Winter Migration

Published: October 24th 2006
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Ultralight Leading Crane SouthUltralight Leading Crane SouthUltralight Leading Crane South

In Wisconsin, we had the amazing experience of watching the start of the bred-in-captivity whooping crane winter migration: 18 juvenile birds being led to Florida
October 3 - 20, 2006
Milwaukee, Wis. - Little Bighorn Battlefield, Mont.
22,384 miles to date
2,241 miles this leg


You may have noticed that the photo format has recently changed on this (free) blogging service. If we post more than 30 photos per entry (highly likely), then the majority of the photos appear as tiny thumbnails at the bottom of the entry. But the captions and titles are still there (fear not!), and here are two easy ways to view them in the new format:

1) Click on the first thumbnail and then scroll through the photos in order using the forward and back arrows, like a slideshow. The images show up big and the captions and titles appear alongside.

2) At the end of the blog text, and just above the banks of thumbnails, there is an option to “browse the photo pages.” Click on the “photo pages” link and you’ll get pages of the old-sized (medium-sized) thumbnails with captions and titles. You may have to click through 3-4 pages of these to see them all, but it’s the most like the old format.


Young Ones Following "Parent"Young Ones Following "Parent"Young Ones Following "Parent"

The chicks are imprinted to believe ultralight aircraft are their parents (the pilots dress in white bird costumes). A trail of 13 total whooping cranes were following this one "mom."

Apologies for the last map I posted; it was a little garbled because I think I overwhelmed the mapmaking software with too many waypoints. I have made a new Wayfaring map of our route to date that you can view here.


To all of you who are following our adventures in this blog—even if you only have time to view the photos—we hope you’re enjoying the ride and we thank you for all the positive feedback. If you haven’t yet posted a “comment” using the link at the bottom left of the entry, we’d love to hear from you!

Our blogs have inspired 50 comments to date, including this wonderful one from Alison Howe of Australia:

I have been following your journey for some time (being attracted by the Waltzing Matilda title). No, I am not some crazed Aussie stalker, just a mum whose first son is at present travelling the world for 4 months. He set up a blog and had such good intentions to keep the old folks at home up to date. Unfortunately, studying Acturarial Studies at University in Canberra for 5 years did little to increase his communications skills, or his ability to give us a little glimpse of the places he visits, therefore I find myself heading straight to Waltzing Matilda. I do hope that you are not offended that a stranger on the other side of the world is eagerly logging on to your site and very much enjoying the detailed journal of your amazing adventure.

It's fun to browse the comments, which are listed in reverse chronological order here.


So, October 20 was Jeff’s 40th birthday, and I (Shelly) was very indulgent of him in allowing him to spend all day pursuing Custer. Even though it was snowing at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in southeastern Montana and I had to sit bundled up in heatless Matilda while he tromped all over the battlefield
Our Winter MigrationOur Winter MigrationOur Winter Migration

The whooping cranes were headed to Florida for the winter, but we're striking out across the wintry landscape of the Midwest. The black marker line denotes our trip up to Chicago; the colored arrows point to places we still want to visit on our way home to Washington state. (Photo courtesy of Doug in Red Wing, Minn.)
where Gen. Custer had his “last stand” against the Plains Indians. But Jeff was absolutely in heaven, and he selected three volumes at the battlefield bookstore for birthday presents.

Ten days earlier I had presented him with my gift: a baritone ukulele I’d purchased that day at a wonderful music store in Minnesota. There was no hope of hiding the instrument in Matilda, so an early gift it was. We wrapped up Jeff’s birthday day with dinner in Billings, Mont., at one of the fancier restaurants we’ve patronized in a while. Then Jeff went and licked the dessert plate, destroying the veneer of civility we’d struggled to maintain among the linen napkins and wine glasses. See, that’s how we wash not-too-dirty dishes in Matilda!

In our travels through South Dakota and Montana, we have been impressed by how the ongoing story of America’s native peoples is writ large across the Great Plains. Specifically, the Lakota (Sioux) culture has made an indelible mark on these states. More than anywhere else in the country, this is the place to encounter and learn about Indian culture. (And I’ve learned that the “Native American” label I was taught in my politically correct
7th Cavalry Casualty7th Cavalry Casualty7th Cavalry Casualty

Even though it snowed, Jeff was in heaven on his 40th birthday to be visiting Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, where Custer had his "last stand" against the still-powerful Plains Indians.
American Studies degree program is not used by Indians themselves, who prefer to be identified by that term or, better yet, their tribal name.)

