March week 1 – migrations of all types are being thwarted.

“Migration” is a concept that has been popping up in my thoughts, dreams and camera lenses this past week.  For the many species of birds that use the Pacific Flyby, it is reported that the routes north are beginning to fill.  But, for some reason, the local wetlands, ponds and seashore strips where I have usually seen large numbers of migrating feathered friends have been very sparsely populated this year.

Marbled Godwit – mud on beak.

I am not sure why that is so.  Climate change?  The increase of urbanization in once wild areas?  Decreasing food sources? More rain than drought? Or perhaps I just forgot where to look.  I am concerned for the birds because I know that at least some of these theories are true.  What will become of these wonderful creatures as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its research, protections and regulations are greatly de-funded and dismantled?


A 23-page directive to the EPA from Trump’s administration proposes changes and financial cuts to the EPA’s budget of $8.2 billion.  The cut of $2 billion will surely cripple the work of this already understaffed but vital department.  Trump proposed that the cuts from the EPA and other domestic agencies are needed to add $54 billion to the already huge $598.5 billion Defense/military budget.  We need to be deeply concerned about the birds, their world, and one another as well.

Migration has always been a part of our global seasons and systems – the movement of birds, butterflies and animals for breading grounds, filarial worms migrating within the human body, the nomadic tribes following water sources for their cattle and goats, refugees moving from death zones to safety, and migrant workers following the farmers’ harvests.  By executive order and proposed federal policy changes, migrations of all types are being thwarted.

In the avian world, for example, American Avocets are suffering because of the loss of wetland habitat, especially ephemeral wetlands, and, of course, an increase in contamination. Here in the arid west, wetlands compete with urban and agricultural areas for limited supplies of fresh water. Many wetlands that were once important Avocet breeding areas have declined in size by as much as 90%. Selenium and methylmercury contamination of wetland breeding areas by industrial farms is an important conservation issue.

In the San Francisco Arboretum I noticed for the first time signs of a very different kind of migration. The weathered stones in the limestone wall that frames the garden outside the botanical library were once part of the Cistercian Monastery in Santa Maria de Ovila in Spain.   The monastery, 90 miles north of Madrid, was founded in 1188 and thrived for over six centuries.  But, in 1835, over 900 monasteries were closed by the Spanish government, and, thereafter privately owned, Santa Maria de Ovila Monastery fell into disarray.

In 1930 with the approval of the Spanish National Art Commission this monastery was sold to William Randolph Hearst to be reassembled as a retreat center in Shasta County.  It was a dream that was never fulfilled.  During the depression Hearst experienced financial setbacks, and so the stones remained in a San Francisco warehouse. In 1941 the stones were purchased by the City of San Francisco to be incorporated into the deYoung Museum.  Fire and weather had erased much of the precious markings on the stones, and lack of funding prohibited their restoration.

In 2000 several of the stones were used to construct the Botanical Garden’s Library Terrace and were arranged in a way that would showcase their original medieval masonry. The salvaged stones remind us of a nearly lost fragment of history.  Maybe we can see all other “migrations” as sacred and precious, a step on the road toward the reconstruction of a global monastery – a safe and hallowed place where those who embody the holy other gather!

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