The Sandhills Are Alive With Music!

“The hills are alive with the sound” of Sandhill cranes!!  It’s obviously fall … and I did the best that I could on the pictures as I had to grab my cell phone FAST to rush outside.  Wow … the sound was deafening and there were HUNDREDS of Sandhill cranes, all squawking at once, getting into formation.  There were multiple “V” patterns, and birds flying to catch up.  As I stood on the porch snapping what I could, I could hear more coming and more in a farm field nearby …. VERY loud but eerie, surreal, primordial …. special.

When I hear, see such wonderful creatures, I think about the migratory journey they have ahead as they eat up what corn, grains they can from the surrounding farm fields.  I’ve always loved these beautiful and large birds and wanted to study them when we realized that they were so numerous here in our new home.

Wondering what to write about today, as I wanted to keep Lineage Journeys readers up on more than just the upcoming conferences and events that I’m doing, the sandhills provided a great way to break from writing, researching and keeping up with the business end of the work.  I wanted therefore to share a great book I found that has tremendously beautiful photographs AND tells the story of the struggles that sandhill cranes have with habitat encroachment, pesticides, and more.  On Ancient Wings:  The Sandhill Cranes of North America by Michael Forsberg is the book that gave me a perspective that increased my joy of them all the more, as I’d like to see what I can do locally to help them.   The book is linked here and in the title above as I found the book on Amazon (there are other great field guide-type of books too!)  if you might be interested in learning.

The reason that I am thinking about this, writing about this?  Maybe because I’m a genealogist or because I’m such a nature-lover, these birds are a fascination to me.  As a genealogist, I wonder whether my ancestors had the opportunity to witness such a spectacle, if their farms had these graceful birds feeding there before setting off for the south.  My Québec ancestors were farmers almost entirely (some were woodworkers) so I think about what I just saw and how ancient these birds are (I think I read somewhere they they are millions of years old, from fossil evidence!), wondering if they were part of the lives of my people in Québec.  With the St. Lawrence and other waterways in the region that my families’ farms were located (most recently, my ancestors are from Maskinongé, Québec and around both Québec City, Montréal and back into Acadia), it is certainly likely.  What did they think?  Did they stop from their farming just as I stopped from my work to look UP?

As I think about and work to write the stories of my ancestors, I want to include content about their day-to-day lives like the sounds of the sandhill cranes or the weather patterns (like the very severe rains that we’ve been having this year!) that impacted their survival.  It’s not about the dates for me – births, marriages, deaths – but it’s about what they DID, who they were friends with, the music and foods that were important, and the struggles and joys they experienced.

I hope they experienced the sound I heard this morning – the sandhills’ music of life.

Watershed Moments

A “watershed moment” is a point in time in which you feel that something changed, that you changed, that life changed.

I had a moment/day like that recently. Actually it is more of a series of things that have happened. As a genealogist, there are moments in time that I recognize that I’m noting a date and it was a big deal for my ancestors. Someone died, someone was born, two people were married. There are so many of those moments as a genealogist that I honestly can say that they are dates in a computer sometimes to me … until my own “moment”.

You see … someone died. Actually there have been a series of deaths in the recent past (since my brother died in July 2013 actually) and this most recent death of a beloved “sister” has caused a shift. I put “sister” in quotation marks because, while she wasn’t a genetic sister, she was a sister of my heart … a teacher, friend, beloved leader and spiritual Elder. To me and many. And it was at her funeral and the four days of the wake and then burial ceremony, that I’ve been thinking about A LOT! Without going into all of that here, it DID make me think, as a genealogist of those “watershed moments” of my ancestors.

Perhaps it was in the mid-1860s when my Villeneuve (Amiot dit Villeneuve) ancestral family came from Maskinonge, Quebec to Marquette, Michigan area. My Elliot ancestors came from the same area to Ishpeming, Michigan in the 1880s. Then they all eventually ended up in the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, in Houghton County – around Hancock and Boston Station and the mining communities. They met up there supposedly because they attended the same church. A Villeneuve girl married an Elliot boy, and an Elliot girl married a Villeneuve boy. In June, 1889 when Edward Elliot married Marie Louise Villeneuve in Ishpeming, was that a “watershed moment” for them? Did they recognize the importance of that day and the history that they would create together (they ended up having 18 kids!!!) that resulted in my grandmother? Did the day that great-grandfather Edward died in 1919, crushed by a shifting pile of coal that he was assigned to move, created that incredible “watershed moment” for great-grandmother Louise? She had a pile of children and now no husband. In the 1920 Census, she has eight children living with her. The two oldest sons are working so the family at least had an income but many of the children were very young. My grandmother, Mary Elsie Elliot had married Warner “Waino” Sutinen and was living nearby. Grandpa Warner was also a miner – I wonder if he was present when Edward was crushed … who told Great-Grandma Louise that he was severely injured (he later died of his injuries according to the newspaper account and his death certificate). Certainly, that would have been a “watershed moment” for both families.

Maybe it’s a function of the death of others that gives us “watershed moments” … it has been for me, early in this new year. Does everyone have moments like this?