On the same day we visited Mt. Rushmore, with its four presidential heads, we visited the Crazy Horse monument only 17 miles away. Although both are carved into the Black Hills of South Dakota, Mt. Rushmore’s granite is chalky white, while the Crazy Horse mountain stone is reddish tan—appropriate for their respective subjects. Even if you’ve never stood at the foot of Mt. Rushmore, you can probably name the four leaders enshrined there: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. But how much do you know about Crazy Horse, arguably as influential a leader as those presidents?

Although the Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen, Mont., claims to have the only photograph of Crazy Horse (we saw it), Jeff is convinced it is the likeness of another Indian. Crazy Horse was adamant about never having his picture taken, which makes him a likely candidate for a memorial to honor “the North American Indian”—no one can argue whether it is a good likeness or not. What will be the largest statue in the world—563 feet high,
Little Bighorn BattlefieldLittle Bighorn BattlefieldLittle Bighorn Battlefield

Bundled against the aching cold, Jeff walked among the marble markers noting where U.S. Army soldiers fell during the Battle of the Little Bighorn (named after the nearby river). The Park Service is just starting to place markers noting where Indian warriors died.
compared to the Mt. Rushmore faces that are 60 feet high—is meant to represent the unbroken spirit of Crazy Horse. He was a fierce Lakota chief who never signed a treaty with the U.S. government and was murdered under a flag of truce after he had peaceably surrendured to reservation authorities.

The statue was commissioned by Lakota chiefs in the 1940s but soon became the life’s work of the sculptor they selected, Korczak Ziolkowski. He died in 1982, but his wife and several of their 10 children are carrying on the work. Unlike at Mt. Rushmore, no government money has been accepted for this monumental effort, so completion of the statue depends on the pace of private fundraising. It will be amazing to someday see the stone figure of Crazy Horse mounted on his horse, pointing at the horizon with one arm in answer to a question once posed derisively by a white man: “Where are your lands now?” His immortal answer: “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Our time in South Dakota was memorably capped by a visit with a man we’d met two weeks earlier, at Custer Week festivities in Monroe, Mich. This was
Indian Monument at LBHIndian Monument at LBHIndian Monument at LBH

The new (1990s) monument to the Indians who fought at Little Bighorn -- because they were attacked by Custer's division under orders to herd onto reservations all "hostile" Indians who had not obeyed a U.S. gov't ultimatum to surrender.
Ernie LaPointe, the great-grandson of perhaps the most famous Lakota chief, Sitting Bull. We had his card, so we called Ernie prior to passing through his hometown and got an invitation to park Matilda in his driveway. In this way we also got to know his charming wife Sonja and to hear hours of stories about Sitting Bull and the Lakota way of life. Before we ate dinner, a small bowl was filled with portions of each dish on the table and set aside “for the spirits.” Ernie told us a basic Lakota tenet is to be generous when called upon, which is why he didn’t hesitate to offer hospitality to people he barely knew. And we’ve learned to be bold in reaching out where thin threads of connection exist, in hopes of strengthening those threads.

Our next night’s rest was thanks to Ernie, too, for he gave us directions to a ranch just outside the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in southeastern Montana, where if we asked the landowner nicely, he might take us out in his field to view the Deer Medicine Rocks. These are sandstone spires where Sitting Bull’s famous vision of the outcome of the Battle of
Crazy Horse MonumentCrazy Horse MonumentCrazy Horse Monument

In SW Wyoming we visited the construction site of what will be the largest statue in the world: a 563' tall image of Crazy Horse on his horse, pointing in answer to the derisive question from a white man, "Where are your lands now?" "My lands are where my dead lie buried."
Little Bighorn is inscribed. Well, when we arrived in late afternoon, Jack, the rancher, said he was sorry, but he had to attend a meeting at 6 p.m. and couldn’t take us out to the rocks. He’d taken the guest speaker out earlier that day—in fact, we might have heard of her. Winona LaDuke? Two-time vice-presidential candidate (1996, 2000) for the Green Party? Well, if we couldn’t see the Deer Medicine Rocks, we could certainly meet Winona LaDuke! And Jack said we could return to his property to camp for the night if we wanted.

