This essay was written on September 11, 2001 and published in the Peoria Journal Star and Woodford County Journal following the the terrorist attacks on America
Migrations: September 11, 2001
We spent the week of September 11th entrenched indoors, watching in fear and hope the continuing television coverage of the devastating terrorist attack on America. T.V. crews filmed the awful explosion, the flocks of people running from the wreckage -- a migration of terror. The bustling movement of American workers from train to airplane, from expressway to subway, in reliable rush hour rhythms, has been disrupted. The sense of unconscious safety one felt rising 80 stories in the air in an elevator, or the carefree viewing of a city from an observatory hundreds of feet above the ground no longer are casual acts.
Back in Illinois, when we pulled ourselves away from the television, we gained comfort and a sense of normalcy by watching the migratory flocks visiting our woods and waterways briefly on their southbound journey. We've seen blackbirds in huge numbers raising up a chaotic chorus in the trees, peppering the skies with their dark swirling flight. Flocks of small warblers, no bigger than ash leaves, flicker from tree to tree, imbibing the plentiful berries on trees and shrubs. Warblers are known to eat poison ivy berries without negative consequences to their health. Can we sustain ourselves despite the poison of hate we've tasted this week?
I am sustained by the rhythms of nature. Monarch butterflies on their long flight to Mexico have found temporary roosts on the bare branches of trees around town. Migratory flocks of nighthawks, swallows, chimney swifts and grackles are using our lake as a transitory home. For one brief evening we played host for a majestic migrating osprey. This bird, who casually dominates the air and water, is nearly the size of an eagle with a white head and a light underside with gray patches across its wings. It circled the lake in a sweeping orbit, then dove quickly, and with a great splash, grabbed a glinting silver fish for dinner. We captured this on film Monday evening around 6 p.m. before we knew anything of the terrorist plans to commandeer passenger jets into a deathbound orbit toward New York City, crashing into the World Trade Center with an explosive splash of fiery jet fuel. Monday evening, we gave scarcely a thought to the fish that struggled in the talons of the great bird.
What disasters have befallen nature that led to such an outcry as we've heard across the nation and world this week? Forest fires? Oil spills? Pollution of the waterways? Do salmon mourn the disappearance of migratory paths to their upstream birthplaces? Did the buffalo cry out with the same pain we are feeling now when their herds were hunted down and the rhythm of their migration was destroyed?
On September 11th, the rhythm of our modern migratory life was dealt a devastating blow. But we are a nation of survivors, all of us the sons and daughters of migrants who traveled from the corners of the globe carrying the hope that they could make a home that would sustain themselves and their children's children.
The Canadian geese and Mallard ducks that are residents on our lake, are showing increasing restlessness. They rise up for daily flight practice, limbering up for the migration that lies ahead. Their departures and returns are trumpeted at dawn and dusk. If you stand silently when they bank low to land on the water, you can hear the flapping of their wings as they slice through the air, pushing the wind behind them. They are gaining strength, learning to be survivors. Rescue workers migrate to the sites of wreckage in America. They migrate back homeward and hold their loved ones closer, knowing that movement always involves risk. In the weeks to come we will continue to move in waves of migration, gathering at memorial services and military bases; gathering to plan and rebuild. May we move safely to our destinations. May the migrations continue in waves -- monarchs, mallards, and men.