When I was in Banff this August, every afternoon about three o’clock, the birds seemed to crash from the skies to feed in the woods near the studio where I was writing. About an hour later they would lift off again. Small birds most of them, some quite oddly located but that’s how it is in migration: paths cross, air currents shift. I began to look forward to their feeding, every day a different species, a single flock or a mix. They travel surprisingly well together: yellow-bellied flycatchers, grey-cheeked thrushes, least flycatchers, yellow warblers, Tennessee warblers, pine siskins, juncos, and always, cavalcades of robins. Northern species crossing and following the Rocky Mountain cordillera, south to their winter quarters.
But migration has taken on a different cast this year. Ever since September 2nd when the story broke about the Syrian boy washed up on the shores of Turkey, and for Canadians, ever since September 3rd, when we learned that his family, father, (mother and both brothers drowned) had been trying to get to Canada and were rejected. This equinox it is not only the small animals that journey thousands of miles over rough waters, over land and through mountain passes, thirsty and hungry. According to Vox, there are nineteen million displaced people in the world today; four million from Syria alone. Their direction is north. Old and young and broken clambering into a European, and yes, a Canadian winter because the alternative is a war zone.
We are told the world is facing the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. I, and perhaps you, having never lived through that time, am still trying to fathom what that means. In my mind this past year, the reports of ISIL came and went, the civil war in Syria was still small and far away. The war in Afghanistan a piece of history. The wars in sub-Saharan Africa–Eritrea, Somalia–long spent. But I think we are beginning to understand again: paths cross, air currents shift. The birds remember: we were all one continent once. I walk by you every day on my way to work: neighbours from Afghanistan, Somalia once, Eritrea, and yes, Syria, I hope. We are together now; only nature knows the why of this journey.
Let this be our meditation: look up to the skies, as we vigil, welcome, donate, and sponsor. Let this be our prayer: war no more.