So we attended the public educational forum in the reservation’s junior high gym, which started 40 minutes after the posted start time (but we were entertained in the interim by a drum circle), and involved incense and several prayers for guidance in the Cheyenne language. Winona, an Ojibwe tribal member from northern Minnesota and also the director of an environmental and human rights organization called Honor the Earth, spoke about the detrimental effects of coal bed methane extraction. The Northern Cheyenne will be voting Nov. 7 on initiatives to allow coal and coal bed methane development on reservation land, and it’s a hot political topic. The
Mt. RushmoreMt. RushmoreMt. Rushmore

On the same day we visited the presidential heads carved into Mt. Rushmore. The visitor center there offered rah-rah patriotism that didn't sit well with us at this time in our nation's history.
Q&A session was heated.

In person, Winona impressed us with her intelligence, strong presence, and aura of “no fear,” which has surely led to her tremendous accomplishments (bio). She told us she was headed to Italy in a couple of days to accept an award for her efforts in keeping Minnesota “wild rice” free from corporate efforts at genetic modification. What a treat to be able to shake her hand! And to partake of the complimentary meal served at the conclusion of the forum, which included wild rice Winona had brought to share. Other potluck items: beef stew, homemade biscuits, and a floury “fruit pudding” flavored with plums.

The Indian theme is not the only one in this entry. Another strong theme was exploring Jeff’s family connections to the middle of the country. His paternal ancestors farmed in Wisconsin; his maternal ancestors in Iowa. We tracked down branches of both.

Two weeks before our scheduled arrival at the Randall family farm in Mauston, Wis. (established in 1854 by Jeff’s great-great-grandfather), Jeff’s parents called to tell us they’d be taking the train out from eastern Washington to meet us. It was truly wonderful to see them for the
Lincoln DetailLincoln DetailLincoln Detail

You can see the stone "stalks" that represents Lincoln's pupils and the rough cuts to the right of the picture. Apparently the faces themselves are as smooth as a concrete sidewalk.
first time in almost a year and to have Jeff’s dad assist with introductions to the relatives. Jim Randall hadn’t visited his first cousins in about 50 years, and they’d never met us, so there was lots of catching up to do with Art (and wife Shari), Jennie (and husband Pete), and Betty. Plus all of their children and grandchildren who live in the area. We observed the soybean harvest, watched a high-school homecoming parade, attended another school’s football game, copied family photos, and ate lots of good food. At the end of a week, we took Jim and Gloria back to the train station and waved goodbye.

Gloria’s mother’s family lived in northwestern Iowa, near the town of Holstein. While we’re not aware of any living relatives still in the area, we did find the graves of Jeff’s great-great-grandparents, Martin Michael and Lena Clancy. We examined the surrounding landscape with a keen eye and noticed unusual terracing that reminded us of terraced fields in Ireland. Maybe the Clancys and others recently relocated from that Emerald Isle introduced the practice.

Lastly, we had to visit Fort Randall, in South Dakota just over the Nebraska border. OK, it’s named
Ernie & SonjaErnie & SonjaErnie & Sonja

Before leaving South Dakota, we made a neat reconnection: we called up the great-grandson of Sitting Bull, whom we had met 2 weeks earlier at Custer Week in Monroe, Mich., and Ernie and his wife Sonja invited us to spend the night at their place.
for someone we don’t think we’re related to, Col. David W. Randall, the one-time deputy paymaster of the U.S. Army. But it was worth a stop. Only one building of the late 1800’s outpost still stands.

I should detour here from recounting our round-the-country trip to say that if you heard rumors Jeff was sighted in Port Townsend earlier in the month, those rumors were true. He was asked to return to our home town for an in-person job interview, and fortunately we were able to find cheap tickets ($235 round trip) to Seattle from Minneapolis. I stayed behind with Matilda and Jeff got to see some friends, check up on our property, visit with our Little Brother Vince, and give one couple a start in Aldrich’s Market because they thought they’d seen a ghost! The job opportunity didn’t work out, so it wasn’t meant to be—and for the record, neither did the job I had applied for last month—but we’re glad we both went through the exercise. Now our resumes, references and interview suits are in order!

