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  • Writer's picturePeter Pawlowski

Migrating through transitions to find our Purpose!

Have you ever felt the ups and downs of life escape without any understanding or meaning; all a sudden give us purpose? Here is a story how a serendipitous trip to witness the Great Sandhill Crane migration and a book called Transitions by William Bridges did this for me.

Some context first. 11 months ago my now x-girlfriend and I made a huge life decision to move to LA . We had been together for over 3 years and knew the move would make or break our relationship. Unfortunately, it broke. From that moment a myriad of transitions have come my way. Re-relocation, separation, self doubt, financial uncertainty. Not to mention social /political transitions happening in real time. My plate was full (I felt) but deep down there are 5 Billion people with real legitimate problems.

In my little bubble however… a 3 day trip to see the height of a 1 million bird migration follow their 15,000 year old tradition was exactly what I needed in my life.


Once a month I take a week to document an organization or individual who is teaching our society to live a meaningful life.

I discovered Crane Trust and Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary through a community news article in Minneapolis. I never heard of the Sandhill Crane migration, but both organizations are instrumental in seeing that this migration continues.

To view the birds in the best possible way, I booked 2 viewing blind experiences, one with each organization.I left with virtually no expectations, just curiosity. It was an 8 hr drive from Minneapolis and I observed my traditional shoestring travel plan. My meal plan was a montage of pretzels, corn nuts, and sardine sandwiches. My accommodation consisted of car camping, which, included the lux upgrade- the fold down back seat of the SUV for extended sleep room.

It was a frosty spring night in late March around 10pm when I arrived at my location — The Big Bend(as it’s called) of the North Platte River outside of Kearney, Nebraska.

Despite the darkness there was no way you could miss the birds presence. The sheer sound of thousands of cranes neatly organized along some 4,500 acres of protected native grassland prairie and wet meadows.

I was struck with instantaneous wonder.

What had been a spontaneous road trip quickly changed. Taking in the darkness and an unfamiliar presence of nature, I now was very aware that over the next few days I will witness something special. Something sacred.

I spent the following 2 days on the Crane Trust managed habitat. I spoke with Crane Trust staff and volunteers from Rowe Sanctuary, and experienced the cranes in their natural state. My experience will stay with me for a lifetime.

At that time 500,000 Sandhill Cranes had already come through the Platte River valley on their northward migration. I perhaps saw their height at some 200,000 along a 75 mile stretch. It’s breath taking to see these magnificent creatures in painted skies. This video I hope gives some justice to the beauty there.


For the past 40 years Crane Trust has been the principle land manager of this critical habitat.

Their mission over the years is to conserve this “staging” area. Which is a special stop to their preferred breeding and feeding grounds in North Canada, Alaska and as far as Siberia. This refuel and rest stop has been going on for thousands of years in this region. But is just a fraction of the cranes million’s of years in existence.

The Crane Trust formed in 1978 as part of a court-approved settlement over the construction of Grayrocks dam on a tributary of the Platte River more than 400 miles upriver in Wyoming. The consequence, The dam changed the water structure of the river.

The once shallow wide water way’s ideal for the crane has all but disappeared.

Agriculture encroachment is largely responsible for this, an much of the land has been converted into agricultural fields.

With the migratory life line of the crane in the cross-hairs of being erased, a trust was organized to protect what was left, and Crane Trust was held responsible to manage what has been nothing short of a transition between two species whose lives are invested in migrating.

Crane Trust has a 3 fold mission dedicated to conservation of America’s natural resources which includes…

  1. Leading Science and Research

  2. Managing Critical Habitats

  3. Advancing Outreach and Education

Their responsibilities include monitoring and evaluating the ecological community along the Platte River. Managing 10,000 acres of land and water for the diverse habitat to the cranes and hundreds of native prairie fowl. Restore native tall grass prairie land (which included recently the reintroduction of a bison herd). Lastly, the Trust serves as a resource center for the public, other conservation groups and academia.

They offer educational programs, habitat management practices, and, collaborate with other conservation groups (like Rowe Sanctuary) along the river and beyond.


To no real surprise, my stresses were still here after my trip. It feels customary that a book finds me tough times. And that is exactly what happened.

William Bridges book Transitions was referred to me by a close acquaintance who found the book extremely helpful after loosing their incumbent campaign for Mayor.

It was a perfect book. One I am still mulling over and the catalyst for other self healing work.

The book challenges you in so many ways,but particularly to go back to a world that is all but forgotten in the western world. It had me reflecting on my own families immigration to the US.

