So often, it really is all about who you know.

For the past several years, a number of civic and community groups here in North Alabama have worked together to conduct an annual Festival of the Cranes.  The folks out at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the International Crane Foundation, a few different visitors bureaus, and several other groups: They all work together to make this event happen.

The cranes?  Every winter, North Alabama is home to thousands of sandhill cranes, as well as a tiny contingent of the critically imperiled whooping cranes.  These incredible birds winter here, arriving in the late fall and heading back to the north in early spring.

Several festival events each year feature a special guest, via the International Crane Foundation.  Hope, an eight-feet-tall whooping crane created by the Jim Henson company, is always a crowd pleaser. Standing well above the heads of any crowd, she moves silently with her wings either outstretched, tucked into her sides, or flapping gently with their black tips moving in the breeze.

Because of her popularity, I was surprised to be a part of a group email from Hope’s handler/manager/coordinator a week or so before this year’s event. The reason for the email: Hope’s regular puppeteer wasn’t available, and a replacement was needed. 

“Does anyone know someone who could help?”

Being well over six feet tall myself, I knew I couldn’t do it (not to mention I don’t think the black leggings would fit me), but did I know someone who could?  Did I ever.

Flashback: One of my favorite memories of this sort of thing took place some five or six years ago when there was a Crane Festival event at the local botanical garden.  I laughed and laughed as my wife, Lisa, had the most fun following Hope as she left the room at the end of the event.  

Hope walked with her characteristic wading-bird-pick-up-your-feet walk, and Lisa followed her, lifting her feet the same way.  

Hope’s wings fluttered gracefully, and Lisa’s arms did the same.

Hope’s body moved up and down as her knees bent with each step, and Lisa’s body did the same.

All these years later, the stars aligned, everything fell into place, and I have new favorite memories of Hope.

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