I find these days that I am attracted to books which delve into personal journeys, perhaps because I am so wrapped up in my own. I may be reading to search out answers. Or perhaps simply the fellowship of others who are embarking on their own journeys. I may be reading to know that I am not alone.
A friend gave me Hank Lentfer’s Faith of Cranes to read, thinking I may find some answers or fellowship. I found both in this book. On the surface, I have little in common with the author or the story. Hank was born and raised in Alaska and besides briefly exploring the world a bit and some time away at college, he remains there still. He built his home with his own hands. He fishes, hunts, gardens, and forages for his own food. And he carries on, day-to-day, season-to-season, through the joys and sorrows of life in Alaska. His journey, however, is one that resonates with me and it is one of faith.
Faith of Cranes is a story of a man’s struggle to accept that there is beauty in this world now and there will be beauty in the future despite brazen excess, industrial growth, and natural depletion. He clearly describes his angst over, as one of his college professors despairingly put it, the “inevitable diminution of beauty over time.” He finds mentors in the likes of Greg Streveler, who asks him: “What is this forest going to look like in fifty years?” and Uramuro, an Aymaran Indian who, though dirt-poor, said he couldn’t imagine being happier because he had all he needed: shelter, food, and family. We follow Lentfer in his journey to know his wife and family.
Throughout the book, Lentfer weaves the story of the sandhill crane, a bird that almost defies history in its longevity as a species. He tries to marry the journey of the sandhill crane to his own journey. The young crane who has no sense of direction other than the one that was learned, the pair of cranes who mate for life, the amazing ability of the sandhill crane to adapt to an ever-changing environment over millions of years. These stories mimic Lentfer’s own growth, from a young man questioning how there could be beauty in such an out-of-control world, to a man learning to love, to a new father who adapts to the world in which a child’s wonder still exists.
By his own words, Hank Lentfer describes Faith of Cranes as “a story of how one man, blinded to present beauty by the fear of an ugly future, regained his sight.” I think this is a theme to which many of us can relate. Many of us are blinded to what is present around us. We cannot see the trees, literally, through the forests of suburban neighborhoods, city high rises, and the tangle of beltways that encircle us. We fear a bleak future. We worry about rising populations, rising temperatures, rising debt, loss of loved ones, loss of wildlife habitat, extinction of species, our own demise. These worries, in the same vein as Lentfer’s own despair of the future of his beloved Alaskan way of life, can blind us to what we actually have before us.
The future may be ugly, who knows? And who are we to judge? Our future will be our children’s present. Perhaps we should let them proceed in the promise of a new day. Like the sandhill crane that has adapted to incredible change throughout history, we too can adapt. Regardless of what the future brings, some of us will still bake pies, play a pick-up game of football on a Sunday afternoon, and go fishing with the kids.