- Can You Dance Like John? by Jeff Kurrus
Story by Jeff Kurrus. Photographs by Michael Forsberg. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. v + 40 pp. Illustrations. $16.95 cloth.
Sometimes it is clearer yet subtler to offer readers a story of hope using images of a wilder species. We’ve seen this demonstrated many times before, typically in children’s books and with creatively drawn images of bears or wolves or seagulls. None of these books entrance only children; the parents and grandparents who read them aloud and share the pictures are most always taken by the art and the sentiment. Perhaps those adults who read them alone are the most sentient.
This is true here, in this beautiful volume, which bases its visual support on Forsberg’s photographic images of the elegance, behavior, and magic of sandhill cranes as they gather along the gorgeous Platte River in Nebraska. Kurrus’s narration parallels these images, reflecting much of the ecology of the cranes as well as an algorithm for getting past loss and its cousin, despair. Yet the juxtaposition of a human allegory, however striking, with actual photographs of wildlife, and the attribution of human emotions to cranes, at first distracted me, as a wildlife biologist. I had to reread it and allow these two parts of storytelling to mesh, in order to appreciate it. There is something quite charming here, despite my ingrained distrust of anthropomorphism, which is completely overcome by the power of the photos and Kurrus’s sweet and effectively linked storyline. The normal, unbiased reader will get it, right off.
Here is a story—no, a parable—of human love and existence as it parallels the ecology of wilder beings, of life itself, and of moving on after loss of a comrade. Kurrus delivers to all generations a soothing and hopeful parable that will resonate with a universal readership.
Three themes run through this small volume. One is the beauty and ecology of the sandhill cranes. A second is a celebration of the gorgeous Platte River valley when the world’s largest congregation of cranes descends from the skies to decorate and literally saturate that beatific landscape with wild splendor. And the third and primary is the parable itself—a story of hope for those who have lost a companion, whether in childhood, midlife, or elderhood—a story of renewal.
This may seem an odd mix, until a fourth, indirect theme arises, unspoken: that of our own renewal and hope, even when we think all is lost, that can be found when we venture into [End Page 217] the richness and beauty of the natural world and the self-willed lives dancing upon it.