Moseying: Exploring the Natural World
Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge
March 19, 2003
Every Llanero should visit the Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge. Sandhill cranes, for me, symbolize the wintertime Llano Estacado. From October through late March, thousands of cranes use the playa lakes of the refuge for their nighttime roosts. (We often have a few thousand cranes around Midland each winter, but the Refuge has thousands upon thousands, most years.) Every Llanero should experience their holy grandeur that blesses the prairies the cranes are a glorious gift and blessing that can fill your soul with gratitude by their mere presence. Go up the Telephone Pole Road (FM 1788) to Seminole, then take FM214 to Denver City, past Plains, then through Morton and go 14 miles further north. It is about 150 miles away, or little more than two hours away.
Sandhill cranes are the reason for the existence of the Muleshoe Refuge. I love to go to the cranes night roosts and wait for daybreak. Long winter nights test the cranes as they stand in chilled water to their knees, a protection from coyotes. Nervous lonely supplications for the night to end can be heard as I find a watching post hidden from their alert sentinel eyes. I settle in, bundled up and warm. Sometimes fog rises thick from the water. The emptiness of the plains is magnified by fog. I seem almost adrift, as if walking in space, tethered only by memory. The cranes talk querulously as daybreak oozes through the grayness.
Winter foragers soar purely for pleasure on clear warm afternoonsthere is no other explanation. Long strings of cranes returning at sunset to the playa lakes come in rhythmic waves, continuing until the final escape of the winter suns gentle warmth and light. It seems that each crane calls in turn, their music undulating along the length of the curved flightline, a chant as holy and sonorous as those of medieval monks. Winter cranes travel miles to glean grain from the fields, sometimes alighting in pastures to gently herd mice and rats from tussocks of bunchgrass. Their aerial momentum is regal: unlabored, dignified, a stately 30 miles per hour. On the ground, their walk is graceful and unhurried.
On the highway to the Refuge, north of Plains and at the refuge, a person feels like they have stepped back in time, back to the days of the buffalo prairie. Pastures are not filled with mesquite, but filled with grasses. At the refuge the alkali sacaton grass stand three feet tall, which makes the sense of the primeval even more evident. In several places a person can stand and not see a sign of humans and that produces in me a strange soaring feeling, like when hearing grand orchestral music. The sound of the cranes gives me the same feeling, as well.
A person can camp at the refuge, too. Not many people do, so your party of campers will be able to experience another feeling that Indians and early settlers did, as well. I love to go for a walk after dark, along a refuge road, not hearing a human sound in any direction, and away from the refuge managers residence, no lights are visible. In a strange way, I believe such an experience is good for the human soul. Sometimes it bothers people, but if a person can calm their fears of the unknown, the lessons learned help a person, I believe. The lessons vary according to the individual, but there is a common thread to what a number of people have told me.
To feel like the only human in miles can make a person feel very insignificant. As I said, it bothers some people, and their reaction can lead from fear to a desire to never feel it again. Other people say the feeling makes them feel the power of God and the immensity of His Works. These folks, after hearing and seeing the cranes, then report that the cranes are the grandest choir that ever lifted song to the heavens. These emotions flood a person, filling the soul with love for our bioregional homeland, the Llano Estacado. It is as if the love fills the very blood and bones of a person. Attachment to place can become visceral. To me, it is the purest and grandest form of patriotism.
I do not know the source of the following parable. A man spoke to God and complained that this planet was not good enough for him. God pointed out the moon and asked him if it was not beautiful, beautiful enough to inspire poets and lovers. The man shook his head. God then pointed out the petals of beautiful flowers and asked the man to touch gently their velvet texture, and asked if the colors were not exquisite. The man said no. God then took him under a shady tree and commanded a cool breeze to blow and asked him if he did not enjoy it, and the man said he was not impressed. God took the man and showed him mountain lakes, stalactites in caves, geysers, deep canyons, snow-capped mountains, and each time the man was not satisfied. God then asked the man if He, God, had not done everything possible to make this planet beautiful enough to delight a humans eyes, ears, and stomach. This planet is not good enough for me said the man. You arrogant, presumptuous, ungrateful child! I, therefore, send you to HELL, where you will not hear gurgling brooks or see flowers blooming gaily, and so sent the man to live in a city tenement.
Here on the Llano Estacado, in our version of the parable, God would show the ungrateful man; 100,000 sandhill cranes coming to roost, glorious sunsets and sunrises, horny toads, the songflight of a Cassins Sparrow, the antics of a roadrunner, and the quarter-million blooms per acre of bladderpod (tela del oro) that have graced our countryside this March.