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Sacred Air and Migrating Angels
March, 2023

Dear Friends,

Right now in Nebraska, there's a big party going on---though you need wings to fully participate.

From late-February through March, more than 600,000 sandhill cranes gather here for a few weeks to feed and rest on their long migratory journey from the southern U.S. to Alaska and Canada. At night they roost on a 75-mile section of the Platte River in central Nebraska; during the day they feed in the surrounding fields. The migration is one of the most spectacular wildlife displays on the planet, a big, noisy, and glorious evocation of spring.

I've seen the migration several times, most recently when I traveled there as part of the research for my new book (which will be published in September---hurrah!). Every Step Is Home: A Spiritual Geography From Appalachia to Alaska is an exploration of sacred sites and experiences across the United States. Each chapter is tied to a different element or theme, including sacred water, sacred fire, sacred stones, and sacred trees.

Right now I'm in the final, tedious stages of the editorial process, poring over every word and punctuation mark. The work defines boring
But every so often I look up from my laptop and think, "What an absolutely remarkable experience that was." Especially the sandhill crane migration. For three days Bob and I got up at zero-dark-thirty to watch as the birds left their roosting spots on sandbars in the river. As dawn started to brighten the horizon, solitary birds began to lift off, followed by a few more, then more, until at last a great aerial river of birds flew by overhead. The sound of their calls was a riotous cacophony, the raspy vocalization of each individual bird magnified by a hundred thousand.

Every time we watched the birds take off, the sights and sounds transported me to another realm, which is as good a description of a spiritual experience as I can think of.

When I was planning out my new book, most of the sacred elements were pretty easy to choose (stay tuned to future newsletters to find out more). But sacred air stumped me until a friend suggested the sandhill crane migration. Of course, I thought.

So in this chapter I wrote about the cranes, and breathing practices such as pranayama and tummoand the breath of life that God blew into Adam, and my own forays into the Wim Hof Method. This new book, in other words, has been a great excuse to wander, ponder, and attune myself to the natural world.

Which brings me to angels. Until I started thinking about the idea of sacred air, I never made the connection between birds and angels. Think about it: angels
 have wings and feathers, at least in many of the images created of them through the centuries. They like to sing. They swoop in without warning. They’re said to leave feathers on our paths to encourage us. About the only bird behavior they don’t do is poop on people, though I would guess angel excrement could cure whatever ails you.

It amuses me greatly to think of a migration of angels similar to the sandhill crane migration. Perhaps such a thing is occurring right now on some celestial plane, with hundreds of thousands of angels singing and dancing as they greet the spring. Now that's something I'd like to witness.

As you can see, this newsletter is a bit of a promo for my upcoming book, but I hope it might also get you thinking about how the sacred is expressed for you in elemental ways. Do you have experiences in nature that lift your spirit? Do you have a spiritual connection to trees, fire, stones, or caves? You'll get the chance to read about my experiences after my book is out, but in the meantime maybe I can plant a seed to get you thinking about such matters.

And if you have the chance, I hope you can visit Nebraska sometime in early spring (for information see Visit Kearney). The weather is likely to be cold and gray, but it doesn't make any difference to those birds. They know winter is turning into spring. And as they dance in the fields, our hearts can dance with them.

Sacred air indeed.

All good wishes,


(first photo credit: Nebraska Tourism; second photo: Bob Sessions)

A Sneak Peek at My New Book's Cover:

Every Step Is Home: A Spiritual Geography From Appalachia to Alaska will be published by Westminster John Knox Press in September.

Recommended Books on the Sandhill Crane Migration:

In On Ancient Wings: The Sandhill Cranes of North America, photographer Michael Forsberg follows the epic journeys made by these remarkable birds from their winter to summer grounds.

Peter Matthiessen explores the myths, natural history, and ecological vulnerabilities of the world's fifteen crane species in The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes.

In The Bedside Book of Birds: An Avian Miscellany novelist and avid birdwatcher Graeme Gibson offers a tribute to the multi-faceted relationship between humans and birds.

Upcoming Event:

I'll be at Grace Episcopal Church in Chicago at 11:15 a.m. on March 19 to talk about Holy Travel: Ancient Lessons about Pilgrimage for a Post-Modern Age.


My Books:

My most recent book is The Soul of the Family Tree: Ancestors, Stories, and the Spirits We Inherit. See my website for a full list of reviews and media, including my NPR interviews with Rick Steves (part one; part two).


Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper is about places that have helped me come to terms with mortality. 

“This book’s journey to spiritual places near and far is worth taking.” Library Journal (starred review)

Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God is a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world.  

“Whether describing mystical visions or the rhythms of everyday life, Erickson turns the spiritual journey into a series of exciting transformations.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

If you've read and enjoyed any of my books, I hope you'll post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online sites. Your review will help other readers discover my work.


Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She's the author of The Soul of the Family Tree, Near the Exit and Holy Rover. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world. 

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