There is more to December than Christmas

Bob Huber

December never inspired enthusiasm around our house. We steadfastly refused to join Santa Claus in his annual extortion ploy, and we stopped having babies 40 years ago at the end of each year for income tax purposes.
That’s about all there is to December.
But December in Texas — that state where old men with flashlights wander around at night looking for an honest man — means the sandhill cranes have come home after fooling around up north all summer, and everyone is happy to see them. Some folks even say they make a dandy Christmas dinner.
Cranes hang around all winter over there in Texas, because there’s a bunch of playa lakes, which they use as bathrooms, and because there’s plenty of leftover milo in the farm fields, which is like an El Rancho bacon omelet smothered in red chili to the average bird.
Cranes are enormous creatures about four feet stem to stern, and when my wife Marilyn taught school at Pep, Texas, we lived under their flight path.
Each morning they soared over us in vast V-formations, moving out to devastate the countryside like their ancestors, the dinosaurs.
Each evening they flew back to their bathrooms by the thousands and could be heard a mile away by a deaf old man. Their loud squawking sounded like teenagers celebrating a combination belching and gargling contest in a school parking lot.
In a section next to our place, several thousand of these birds — maybe a gazillion — landed each day in December, and were never deterred by rain, hail, snow, or good weather.
They covered most of that field, a grisly display of gray feathers and fleas, and when we stepped outside to watch them take off in the evening, we wore hats and goggles because of crane hygiene. When we looked up, we kept our mouths shut too.
In those days cranes were hunted in Texas as they still are, and I saw no harm in it. I never met anyone who could prove he shot one. Most of the time hunters couldn’t get close enough to use a smart bomb.
Old farmer (pointing): You have to get down on your hands and knees and sneak up on them from here.
Hunter (squinting): Where are they? I don’t see any cranes.
Old farmer (shading his eyes): Over there, about two miles.
Hunter (whining): You mean I have to crawl on my hands and knees for two miles?
Old farmer (nodding): It’s a dark and dirty job, but someone has to do it.
Of course some hunters sprinkled decoys around a field and optimistically hunkered down until cranes landed, usually just out of range.
First hunter: They sure looked pretty overhead.
Second hunter: I don’t think they believed our decoys.
Third hunter: Maybe they smelled your cigar.
Fourth hunter: Oh my God! I just shot one of our decoys.
Cranes aren’t picky eaters. Books list them as omnivorous, which means they enjoy a medium-rare mouse as much as a frog-and-loco-weed club sandwich. Of course, they can subsist all day on dry breakfast food if they have to.
First hunter: What are they eating over there?
Second hunter: Road kill.
Third hunter: I thought that odor was your cigar.
Fourth hunter: Cheez. I can’t believe I shot my own decoy.
Roman emperors considered boiled crane brains a gourmet aphrodisiac, which goes a long way toward explaining why we don’t speak Latin anymore.
But getting back to December, why not serve a roasted crane for Christmas dinner? All you have to do is skin it — don’t even think about plucking a crane — and soak it in a large tub of milk for a couple months to curb the taste. Then you roast it in a large oven at 450 degrees for three weeks, and carve and serve gizzards only, preferably with copious amounts of gin.
Of course you could forget about crane dinner and just celebrate the winter solstice in December. Not too many people will complain. It comes around every year just three days before Christmas, which is an omen of some sort, but I never caught the hang of it.
So that’s how December is. It was a lot more fun with cranes around.

Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.