Sam & the Sand Hills

For Tamboura/TuTu Much drummer Sammy Miami, the day started out much like any other in his woodsy Berkshire cottage. He'd arisen from his lair around the crack of noon, made and consumed copious quantities of flapjacks and had settled his lanky, six foot four frame into his favorite over-worn, overstuffed comfy chair to review the growing "to do" lists which had spilled out from under the complimentary Cumberland Farms magnets which were trying their darndest to stick to the refrigerator door.

"I really must begin somewhere", thought the Samster as he began to prioritize his lists and plan the day. He could plainly see that there was much to be done before he had to join Dakta Easy that evening for a TuTu Much gig at The Lion's Den. He had just taken a freshly sharpened pencil to whittle away at his list when suddenly a disturbingly loud and alarming noise broke his reverie.


The noise, which resembled the sound that cop cars or ambulances make when they're stuck in traffic and are attempting to get somewhere fast, jolted Sam from his chair like a thumbtack in the buttendski. He immediately thought that he'd been invaded by the local constabulary as he lept to the window to investigate the source of the grotesque cacaphony.

"Lord love a nanny goat!" exclaimed Sam as his eyes fell upon a most unusual sight. There, on his lawn, within ten feet of his cottage were two extremely tall birds engaged in a most unusual dance of parry and thrust. Their spindly legs were at least three feet long and were catapulting their dun-colored, feathered frames and equally long, extended necks straight off the ground in a frantic flurry of feathered fight. . .or was it lust?

GAARRRRRRK! GAAAAAAARRRRRRKK! croaked the birds as they bounced in tandem, higher and higher on outstretched wings, crescendoing louder and louder as their long, pointed beaks aimed skyward. Now, Mr. Sam had been all over the world and seen and done many wonderous things (some of them with birds), but he had never seen in all his travels anything quite like this. But, somewhere in the back recesses of his mind there was a stirring; he could identify with this pair of passionate dancers.

For nearly ten minutes Samster watched this avian spectacle until his curiosity got the better of him. He HAD to know who these visitors were. So, thinking intently for a few moments, it occured to him that he should call someone. Someone who knows something. Something about dancing birds, or dancing, or whatever. Someone in . . . the Audubon Society! "Yes, that's who", exclaimed Sam, "the Audubon Society will know".

Fifteen minutes later, Sam had found the Aububon number and contacted the organization and spoken to one of its charter members, Mr. Seymour Chestwig. Based upon Sam's description of the stilt-legged acrobats on his lawn, Mr. Chestwig identified Sam's visitors as Sand Hill Cranes! "This species is somewhat common in the spring in the midwest states of Nebraska and Kansas where they stop briefly on their migratory flightpath to the Godforsaken north", droned Mr. Chestwig through the scratchy phone line, "but here in New England, in Massachusetts, in the Berkshires? No way! Never! No WAY!"

But as it happens, this confused or courageous pair of cranes had been sighted here once last year and what Sam had been observing was the cranes' mating dance. This news very much excited Mr. Seymour Chestwig of the Audubon Society as perhaps it meant that this pair was planning to relocate to the Berkshires. It is well known that New Yorkers and Bostonians regularly relocate and breed in the Berkshires, but the Cranes from Kansas?? This was too, too much.

Within hours, Sam and his sighting were legend as the news was spread through the ornithologist/Audubon community. Birdy websites and birdy blogs cawed, hooted and chirped the news and before long camo-clad folks with binoculars and field guides could be spotted tramping the south Berkshire hills 'n dales seeking a sighting of the rare visitors in hopes that they could add the cranes to their birdy lifelists. Sam's phone began to ring with calls from curious birdophiles, wacko treehuggers and someone from the NRA. So many calls that he had to leave the phone off the hook and for awhile considered having his number changed to "unlisted".

After a few days, things began to slow down and the calls and inquiries fell off. Life returned somewhat to normal (whatever that means) in Samsterville. Every day Sam went to the window to see if the cranes were there. One day he spied a coyote standing where the cranes had been. The coyote seemed to be smiling. Whenever Sam went outside he would strain to hear the cranes' grating song. But nothing. Were the Sand Hill cranes gone, or had they just had enough of the spotlight for this spring and had taken deeper into the woods and wetlands? Or, had they recalibrated their birdy GPS systems and returned to the midwest? Or were they dinner?

No one seems to know. And everyone in the bird world is staying tuned to see who's next to make the crane connection. But leave it to a drummer to keep things stirred up!

Samster and his pigeons in St. Mark's Square, Venice, Italy during the TuTu Much 2003 European Jaunt.

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