Sandhill Cranes, the Platte River, and Farid Ud-Din Attar
In myth and folklore, birds (and cranes in particular) have traditionally been symbols of transcendence and rebirth. The Sufi mystic Farid ud-Din Attar, in his The Conference of the Birds, offered a parable of birds going on pilgrimage to find the divine king of their dreams, openly to discover in the end that they were the mystery they had sought all along. The author reads this text on a trip to see sandhill cranes along the Platte River in Nebraska. These cranes fly 10,000 miles between Mexico and northern Alaska (and back) each year, stopping in March to feed for a few weeks. In the history of symbols, birds are routinely portrayed as omens of death, embodiments of departed spirits, or symbols of transcendent mystery. But of all birds, the crane—by the majesty of its size alone—inspires admiration. The huge white bird with a bright red crown is a symbol of longevity and good luck. It was believed to have a life span of a thousand years or more.
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