Friday, July 3, 2009

A long journey home (Books - The Snow Geese by William Fiennes)

William Fiennes's The Snow Geese comes to a quiet and satisfying conclusion. The book is well structured - with Fiennes's personal journey paralleling his physical one as well as that of the snow geese he follows from Texas to the Arctic. It is also narrowly focused, that is, it tells this story and only this story, veering off on no tangents, offering no conclusions or advice, just the facts of this movement and what is encountered through it.
We tend toward home. Migrant birds don't travel for the sake of it. They move between winter and breeding grounds because the Earth's axis is not perpendicular to the plane of its orbit round the sun. They migrate in reponse to the tilt, to the seasons and seasonally variable food supplies that exist on account of the tilt. In any species, an individual that remains within a familiar environment has more chance of finding food and water, more chance of avoiding predators and exposure, than an individual that strays into unknown territory. Homesickness may simply have evolved as a way of telling an ape to go home.
I'm not sure I completely buy his theory about the adaptiveness of homesickness, since the gene pool benefits so much from variation, but this theme of homesickness does becomes a beautiful refrain during the latter part of Fiennes's book. Here are my other thoughts about The Snow Geese 1, 2.

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