Jeff was anticipating that it might feel awkward to be back in Port Townsend a couple months ahead of our
Teepee RocksTeepee RocksTeepee Rocks

Ernie gave us directions to a ranch outside the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana where we should ask to see some sandstone carvings. We got permission to camp there for the night and to walk out to the Teepee Rocks, shown just right of center in this picture.
announced return, but he reported that to the contrary, it was refreshing. He was warmly welcomed (thanks to Imants and Elsa for hosting him!) and everywhere he looked, he could see new possibilities for growth and maybe even employment. He returned to me excited about returning to Port Townsend at year’s end. We know our lives will not be the same, but we didn’t take this courageous leap in order to go back to our old lives, post-sabbatical. We will continue to report on how we will creatively earn our living while staying true to those values we have had the time and space to reflect on.

While Jeff was away for three days, I got to play with friends of my family in Red Wing, Minn. Doug and Hildara kept me busy: biking 20 miles on a rails-to-trails path, visiting the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, hiking a treacherous trail to the top of Barn Bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, taking the fascinating factory tour at Red Wing Stoneware Co. Plus Hildara cooked a bona fide turkey dinner for my first night at their home—right down to the green bean casserole my mom makes, too. Doug had met my parents in
Winona LaDukeWinona LaDukeWinona LaDuke

That evening we attended a public educational forum on coal development on the res with the rancher's family, and the featured speaker was Winona LaDuke! A real treat to meet this two-time vice-presidential candidate from the Green Party.
the Peace Corps in Peru in the 1970s, during which time he also met his future wife Hildara. She’s now retired from a career as a bilingual paralegal, and Doug is still working as a “senior nuclear security consultant” at a nuclear power plant near Red Wing. He allows there are probably not too many Peace Corps alumni working in the nuclear field, but he came to it through the security domain and says at least neither pro- nor con- nuclear activists can argue with his role: keeping it safe!

In case you’re wondering where we “camped” in the sprawling Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolis, the answer is a very convenient Wal-Mart parking lot exactly five minutes from the airport. Most Wal-Marts allow/encourage RV’ers to stop for the night on their property, and this we’ve done about a dozen times in the last nine months. There are no hook-ups, obviously, and sometimes noisy trucks or street sweepers come through in the middle of the night, but there’s usually the company of other RV’ers and we have never felt unsafe. We are not fans of the Wal-Mart retail system, but we are not above using their bathrooms and parking lots!

Randall FarmsRandall FarmsRandall Farms

Jeff's parents Jim (pictured here) and Gloria took the train from Washington state to meet us in Wisconsin. It was great to see them and to have them introduce us to Jim's cousins, one of whom still lives on the family farm founded in 1854.
more hosts to crow about, in two state capitals:

In Des Moines, Iowa, we stayed with a colleague Jeff had met at a community land trust conference in Portland, Ore., last year. When Rich heard about our impending trip, he earnestly invited us to visit his family, so we detoured south to do so. Visiting the director of the Story County Community Housing Corp. was well worth it. Not only was Rich able to educate us on the demographics and land-use planning of the fast-growing Des Moines area, but also he lined up the quintessential Iowa experience for us: a ride on a corn picker!

We met an acquaintance named Scott in a corn field abutting the ever-expanding suburbs and Jeff and I took turns riding in the jump seat of Scott’s massive, $250,000 harvester. Mounted with “augers,” it mowed down the dry corn stalks and with rotating blades shelled the feed corn off the cobs. The kernels were transferred to a tractor-pulled grain wagon on the fly or to a semi-truck parked at the edge of the field. The corn we “helped” pick could be fed to livestock, processed into human food products, or turned into the
Randall ClanRandall ClanRandall Clan

Here are the relatives we met in Mauston, Wis.: Pete and Jennie, Art and Shari, (Jeff in back), (Gloria and Jim, Jeff's parents), and Betty. Jennie, Art and Betty are Jim's first cousins.
ethanol that makes mid-grade gasoline cheaper than low-grade at the pump. We also enjoyed meeting Rich’s wife Joyce (attending a Methodist seminary) and son Alex (a high school student), and eating some of Iowa’s famous pork at a country restaurant. Rich ordered the ham and the slab was an inch thick, I swear!

