Monday, October 13, 2008

Urge for Going

The bramble outside my window is turning gold, the berries rotting and turning to hard little knots of former promise. Such bounty left on the vine is wrong, I always think, my Scot ancestors letting themselves be heard. But then I think of the lovely new set of jams and jellies in the pantry, and the crock of cordial fermenting on the counter, and I am satisifed. I see hundreds of birds flittering in and out of the bramble, too, eating berries and putting on the fat required of either migration southward or enduring the winter here.

Although humans don't migrate, per se, there must surely still be some remnant of reptilian brain within me, for every year at this time I long to GO. To get in my bus and drive to the sea or into the mountains. I long to walk amongst the falling down of the year and smell the forest as it decays beneath a new layer of wet leaves. To see the fierce Autumn winds whipping the sea to froth, the sea in turn tossing about logs that could support an entire house with their immense girth!

It seems to me that migration is one of the world's great mystery-miracles. Invisible sensors that somehow know both when and where to go. Although science is ready with explanations for the phenomenon, their statements are prefaced with "It is believed..."indicating at best a lack of substantiation.
Ruby Throated Hummingbirds, those delicate little jewels of the air, make the 20 hour trip non-stop and all alone from Texas, skimming just above the surface of the Gulf of Mexico; over 450 miles of water, and usually with a 20 mile an hour headwind!

Monarch Butterflies migrate from West of the Rockies to California (eastern Monarchs migrate to Mexico). I went to school in Pacific Grove, CA, a town whose slogan is "Butterfly Town, USA." Every year there's a Butterfly Parade in the Fall to celebrate the return of the butterflies to a scant few acres. When I lived there, PG was a "dry" town, that is, no alcohol was sold or served there. Having originated as a Methodist retreat, I suppose there was an historic basis for not encouraging the imbibing of spirits, but the irony of the butterfly hoopla was that the butterflies supposedly got "drunk" off the sap of the pines and eucalyptus trees to which they clung. Or at least that was the local belief when I lived there.

One of the wonders of the Monarch's migration is that because butterflies have such a short lifespan, the butterflies that make the migration are always new ones. How do they know what to do and where to go? Again, it is believed that they may rely on the Earth's magnetic field, the position of the sun, and the polarization of the sun's rays.

And then there's the Pacific Salmon. The life cycle of the salmon is fascinating. Spawned in freshwater streams, the young salmon travel to sea and its saltwater early. There they live one to five years, depending on their individual species, and upon reaching maturity, begin their return to the precise stream where their lives began.

The distance and terrain they travel and their return to the exact point on earth where they emerged from eggs is truly astounding. A very good and thorough description of the Pacific Salmon's life can be found at the Orca Network website.

The bottom line, again, is there's no real understanding of how the salmon know when/where to go, and how to accomplish their goal. There're not even a lot of "It is believed..." statements on the subject of salmon migration.

Accordingly, what is it within me that wants to just go out and get in the car and drive away. And where, if I could but tap into that ancient vein of instinct, would I end up?

Or as Joni Mitchell wrote: "I get the urge for going - When the meadow grass is turning brown - Summertime is falling down and winter is closing in"

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