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img_8513Cranes have always been special to me. I first encountered them in spring 1989 at a major migratory bird resting spot at the Lac du Der, in eastern France. This was also my first serious – and enrapturing – birdwatching trip.

Matthias was a passionate birdwatcher – what drove him was not ticking species off his lifelist, but the simple joy of watching birds, endlessly, patiently, and no matter how humble they were. It was therefore quite natural that we spent our first weekend together at the Lac du Der for the fall migration of cranes. I did not know then that this would be the first of so many other happy weekends, excursions and holidays all carefully planned to watch birds together – and later on with our daughters.

Late October 2006 – exactly six years before Matthias’ death – we drove again to the Lac du Der and spent three wonderful days with a dozen old friends from France, all enthusiastic naturalists and birdwatchers. Later on that year Hannah used pictures and videos from that trip to illustrate a school project in which she told the story of a crane named Charlotte over four seasons.

For our 10th wedding anniversary in October 2007 we travelled to Dobbertin, a small, quiet village by one of the many lakes in rural northernimg_8776Germany. We visited the town’s hall, which was hardly more than two rooms in a nicely restored red-brick farmhouse. The main room hosted an exhibition of local nature photographs, and many of them showed cranes. And sure enough, we saw the elegant birds as we drove back to our hotel that evening.

This year, Matthias and I had planned to spend two days with the girls at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge during Thanksgiving break, right after his return from Switzerland. After his death, it felt obvious that Hannah, Marie and I would go there, and that somehow Matthias would be present. So we spent last weekend there and were overwhelmed! We had not expected to see as many sandhill cranes and snow geese, and definitely not so close. We spent the afternoon driving along the north loop, stopping at the viewing spots, and getting ready for the big sunset gathering.

Our pictures hardly convey what it felt like to be surrounded by flocks converging from all directions, flying over our heads – sometimes close enough for us to hear their powerful wings flap. We are still glad to share them with you, and we hope that you will also feel the peace that was with us.

This post is also available in: German