We detoured north to spend a night with the parents of a friend we’d visited earlier in New Orleans. Miranda’s folks, George and Gloria, live in Fort Pierre, S.D., just across the river from Pierre. A retired department of transportation engineer and a homemaker, they are now retired and putting finishing touches on a house they just built within sight of the Missouri River. George, an avid fisherman and hunter, took us out in his boat on a calm morning and showed off the civic amenities of Pierre. Miles of riverfront pathways that we wished we had more time to explore.

But we are watching the weather reports closely these days, and we knew we had to hurry on to The Badlands before precipitation started to fall. We had one wonderful day in this national park and one miserable day where we didn’t even want to
Randall BarRandall BarRandall Bar

Guess what? Cousin Art has owned Randall's Uptown Bar on Mauston's main street for many years. Never knew there was a tavern in the family!
get out of the car. These were linked by a very windy night during which Matilda rocked so much in the gusts I feared getting “seasick.” We heard a tenter in the campground pack up and leave in the middle of the night. But we enjoyed our first monumental landforms that we’ve seen since leaving New Mexico behind in the spring. We’re back in the West, no doubt about it. Mountains, here we come!


One last event to relate, the one that inspired the title of this blog entry, “Winter Migration.” We had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching 18 endangered whooping cranes start their migration flight from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida. Jennie, Jeff’s first cousin twice removed, alerted us to this opportunity, but we and 50 other people knew to show up at 7 a.m. on October 5 because this migration is human-led and quite contrived. The 18 cranes make up the 6th “graduating class” of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership reintroduction program, which imprints chicks raised in captivity on ultralight aircraft (the pilots wear bulky white “bird costumes” so the chicks don’t imprint on humans).

A downtown event we happened to witness: Mauston High School's homecoming parade, featuring "The Official Cheeseheads" marching band. (Wisconsinites are cheeseheads, in case you didn't know.)

It was a magical moment when the cranes and ultralights flew over our heads, looking so much like ducklings following their mother. The cranes were whooping their guttural calls, but I most remember their slim and fragile shapes—seven foot wingspans—against the sunrise sky. And the drastic human intervention is working: the cranes have found their way back to Wisconsin and this past June 22 (my birthday!), two cranes hatched through this program in 2002 paired up and hatched a chick of their own—the first naturally reproduced chick to be born east of the Mississippi in a hundred years.

It should take the whooping cranes and pilots 45-60 days to fly the 1,250 miles to Florida, by which time we should be back in Washington. They in the air, we firmly on the ground.

P.S. As of this posting on Oct. 23, the fliers just got back on course after having been grounded in southern Wisconsin for a week due to bad weather. Yay! You can follow their progress through Operation Migration’s daily journal at

Additional photos below
Photos: 45, Displayed: 36


Taco and CorralTaco and Corral
Taco and Corral

A view across the soybean fields of Art & Shari's farm, with dog Taco and the horse corral.
Shari & BlazeShari & Blaze
Shari & Blaze

Shari with her horse Blaze, in the barn.
Jeff & Family BanjoJeff & Family Banjo
Jeff & Family Banjo

Jennie has her father's banjo, a 4-string plectrum style (alas, with some strings and the bridge missing so it's not playable). Jeff got to hold his great-uncle's instrument.
Iowa FarmIowa Farm
Iowa Farm

Later we headed to the NW corner of Iowa where Jeff's maternal ancestors once farmed. A typical farm and field scene, shot from the car window.
Holstein Main StreetHolstein Main Street
Holstein Main Street

The closest town to Jeff's family farm (now gone) was Holstein, Iowa, so we stopped to get a feel for its small and now rather forlorn downtown.

25th October 2006

The travel adventures are getting better and better. How will you ever settle down to a "normal" life after this? As usual this was one heck of a nice blog. We are looking forward to seeing you soon but will miss the naratives of your travel across the country and great photos of people and places where you have been. All our love, Dad and Mom

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