The Mara Crossing is a river crossing in Kenya where thousands of animals cross every year as part of a mass migration. Some do not survive as the river is crocodile-infested. The book, The Mara Crossing is a collection of poems that explores migration, both of animals and human beings. I discovered that the author, Ruth Padel is the great-great granddaughter of Charles Darwin so I thought it was interesting that this book discusses concepts of human behavior that are part of our biological makeup.
In the chapter Migration Made the World the author maintains that humans have always been wanderers, that there is a push pull factor to migration. Sometimes it is a result of getting away from something, other times it is in the pursuit of something better.
Starting from primeval slime, a simple cell developed and the spread of life occurred. I thought it was interesting how the author provides a bit of background information (how a cell multiplies, how the genetic code is passed on) and then offered poetry (First Cell, Dance of the Prokaryotes, Revelation).
If you want to learn more about the in the migration of animals, specifically birds you will find the chapter Go and Come Back of interest. Again the author provides some background information about bird migration, that it is “the heartbeat of the planet”. The migration of birds has been studied for centuries and you read here about those that have studied it, specifically John James Audubon. The poem, The Boy from Haiti: wherever he’s been he’s watched birds. ‘I felt an intimacy with them, bordering on frenzy”.
I liked how the author brings together science, history and poetry to tell the story of migration. The chapter History’s Push and Pull tells the story of human history as human migration. Human migration is not only about need but about want. What motivates humans to migrate through the centuries? War, trade and religion have been factors since ancient times, continuing to this day. In Children of the Storm describes modern day migration and some of the dangers entailed, that sea drowns many real migrants. These stories are not well publicized but are mentioned here: asylum seekers as well as those looking for economic opportunities are crammed into small boats, and drown.
The author talks about how human migrations resemble those of animals, how that affects human behavior. Like a robin that defends its territory against other robins, earlier immigrants of a country resent newer immigrants and try to keep them out. The author relates some of the abuses that have been reported at UK detention centers (now known as Immigration Removal Centres.) The psychological effect if migration should also be noted. Migration may bring new life but the trauma that occurs along the must affect the migrants and their new homes.
The book ends on a spiritual note, with the idea that humans migrate even after death. Humans also migrate in the mind, “The Wanderings of Psyche”. This affects human imagination and creativity: “As the bonds in the DNA molecule are broken so that proteins can replicate the genetic code, and as cells migrate in the body to heal or to generate an embryo, so in the mind the drive to re-find and re-place what has been lost is the driving force behind both creativity and migration.”(p244).
How does this work represent “Englishness”? The author talks about a house on Nineteen Princelet Street (in London) that has been inhabited by a succession of immigrants since 1719. It is now Britain’s first Museum of Immigration. It shows how a modern, multicultural Britain was made by migration.