said, ‘good luck’”.
Today from the everysmith vaults: I’ve been revisiting one of the great years of the Never Ending Tour, 1999. It’s a four seasons year, four different sounds. Of which, having seen some of them, I tend towards the spring in Europe.