Canadian return migration: salmon, geese and butterflies


When I was in Canada recently I learnt to appreciate the scale of animal, insect and bird migrations a little more, particularly the huge journeys made by hosts of salmon, geese and Monarch butterflies. It was not that I didn’t know about these before but there is always something about witnessing events or their settings that brings home their (in this case, awe-inspiring) reality.

I saw my first Monarch butterfly when I was sitting on Toronto’s waterfront. It was fighting its way across the lakeside blues in the sparkling sunshine looking fragile and tiny against the backdrop of gentrified waterfront homes. When I have seen butterflies before I have always appreciated their delicate wings, patterns and floaty movements but knowing the southerly journey ahead for this one lent grit to its grace.

Days later, somewhere near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border on the train bound for Vancouver, I was overwhelmed by the geese gathering in the falling dusk. Groups were departing southward as others arrived from the north creating a palimpsest of white dots in the greying landscape. Another day on and I watched the Fraser River’s vast waters slide alongside the railroad, before visiting Vancouver’s Stanley Park to read about the salmon that return up the seemingly endless waterway to reach their birthplace and create the next generation.

Nature is full of examples of return journeys, many on epic scales crossing generations, and these are reflected in human movements to and fro. This shows not just how natural it is to move, but how integral returning is too, reminding us that whether we fly, swim, sail or walk, we each have our own journeys, origins and destinations, and reasons for going home again.

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