Sleeping with the Sandhill Cranes

Dancing cranes © 2012 Bruce Fox

Dancing cranes © 2012 Bruce Fox

Friday night my husband Bruce and I did something we never imagined. We crammed ourselves into a 4 x 8 x 5 foot wooden blind and spent the night on the Platte River in central Nebraska with several thousand sandhill cranes for neighbors.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the sandhill crane migration is one of nature’s wonders. Each spring, half a million cranes stop to rest in Nebraska before the long flight north to their Arctic breeding grounds. They spend their days in neighboring cornfields and at dusk, they head for the shallow river.

For Nebraskans, the crane migration is a backdrop to your life the same way Husker football is, and it can be easy to take this miracle for granted. I’ve lived in Nebraska since 1980 and Bruce is a Nebraska native. Like so many people who live here, we had talked about seeing the cranes and never done it, in spite of how this annual spectacle draws people from all over the world.

On Friday night we found out why. Nothing prepares you for the arrival of the cranes, no matter how much you’ve heard or read about it. One minute you’re watching an empty stretch of river and sandbars, wondering if they’ll really show up; the next they’re coming in waves, swirling through the sky and talking the whole time.

And they keep talking, all night long. Bruce said it was like eavesdropping on a New Year’s Eve party, and it was, with nonstop chatter, outbreaks of dancing and the occasional spat. The wildlife biologist who dropped us off said if they get quiet, it means a predator like a coyote is passing through. They did get quiet a couple of times and I wondered if they left. Bruce said the quiet is what woke him up.

High jump © 2012 Bruce Fox

High jump © 2012 Bruce Fox

 As night turned to day, the intensity of their chatter increased and so did their exuberant leaps and dances. I saw one crane toss a stick into the air several times. They left as they arrived, in small groups that got larger until the sky was swirling and the sandbars were quiet again.
Taking flight © 2012 Bruce Fox

Taking flight © 2012 Bruce Fox

Spring was earlier than usual this year and so were the cranes. One of our guides told us their numbers peaked about two weeks ago and they could have gotten more visitors if they had only known. No one knew except the cranes, who followed the same internal clock they’ve followed for nine million years.

The cranes don’t know about the disagreements over water rights that threaten their habitat. They don’t know about the encroachment of development and power lines. Every year, like magic, they reappear. They follow the rhythms of daylight and moonlight, of feeding and roosting. They trill and leap and bow and dance for joy. And if you’re lucky enough to see them, your heart leaps with them.


4 Reasons Twitter Is a Great Health Resource

Health Is Social logo

Health is Social logo courtesy of Health Is Social

If you’re like many of us, the minute you or someone you care about is diagnosed with something, you go online to do research. You may even reach out to your Facebook friends. You’re far less likely to think, “Hey! Now that I have cancer/diabetes/MS, I better get a Twitter account!” If you can’t understand what people get out of Twitter, this post is for you.

Reason No. 1. Real-time conversations with people who’ve been there. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with cancer, diabetes or lupus; you’ll find others who have been through it. Don’t be surprised if they happen to be in Canada, Dubai, Ireland or Yangon. (These are all examples from my experience, by the way.) It’s so comforting to know you’re not alone, and so awe-inspiring to realize that experience connects us no matter where we are on this blue marble.

Reason No 2. There are some incredible doctors and nurses sharing their time and talents on Twitter. They’re answering questions and sharing insights, including links to their own blog posts and interesting healthcare articles from other sources.

Patients or civilians or whatever you call the rest of us do that too, but I want you to know the pros are out there and they want to help. I will never forget how nervous I was when I first got on Twitter. The first person who started following me aside from people I knew offline, and who made me feel welcome in this electronic cocktail party, was a doctor. I will always be grateful to him. 

While no one will (or should) give you specific medical advice, any question you have about what something means or how it works is likely to find an answer. I blundered into a colon cancer discussion yesterday over my lunch hour and decided to jump in, since colon cancer took my mom out. I had a question about something I’d heard about certain people needing more colonoscopy prep (lucky them!), and a doctor answered it within seconds.

Reason No. 3. Tweetchats, which bring all these peers and pros together in one place. If you aren’t familiar with them, tweetchats are scheduled discussions on a variety of topics, such as the colon cancer one I found. People use hashtags(#) to identify the topic or group. I often take part in the #bcsm (breast cancer social media) tweetchat held on Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern time, moderated by Jody Schoger (@jodyms) and Alicia Stales (@stales) with support from Deanna Attai (@DrAttai), a breast surgeon. The group has tackled parenting while under treatment, how to tell people at work, and how to cope with the fear of recurrence.

Three other excellent tweetchats are #hcsm (healthcare communications in social media), moderated by Dana Lewis (@danamlewis), and #MDchat and #RNchat, both moderated by Phil Baumann (@PhilBaumann). Phil is a registered nurse and business consultant. He also blogs at Health Is Social (@HealthisSocial) and was kind enough to let me use its logo for this post. There are too many other health-related tweetchats to mention here. has a comprehensive healthcare tweetchat calendar.

Reason 4. Breaking health news. My husband has commented on how often we see something in the Wall Street Journal before we see it on broadcast news or our local paper. Now I often see things on Twitter before I see them in the WSJ or any news outlet. I can’t tell you how many healthcare items I’ve seen on Twitter first in the past year or so.

Those reasons are immediately top of mind for me. If you have more reasons Twitter can be a good health resource, please share them. And if you’ve been thinking of getting on Twitter, just do it. Don’t let it intimidate you. It’s not just for celebrities and you can make some real connections.  Happy tweeting! @jackiefox12