“I haven’t come here to settle down / I’ve come here to depart,” wrote the thirteenth-century Turkish Sufi mystic and itinerant bard Yunus Emre, who traveled throughout Anatolia preaching Islam by way of memorized couplets. “I didn’t come to create any problems / I’m only here to love…He is my teacher. I am His servant / I am a nightingale in His garden.”
According to the fourth-century-bc Zhuangzi, the man who attains unity with nature “mounts on the clouds and wind, rides the sun and moon, and roams beyond the four seas. Life and death do not alter him, much less principles of gain and loss.” Such human beings “turn beginning and end around and don’t know start from finish. They carelessly loiter beyond the dust and the dirt and wander free and easy.”
Home to an estimated eight hundred languages, the New York City borough of Queens has been called the “Noah’s ark of languages” by linguist Daniel Kaufman, an expert in endangered tongues. Most of the world’s last remaining speakers of Gottscheerish, a critically endangered Germanic dialect, live in the neighborhood of Ridgewood, while Vlashki, a dialect of Istro-Romanian, is believed to be more commonly spoken in Astoria than in Europe.
In Dialogue on Miracles, the thirteenth-century preacher and historian Caesarius of Heisterbach tells of a man curious to discover the origin of the migratory swallows that appeared at his house every spring. Catching one of them, he attached a note to its leg that read, “O swallow, where do you live in winter?” The following spring, a bird appeared with a reply attached to its leg: “In Asia, at Peter’s house.”
According to an Aztec myth, the war god Huitzilopochtli sent a group of Mexica on a journey to establish the new center of the world. After some two hundred years of wandering, they saw an eagle resting on a cactus with its “wings stretched outward like the rays of the sun.” Taking the bird to be a divine sign that they had reached their destination, they “began to weep and dance about with joy and contentment.”
To better understand the migration patterns of American robins, Georgetown University researchers attached “tiny metal backpacks” to them that use an antenna on the International Space Station to pinpoint the birds’ locations within thirty feet. Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, described the technology as a harbinger of “an ‘internet of animals’—a collection of sensors around the world giving us a better picture of the movement of life on the planet.”
In 1639 Puritan settlers in Massachusetts authorized the expulsion of “pauper aliens” in what is thought to be the first case of deportation in the country. Soon after, Virginia and Pennsylvania passed laws heavily restricting “the importation of paupers,” which included criminals and “foreigners and Irish servants.”
According to one theory, the association between storks and human infants in northern European folklore arose from an ancient Germanic custom of holding weddings on the summer solstice, before storks began their annual migration to Africa. Nine months later, when the babies conceived the previous summer were being born, the storks would return north to breed.
In June 2021 the city of San Antonio inaugurated its North American Friendship Garden, a rest stop for migrating monarch butterflies featuring native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees. The garden’s aim is “the friendship and goodwill of three countries working toward common goals,” one city official said. “As a migratory insect, the monarch is a representation of migration.”
Research conducted using the Migrant Acceptance Index, a metric developed by Gallup to assess the emotional impact of immigration on both migrants and native-born populations, found that newcomers to countries with the lowest migrant-acceptance scores rated their lives more positively than did native-born residents, but this positivity faded the longer migrants stayed. In countries with high acceptance scores, longtime migrants expressed more optimism about the future than either native-born residents or newly arrived migrants.
While conducting research in the remote Iranian region of Khuzestan in the 1970s, folklorist Grace Goodell found that villagers refused to hunt any “unusual” migratory birds that stopped in the area for only a few days, believing them to be performing a hajj pilgrimage. Based on migration patterns, the birds may indeed pass over Mecca on their way to Africa, Goodell noted, although “probably few actually winter by the house of God.”
Each year from late August to October, thousands of male Oklahoma brown tarantulas travel through the prairieland of southeast Colorado in search of a mate. The spiders, which reach sexual maturity around the age of ten, often survive just one migration season. “Once they wander and mate, it gets cold,” said one entomologist. “They’ll be dead by Christmas.”
In the summer of 1867, Chinese laborers working on the Central Pacific Railroad in the Sierra Nevada went on strike, demanding a pay increase and a ten-hour workday. Desperate to resume the railroad’s progress, executives considered asking the Freedmen’s Bureau to send African American laborers to take over. “A Negro labor force would keep the Chinese steady,” one executive wrote, “as the Chinese have kept the Irishmen quiet.”
Banished from the kingdom of Kindah, the sixth-century prince and poet Imru al-Qays spent much of his life wandering the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula developing the literary genre wuquf ala al-atlal, or “stopping by the ruins.” “The courtyards and enclosures of the old home have become desolate,” he wrote in one verse, “the dung of the wild deer lies there thick as the seeds of pepper.”
“To bring rain or warm weather,” Micmac storyteller Pierrot Clemeau told an American ethnologist in 1897, “talk of whales or relate a legend describing the migration of the birds and the alternation of the seasons.”