I examined how my parents transitions produced certain choices, and how their choices created an environment which became overlays on my life.

Transitions are deeply connected with finding favorable environments, resources, and securing family or individual survival. The moment we entertain our emotions, and exercise expectations is the moment conflict can exist whether your an immigrant, emigrant, or migrant.

Successful transitions of our physical self aren’t to far different from transitions of our emotional self and ultimately they are connected.

When we don’t have our needs fulfilled we are in movement. The “newcomer” upon encountering new territory have choices to conform, conquer, or move-on. The “local” exercises choices of resistance, submission, or move away.

In the cranes case, weather patterns control the length of time in every stage of the cranes cycle. Cranes come and go. They effect their surroundings but don’t destroy the balance that sustains their existence. Cranes embrace all three traits of a “newcomer”. They conform to the environment, conquer over other creatures for their survival, and move on. An eat or be eaten society perhaps, but they move on because there is a greater force that controls even they the top of the food chain.

This interdependent culture is what the First Nations people discovered when first immigrating to “America”. History will show that these humans made similar choices as the crane, but instead of evolving as migratory beings, they immigrated and collectively (in all their diversity) observed a interdependent culture. This interdependent relationship coexisted for almost 15,000 years.

But… then came a specie of human unlike the First Nation people. These humans made choices largely based on conquer and divide. They exhibited both migrant and immigrant characteristics. Their relationship with the local environment has caused a tremendous transition challenge, and the competition for resources has been vicious.

Today the relationship looks much different then it did just 500 years ago. Once a thriving nation of over 700 different tribes. Millions of coexisting relationships now make up less then 2% of the US population.

The Whooping Crane has been hunted to the doorstep of extinction. While the Sandhill Crane is praying the “new-newcomers” don’t destroy the last 75 miles responsible for their existence.

As a first generation American, I’ve come to understand that since my grandparents arrival, the managers of the society on this Turtle Island (America) have actively suppressed the ways of an interdependent culture. A culture that taught that human suffering are the dues we owe to maintain equality and balance with our environment.

The perversion of balance included teaching of the conquer and divide relationship model. The brainwashing of families and future “newcomers” as well as “locals” has been the recent history of America. And, a legitimate source of origin to the political,social, and environmental dysfunction that excretes this truth through unnatural behavior.

From mass school shootings, to depression drug dependency, domestic abuse, trophy hunting, narcissist and codependent family structures, and one environmental calamity after another. The evidence is in plain sight for those who can see.


In the past Humans have evolved without compromising the stability of their ecosystems.

Technology eased their suffering, provided a level of comfort, but interdependence was never forgotten.

Today it is evident that we have elected to conform to an unsustainable land, air and water management default. How will we evolve will be up to those who manage societies. To me the Crane Trust and like organizations represent a modern version of the ancient practice of cohabitation.

Thankfully, society does have choice how to raise these managers. So whether you are a lost soul squatting on the ground you think belongs to you, a recent immigrant, an entitled nationalist or a descendant from the first migratory humans. We are all part of a ecosystem that coexists with someone or something that is going through a transition.

Death is the parent of Life.

As we suffer and struggle with this truth, it’s how we manage our healing that separates us. Humility, honor, compassion, empathy are just a few emotions humans can exercise if we want to unify around a interdependent society once again.

Let us be mindful that unlike cranes, humans are our own predators. It takes a sophisticated defense system for our in-specie rivalry.I invite you to look into your family story and find the transitions that cause your flight or your fight? Have you conformed? Have you conquered or Protected?

If you are like me, at first, looking at my transitions was like reading one of Trumps Twitter feeds. I was Confused. Embarrassed. Angry and felt powerless.

But these are just emotions. Valid, but void of meaning. Perhaps that’s because I tried (or try) to avoid the suffering of evolving out of the conquering citizen I still feel overlaying my true self.

Those consumed by their fear will tell you to be happy for what you have, and accept what you don’t have or can’t change. But this outlook won’t produce a feeling of a meaningful purpose in life, and certainly isn’t sufficient mentoring.

Our quest and desire for purpose and the juxtaposition of reality is what I feel separates us from the crane.

So if you are feeling a lack of purpose in your life. Then there is probably a shortage of meaning to the identity you have of yourself. Let’s together take responsibility for how our transitions have effected us, created who we are, and have the courage to embrace the pain that comes when we are honest with ourselves.

Written by Peter Pawlowski

Travel writer for

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