International Bird Migration Day

In Ruth Padel’s On Migration: Dangerous Journeys and the Living World, the Aeneid is offered as the great story of the present century: “the displaced man who has seen his city burn and has lost one identity forever must make a new home and new identity in an unknown land.”

Padel’s book is a modern prosimetrum, originally a medieval genre combining prose and poetry. The theme is migration long and short, horizontal and vertical, historical and present. Bat, bird, butterfly, dragonfly… whale, wildebeest, zooplankton: migration is one of the great facts of biology. And, it is, of course, the human story. Humans peopled the planet from the continent we now call Africa, then re-peopled it again and again through invasion and colonization. So much to meditate on here.

The birds arriving here today came from Central and South America. They have no nation; they may have passed over several and some are continuing on to another further north. Here, we always say migratory birds “spend the winter” down there, but really, what they do is they follow the summer, the sun that gives life to us all.

Personally, I started my journey in Japan. My parents were of mostly European ancestry; my mother’s lineage goes back in the U.S. to at least the early 1800s, my father’s to the late 1800s. His mother was born in Nova Scotia; she was bought here as a child in an influx of economic refugees from the Atlantic provinces into New England.

You might consider, given today’s nativist revival, thinking about the days before the 1920s. There were very few laws concerning immigration to the US, except for the exclusions aimed against Chinese. For most everybody else, however, there was no legal road to immigration, either; you just got off the boat. So when the Trump-supporting asshole (sorry for the redundancy) says “my ancestors came here legally,” that’s just more bullshit.
Moving right along…

In addition to being a fabulous poet, Padel is also one of the ambassadors of the New Networks for Wildlife in the UK. I was privileged, and delighted, to show her some of Brooklyn’s wildlife in Prospect Park last month. Her book about her great great grandfather, Charles Darwin, is very much worth reading.

Speaking of voyages: a paternal great great great grandfather was living on St. Helena when Darwin passed through on the Beagle in 1836. The Willses stayed a couple more generations on that isolated Atlantic island, at least until the 1870s, when, searching for a better life, they brought the whole family to Boston.

1 Response to “International Bird Migration Day”

  1. 1 alaspooryorick May 16, 2018 at 11:06 am

    Americans don’t seem to spend much time recounting their ancestry, yet it is so relevant and rich, My father was a refugee from Hitler, his brother was on the SS St. Louis in 1939. Their mother survived Theresienstadt. My maternal grandparents immigrated separately from Hungary and Austria about 1912 to work in Chicago’s garment industry. Their common language was Yiddish.

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