Rib Eye of the Sky

While the list of things I never would have thought of streaming from the Brave New Wisconsin is not short, the chance to bag an elegant Sandhill crane (Grus canadensis tabida-to those so inclined) has to fall in the never in a million category. Mourning doves, OK–just pigeons in drag, with not much of a constituency–shoot them if you feel you must. Gray wolves, on the other hand, kind of like ’em after Never Cry Wolf, where the pack is shown to be one tightly-knit, hard working extended family, admirable in this day and age. If they’re a threat, they’re not much of one, with only about 800 wolves in the state, about the population of Beetown, not generally considered big. Personally, I think a farmer should be able to shoot a wolf stalking calf or daughter–no permit needed–and that’s about it.

But ever since I saw the fellow at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo dance with a love starved female, Sandhills (the greater, not so much the lesser) have held a special place in my heart. Did you know they found a fossil in Nebraska of a Sandhill crane that’s ten million years old? Not only does that make them the oldest surviving bird species on earth, but it tells me they can’t be much good to eat since they would have long been eaten into extinction. And yet, Representative Joel Kleefisch, who introduced the notion of a crane season, is fond of calling the Sandhill “the rib-eye of the sky,” sounding just a bit like Wimpy trying to clamp a bun around a duck he sees as hamburger. Crane wisdom may be part of traditional Oconomowoc lore, but this seems to suggest Mr. Kleefisch has partaken of Sandhill, an illegal offense punishable by an extended stay in the Wisconsin legislature. We await the report of an honest poacher who can say I have tasted rib-eye, and I have tasted crane, and you can sure tell them apart. It is a lot harder to see the romance in a spring migration of rib-eyes.

Even were they Shmoos tasting like anything you want depending on how you cook them, the Sandhill cranes, their Siberian cousins, the Whooping (who seem to get most of the whooplah), the Wattled, Black Crowned, the Blue and the Demoiselle are majestic and revered creatures we might worship under different circumstances, or at least hold in more regard than steak on the wing.

I don’t know what it takes to impress you, but I’m a sucker for anything red striped and regal with a 7 foot wingspan who rolls his r’s like a Frenchman to impress the females, and can soar on thermals effortlessly all the way to China on a lark, or, more properly, on a crane.

Meanwhile, you can get Delmonico quality rib-eye in bulk at $4.99/lb if you know where to look, and I don’t mean the Wisconsin skies.

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