In the kitchen, I discovered that all her family (sister, brother, grandfather, neighbors, Norbu, kids, monk uncles…) had come over for the Losar and they were all huddled around the bhukari (woodstove). My prediction that something great was about to happen was finally coming to the surface as her family squeezed me into the circle. I warmed myself next to the blazing bhukari and exchanged smiles with all the warm faces that were nodding at me. Although I didn’t really know anyone yet, I somehow felt like I belonged.
|No more food|
|Archery is Bhutan's National Sport|
A few hours later, six of us piled back into Sonam’s mini car and we were on a mission to find the black-necked cranes that fly to the neighboring village in Phobjikha for their winter habitat. In Bhutan, black-necked cranes are called thrung thrungs and are featured in their songs, paintings, poetry, stories, etc. The way that they are revered in Bhutan makes me think of them as magical birds and I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to observe them in their natural habitat; they are found in certain areas of Bhutan, Tibet, China and India.
Jimmy was also eager to see them and once again he would hang his body out of the car and make the most believable birdcalls I have ever heard. A couple of times his birdcalls would trick me into thinking that it was a real black-necked crane and I would jump into a frenzy searching for them, which caused everyone in the car to chuckle. I think that my melodrama over the birds was contagious because the car felt like a box of fermented excitement. I thought that it was very sweet how everyone was so thrilled for me to see the black-necked cranes for the very first time.
After a few moments of driving with all our heads hanging out of the window searching for them down in the valleys, we started to hear their loud, honking birdcalls. Instantly our heads snapped back and forth across the valley trying to locate where the noises were coming from. A couple of times I would shout, “I see a black-necked crane” and Sonam would say, “No, that’s a car driving in the distance... No that’s a cat.” Basically, I was mistaking everything for a black-necked crane. Finally, to all our amazement we realized that the calls were coming from directly above our heads. Sonam stopped in the middle of the dirt road and screamed at me to get out of the car at once to film them because it was rare to be so close to so many of them. I couldn’t believe how big they were (3 feet) like fat turkeys with long rich black necks and tails. I filmed them with awe as they flew into perfect V formations all around us and I hoped they wouldn’t poop on my head.
|I'm hiding behind a tree taking pictures|
After they flew away, Sonam said that we were lucky to be that close to them and I knew that my lingering excitement could get me even luckier. That’s when I spotted a couple of them land in some farmland several hundred feet off the road. Sonam said that if I went alone to film them, then I would have a better chance because it would be quieter and Jimmy reluctantly stayed behind. So I immediately jumped over a fence with my camcorder and all the way down the plot of dirt to the black-necked cranes, I ducked behind trees and bushes, rolled down a hill and even fell over a huge stone trying to get closer to them without scaring them away. As I filmed them while hiding in tall grass, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself because I felt like I was working for National Geographic making some kind of rare footage. Finally, when I was about 30 feet from them, the black-necked cranes spotted me inching closer and they flew away with their long black tipped wings. Then I came out of hiding waving goodbye to them.
|Little Jimmy sees some|
When I got back to the car, I was limping from the fall over the stone and everything about me was dusty looking except my cheesy white smile about getting close up pictures of the birds. Everyone in the car cheered for me and Sonam told me that the black-necked cranes adventure was not over yet; we were headed to the Black-Necked Crane Information Center to view them through big telescopes. It was pretty darn cool to say the least. I learned a lot about the black-necked cranes and I wanted to wrap my arms around them to protect them from any harm. At the end of the adventure, we made a toast to the black-necked cranes and in my documentary about them (which I can’t upload with my internet here) I asked anyone and everyone to please protect the black-necked cranes by preserving their summer habitats, such as in China and their winter habitats in Bhutan and by not collecting their eggs…
|A Casted Love Spell|
After we left the center, I felt like the black-necked cranes casted a love spell on me and I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I wondered if the Chinese would be kind to them and their summer habitats. I worried if their numbers would decrease as Bhutan development increases and my heart raced just thinking about the black-necked cranes future being in possible danger. I even pondered about what a tattoo of them would look like (Mom, relax, I said “pondered”). On and on my mind swam around in thoughts about these heavenly birds and at the end of the day all I could do was pray for the continual survival of these beautiful creatures that have made their way into the Bhutanese culture and now into my heart.
|Cheers to the black-necked cranes|
Furthermore, after reflecting about the day, I have no doubt that the excited feeling I woke up with was the awaken part of me that sensed what lay ahead of me: experiencing authentic Bhutanese culture, finding my way into a Bhutanese family, partaking in an archery match and sighting black-necked cranes. Moreover, according to my first day of Losar, my year is going to be filled with adventures in Bhutan and hopefully lots of good luck. In fact, I can’t wait to see the black-necked cranes when they come back to Bhutan in November because I created a new belief that if you see them circumambulating the Gangtey Monastery, it will bring you good luck for the rest of your life. This means I can’t leave Bhutan until I get to witness this. If you also want good luck from the black-necked cranes, then the next time you have a good drink, cheers to the black-necked cranes, which will surely bring you good luck (Ok, I made that one up too). However, it’s what you believe in that can or cannot bring you good luck, so cheers to the black-necked cranes…