As I raked winter’s sodden debris from the garden, a chevron of Canadian geese passed over. The leader, cleaving the sky with strong, regular beats of his wings, kept his head pointed north, unwavering. Ten more geese followed, strung out in a perfect V. Several yards behind a straggler, calling in anxious cadence, struggled to close the gap and take his place at the end of a skein.
I wondered about that straggler. Was he—or she?—weaker than the others. Had he lingered aground for one more nibble at a fresh shoot of grass? Had he been distracted by a passing seagull, a forming cloud, a burst of wind, or something on the ground below? Or, did he just want to stay put?
If I migrated twice each year, would I be that straggler? Would I look forward to the journey, train and prepare for it? Or would I put off even thinking about it until the others lifted off and called for me to follow?
I have friends who, by choice, “migrate” spring and fall, moving from New York to South Carolina, from Washington to California. They have “nests” established in two places, north and south. When they arrive, except for stocking the pantry and airing out the house, they’re all set.
Birds, of course, migrate from necessity. They take flight in search of warmth, food, mating and breeding grounds. The changing seasons nudge them along with chill winds, longer nights, less available food. My “migratory friends” also feel a seasonal nudge—a frost delay at the golf course, flurries in the air, a chill in their bones, or, in the spring, sweat on their brows, a yearning to be among northern family and friends.
Some birds, however, don’t migrate. The juncos and chickadees in my back yard, the towhees and the crows—they all tough it out. To my yearly amazement, male hummingbirds stay behind to guard their territory and somehow survive nights of snow and ice.
My husband likes the idea of migration. Dreary Northwest winters drag him to the brink of depression. He glares at those tiny pictures of clouds in the weekly weather forecast and floats trial balloons filled with images of warm days, sunny skies, golden beaches and green golf courses. While I have no quarrel with the concept of being somewhere else through the short, dark days, I dread the process of migration, the planning, the packing, the paring down of possessions, the preparations for leaving one “nest” for another.
In the grand scheme of things, he’s a robin or a swallow—he feels the call of adventure in a powerful way. I feel it, too, but I’m less inclined to respond than I was years ago. Somehow I’ve turned into a chickadee or a towhee. Having found a comfortable spot, I’d rather hang out around the feeder than flap my wings for days on end.
But we’re mated. The day will come when we will migrate. And when we do, he’ll be like that lead goose, intent on the destination, not looking back. I, of course, will be the straggler.
How do you feel about migration? Leave us a comment.