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I imagine that the authors of the books I love most are not like me. I project that, because of variable DNA and life experiences, these authors’ brains tick-tock in ways that mine doesn’t and possess the ability to arrange words in ways I cannot. I love the resulting compositions because, to me, they are odd, surprising, and just plain way better than what I could conjure on my own.

Faith of Cranes book cover (image courtesy of Mountaineers Books)

Hank Lentfer and his book, Faith of Cranes: Finding Hope and Family in Alaska, pretty much blows my theory out of the water. I love this book and I’m inclined to think that Mr. Lentfer and I are more the same than we are different. He’s a National Park Service dropout who cared not to live the desk life of upper-echelon management. I am, too. Hank Lentfer loves sandhill cranes and helped his daughter grow for them her own love. My mom has always been obsessed with the big birds and she instilled in me the patience to watch them all day. Large-scale environmental problems sometimes shade Hank’s world. My heart can become heavily leaded by similar issues. Heck, we even have a mutual friend in common.

Faith of Cranes is a non-fiction, first-person account of Hank growing up, old, and wise in Alaska alongside ever-tenuously-present sandhill cranes. You probably know that sandhill cranes are the massive birds that look and sound more like they belong in the Age of Dinosaurs, that make larger-than-life migrations between their summer and winter ranges, and whose livelihoods are threatened by habitat encroachment and a host of other conservation issues. In Hank’s rural Alaskan world, cranes represent both humans’ destructive tendencies and nature’s persistence in spite of this. Sandhill cranes, it seems, are a framework for Mr. Lentfer’s life.

The book is a peephole into his world and, through it, I am made to feel–right down to my tippy toes–a wild spectrum of emotions. At times, Faith of Cranes makes me swing my head low in shame for how humans treat wildlands. Drilling in the Alaskan Arctic? For Jane’s sake, what makes us think we possess the right to do this? Hank inspires wonder for nature’s patterns. That sandhill cranes fly to and from Alaska every year and have been for millions of years boggles the way-back depths of my mind. Mr. Lentfer makes his world the real-life manifestation of his dreams and I dance in jubilation of this fact. If you can dream it, you can do it. Hank proves this to be so. My eyes overfill with tears for the too-soon deaths of Hank’s friends and for the folks who live on through loss. I know as well as Hank does that being among the ones who survive is one of life’s largest challenges. I am enamored with nature as Mr. Lentfer records it. The songbird’s trill in Hank’s front yard? Through the pages, I can hear it, almost.

Sometime in Mr. Lentfer’s life, he experiences a revelation. If sandhill cranes can and do operate on what appears to us humans as faith–in finding food, water, shelter, and a place to mate when they migrate–then, by good god, so can we. In this day and age of clear-cut logging, en masse dolphin slaughters, and melting ice caps, I am easily swept into a dark, non-functional closet of despair over such large-scale loss. All day I wonder, what else should I do? Could I help more? Can I reach further? Hank and Faith of Cranes dares me to ask myself what I can possibly do way out in those places if I become unable to care for my own chunk of life? Hank’s answer and mine is not much.

Hank reminds me to return to my world, to do the best that I am able with my plot of this good Earth and the sweet, few human beings on it. And, of course, to have faith in what might grow out of my wee home.

Mother and colt sandhill cranes in Park City, Utah (Meghan M. Hicks photo credit)

Here in Utah, the sandhill cranes will return in April, when dirtied snow remnants still stick in the shade and when the creeks run high with spring runoff. They will be fat and tan from a winter in New Mexico, ready to stake their land claims, make those dinosaur-like calls into each twilight, and create new sandhill cranes. After watching them for hours–just like I did last year–I’ll take home with me their faith.

More Resources

  • Purchase Faith of Cranes here.
  • Read about some of my experiences with a nesting pair of sandhill cranes here, here, and (sadly) here.

2 Responses to ““Faith of Cranes: Finding Hope and Family in Alaska” Book Review”

  1. SteveQ says:

    After enjoying more than one book by an author, I’ll look into their biography. I HOPE I have little in common with my favorite authors. They’re mostly alcoholic suicides.

  2. Bryon Powell says:

    So, what you’re saying, is that I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up for mud bogging at McPalin this spring…

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