Great Migrations

And have you seen
them move as one
across this brumal
frame—inking out
the sun with their
gusty arc? Hearts
pulled by some
invisible string—
moving southward,
joining this Great
rhythmic dance that
spins each one of
us. Oh! seasons,
how mysterious
your lure. Do not
spare my wandering
heart your beauty.

I stand in the middle of the street with my neck arched upward for dizzying moments. The way they swoop and domino through the sky makes my tummy drop—I am flying with, my heart lifted by their communal dance.

The birds are heading south and the beauty of it breaks my heart.

They are not the only ones. Jeff and I have been enjoying watching the National Geographic Channel’s Great Migrations these past few days. What breathtaking beauty there is in the animal kingdom. What amazing design.

Last night’s episode, Feast or Famine, was difficult to get through. When the baby wildebeest was pulled underwater by the largest crocodile I’ve ever seen, I had to make Jeff turn the channel for a wee bit. Making this even more surreal was the fact that the episode was narrated by Alec Baldwin of Thomas the Tank engine fame.

When my boys were younger, they were Thomas crazy. We had every Thomas movie ever made, I believe. Even the British ones. Alec Baldwin was the narrator for the later episodes. As I listened to his voice narrate  Great Migrations, I couldn’t help hearing his voice saying, Gordon was a splendid engine…and other cheeky Thomas dialogue.

My how times do change.

But I digress. As Mr. Baldwin’s aptly punctuated voice narrated the plight of the wildebeest calf, I covered my eyes and said, bring back the butterflies!

The Monarch Butterflies. My favorite.

These gorgeously stenciled vibrantly orange creatures are the reason I let the milkweed invade my flower beds every summer. The milkweed is the only food the Monarch Butterfly larvae eats. I never regret it. But I did not realize the illustrious passports these little flying bits of sunshine must carry. Every fall, the population of Monarch Butterflies that live in Eastern North America migrate to the mountains of central Mexico to flee the approaching frost. The film shots of these–up to 300 million butterflies–hanging heavy on the branches of the old-growth Mexican forests where they winter are a sight to see.

But it is the return journey the following spring that spoke to deep places within. The butterflies that winter in Mexico have a much longer lifespan than those bred in the summer, living around eight to nine months. After the winter is over, they begin the long trip north, believed to be guided by the sun and a circadian clock in their antennae. This generation of Monarchs do not live long enough to make it all the way to Canada, rather, it is the third or fourth generation that arrive at the final destination.

The amazing thing to me is the fact that each generation continues the journey started by the parent, that ancient quest driven by something in the creature’s makeup—something inside urging northward.

I met with the Episcopalians last night. They are teaching me about Contemplative Prayer. We are reading Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening by Cynthia Bourgeault. In this lovely book, Rev. Bourgeault speaks of our inner compass pointing to the magnetic north of God.

This idea, so timely–paired with Great Migrations, stirred something inside of me. The idea of a journey inscribed on my heart—much as with the Monarchs and their passing down the map for their journey from one generation to another—made tremendous sense.

I have always felt the sehnsucht—that longing, that yearning that nothing of this world will satisfy.

This time of year always stirs that wanderlust. Could it be that pull to THE Great Migration? This ever moving closer of my soul to the One who longs to receive it?

I am thinking about the butterflies today. I think, come spring, I’ll cultivate an entire bed of milkweed. Some of us, in our travels, need all the help we can get.


  1. says

    There’s so much beauty packed into this post, I don’t know were to begin. Thanks for shining a spotlight on these mysteries. Every autumn the swooping, swirling dance of the starlings makes me catch my breath and long to hear the inner music that spurs them on.

    Thanks especially for the gift of gorgeously stenciled, passport carrying butterflies to accompany me through my day.

  2. says

    Lovely, Laura.

    Once, my only and I went to the Smithsonian’s Butterfly Garden where we got to meet Eric Carle and watch the loosing and gathering of butterflies. So much fun!

  3. says

    It is all so fascinating and miraculous Laura. I didn’t know all of those things about the butterflies – magical.
    I think it is true – that something “built” into the soul of us that points us toward home. And to think, the Spirit sets it in motion – drawing us with love.

  4. says

    Oh Laura, I was flipping through the channels the other night and happened to see the exact part about the croc. I must say, it has haunted me since. Your post has surrended that terrible memory with beauty. Thank you.

  5. says

    I really identify with this comment Laura:I have always felt the sehnsucht—that longing, that yearning that nothing of this world will satisfy.
    I heard from a prayer partner today that it is natural that we are all disatisfied with our current situations- even when we are in great churches- because of what you call the “inner compass pointing to the magnetic north of God.”Like all creation, we await our release from this world into the glory of all that is to come!
    Love the Monarch photo- perfect!
    The books you read sound amazing- I am finding out about the existence of these helpful books through your blogs- and am so very grateful for you posting about them! God Bless! Mary. NZ.

  6. says

    Sheesh, Laura … I had the same thoughts as Jeanne. How does one begin to comment on the beauty within this single post?

    The invisible string …
    The Great Migration …
    the sehnsucht (which reminds me of my favorite Portuguese word, saudade …)

    All of it, purely lovely.

    Deepest thanks.

  7. says

    Laura, I love Monarchs too. I didn’t see many this year, but the few I did see were spectacular.

    I am also practicing contemplative prayer, reading Thomas Keating’s great big book “Foundations for Centering Prayer.” There is something, as you say, magnetic about that experience. Tapping into that internal compass for migration of our souls – even if just for a few moments.

  8. says

    Ah. My beloved just returned from a butterflying trip to south Texas. Spoke of all you just wrote. And I too have read that Bourgeault book. Inspired. She often teaches with Richard Rohr, the founder of my workplace–Center for Action and Contemplation. In one of our meeting rooms hangs a banner with these words that seem to capture the balance, the life of a butterfly so well:

    Stillness is what creates Love.
    Movement is what creates Life.
    To be still, yet still moving–
    That is everything.

    ~ Do Hyun Choe

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