Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Unusual Wisconsin Tourist Attraction


The Unusual Wisconsin Tourist Attraction
by Gregory E. Larson

          “The weather is perfect, with a bit of a south breeze, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy being on the bike today.” It was the third day of the 2006 Great Annual Bicycle Adventure Along the Wisconsin River, and our bike tour leader was reviewing the day’s route, giving the riders tips on different attractions. “There are plenty of things to see, so you can take your pick, or just ride the bike. Some of you may want to go to the railroad museum, and if that doesn’t interest you, there is always the crane center.”

          Ooo . . . a crane center. I envisioned towering construction cranes with cantilevered booms . . .Manitowocs with cables, gears, and massive counterweights . . . some big honkin’ equipment. Maybe the crane center has a beer garden. Who knows? . . . maybe even polka music. I looked at Gretta and said, “Let’s stop at the crane center. It sounds interesting.”

          Off we went, pedaling across the Wisconsin countryside, a biker’s dream of hills, rivers and woods. I was happy as a lark. It couldn’t get any better, with Gretta by my side. We were outdoors, doing what we loved, and the crane center sounded like icing on the cake. It would be a perfect day.

          Later that afternoon, as we rolled across the landscape, I asked Gretta, “How much farther is it to the crane center?”

          “I think we’re getting close . . . maybe a couple of miles.”

           I looked out onto the horizon and began to get an empty feeling. I expected to see some crane towers, but no man-made elements came into view. Nothing. Something wasn’t right, so I asked Gretta, “What kind of a crane center is this? I don’t see any construction cranes . . . is this like the bird cranes?”

          Gretta started laughing and said, “Boy, are you in for a rude awakening. Yes, it’s where they care for endangered Whooping Cranes. I think they have some baby cranes, too. I hope we get to see one.”

          “You’ve got to be kidding!”

          “No. It’s the bird cranes.” Gretta gave me a funny look. “So you thought it was going to be a bunch of construction cranes?”

          We both started laughing so hard our bikes began to swerve back and forth across the road. Oh well, so much for the vision of steel towers and a beer garden.

          I switched my perspective from construction man to nature boy and it became an educational afternoon. We entered the crane sanctuary and were quietly guided to a bird blind which allowed us to view a pond. The guide told us if we were patient, we might see a mother Whooping Crane and her baby come out for an afternoon walk. Sure enough, after a few minutes we spied a tall white neck in the marsh grass, slowly walking toward the pond.

          First, the mother poked out of the grass to make sure it was safe to proceed. Then the baby rushed out and splashed into the water. The mother strolled ahead on her stilt-like legs with her young one close behind. She stopped a few times and showed the baby how to look for food by poking the beak into the silt below the surface. After watching the mom, the baby bird made few feeble stabs into the water and the mud. I realized it was a brief glimpse into the world of nature that we rarely get to see.

          The afternoon turned out to be quite different than I had originally envisioned, but it reinforced my belief that every day with Gretta was an adventure.
Mother and baby Whooping Crane
photo by Gregory E. Larson