The Mara Crossing

One of the most interesting reads of this course was the book The Mara Crossing by Ruth Padel. What made it so interesting to me was the blending of verse and prose. As previously stated in other blog posts, analyzing poetry is not my strong suit and I prefer a more straight-forward approach to what I’m reading. This book made is easy to understand and gain a new appreciation for the poetry I was reading because she provided context to her poems in the chapter beforehand. So what struck me was her in-depth explanations of biology and then a creative approach in her poetry. So I was already attracted to the book because of its structure and then I started reading.

This entire book is about migration, but isn’t limited to animal migration- she talks about insects and humans as well. The whole world is in a constant state of migration, either by people or by animals and it provided fantastic connections to Englishness and London as a whole better than I could have imagined, but more on that later… The Mara River is a river in Mara Region in Tanzania and Narok County in Kenya and provides vital nutrients and food to the nearby grazing animals.


From the chapter “There is Always a River” in her book, Padel states,

From a parked jeep on a riverbank in Kenya I saw a scene which summed up for me the unstoppable pull of migration. It was early morning, the air still cool. The sun had only just got up. Below was the Mara River, the end of the animals’ journey. Northing stirred- then three absurdly delicate Thomson’s gazelles, a buck and two does, arrived. They stopped on a flat stretch of shore and stared at the shining water. The river drew them. They could hardly bear to glance away to check for lions. I had some to Kenya to see one of the wonders of the world- a million and a half wildebeest, 300,000 Burchell’s zebra (Plains zebra) and 50,000 of these gazelles, finishing their annual trek.

This moment is amazing because these animals have trekked thousands of miles and now this is their last obstacle before the end of their journey. While this is a hard obstacle to overcome, those that survive will have reached the reason for their journey. This migration is visible in all living forms– we all know that birds migrate to the south for the winter, we, as humans, migrate to our jobs everyday, we move to different places, both legally and illegally. What we don’t realize is that we are in a constant state of fluidity and flux. Like the birds and wildebeests, we are constantly changing and moving to what matches our needs. We are like the river in that we are never the same person twice in our lives. Our skin and cells are constantly reproducing and emotionally, physically, mentally we are never the same people year after year.

What drew the strongest connection for me was the last chapter in The Mara Crossing, “The Wanderings of Psyche”. Padel goes through the entire book starting with the migration of cells to that of birds and insects to emigration and immigration and she brings it all back in the end and connects everything. It’s the beauty of her writing that can take us from biology in the first chapter all the way to the human psyche in the last. But what stuck with me the most was the last paragraph of the last chapter on page 245. She says,

This modest place embodies Britain over the centuries as a place of sanctuary and new life. It tells the story of a house, a parish and a city whose walls, as we know, were built by immigrants. Very quietly, it shows how multicultural Britain- and every modern, multilayered society- was made, just as the world was made, by migration.

This idea is so important because in my journal entries for the other class, I have emphasized the multicultural universe that exists inside London. We have the layering of the old and the new in terms of architecture, we have the existence of heterotopic spaces with the cemeteries and museums, and we have the multilayering of national identity in how the city is put together. No place is purely one thing because it takes inspiration and pieces from different countries and different people. The idea of migration is so important because it’s not just a physical idea, it’s mental and emotional. Ideas migrate, words migrate, thoughts migrate. We live in a world of different cultures and different people, nothing is pure. And this defines Englishness and, even more specifically, Londonness because it is just a cultural, historical, mythical place that spans from the idea of migration.


House of Flags: an installation celebrating multicultural London

House of Flags: an installation celebrating multicultural London

“Everyday is a journey and the journey itself is home”


Crossing paths

   “People or birds, migrating is all about home.The quest for it, changing it, making it.”
In Ruth Padel’s book she blends poetry and prose to tell a story. This story crosses oceans, flies through the air at great heights, swims through seas, follow the magnetic pulls of the earth, and leaves no animal behind.
What does it mean to have an origin or identity? This question can be applied to you and me but also to the creatures we share this planet with. Padel draws lines and webs that show the reader just how close we all are to each other and how these lines intersect with each others homes.

Home is a place that we return to, a place that we create, a place that we yearn for. In JRR Tolkien’s epic tale, The Hobbit,  he tells the story of a company of dwarves, forced to evacuate their homeland at the cruel greedy hand of a dragon, return after an incredible journey. They laid their lives on the line just to return home. This is done in so many stories and it demonstrates the human, and animal instinct to not only create and be home but to protect it at all costs. Birds,  the animals of the great migrations in Africa, sea creatures, and humans make huge movements to find home. Maya Angelou wrote, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Maybe all of us are pulled by the magnetic force that drives the birds, maybe we are following the sun so that we can never see it set. So we are never in the dark and never in doubt.
Transport yourself to London, walk in the gardens with me at and notice the flowers, are they native to this dirt or are they beauty brought from another land to share their brightness in the english soil? Maybe seeds migrated here, blown by the wind or carried by a bird making a similar journey. Or maybe they were picked up by an admiring human for the sole purpose of adding beauty to their yard.

Migration takes many different forms but the outcome of almost all migrations is a change and a new start. Padel writes, “Migration means leaving things behind. It moves you into a disoriented world which doesn’t add up in the way you are used to. You have to start putting things together in a new order.” You have to create or find a space that has the qualities that are essential to life. Migration strips down wants and leaves you with needs. From their, it is up the to individual to create a home.
People and animals migrate for reasons. Sometimes it is a need for change spurred by a discontent in the heart. Sometimes it is from oppression; the destination is a new chance for freedom. Sometimes migration is yearly, bi-yearly, for food and water and comfort. No matter what, migration causes change and forces the meaning of home into question.

We, as humans, share the oceans, the air, the dirt of the earth with our neighbors. These neighbors consist of bears, cattle, horses, whales, birds, giraffes, lions, snakes, worms, and much much more. This planet is meant for sharing. As Padel writes in her poem, Sharing Spaces, “The night before 9/11 a million Swainson’s thrushes must have flown over the towers. Their road songs have been recorded other years on just that date in the skies over Manhattan.” Powerful words for a world that sometimes needs to remember that we share a beautiful, green planet with others.

The Mara Crossing

As warning I love poetry, but once you start to mix in the scientific and technical, I tend to lose interest. That being said I am doing my best to wrap my head around these essays and poems.


In an interview with the author of the Mara Crossing, Ruth Padel she stated, “poetry has a responsibility to look at the world.” This is a statement that I agree with and can wrap my head around. Even though these pieces are based in science, I do agree that turning biological facts into poetry, or understandable essays helps to deliver the message that she is trying to get out. This makes her message of both animal and human migration more accessible to the general public. One of the ways that she is able to do this is by bring her own personal stories into her essays. In the beginning of some of the essays she uses the personal examples of her own family specifically her daughter’s own migration. Her daughter has traveled to Colombia and back.

In an interview with The Guardian stated her intent for The Mara Crossing, “I wanted to make the political point clear – that human migration is part of animal migration, and migration has been part of life on this earth from the start. Life began with migration, and millions of human beings are doing it today as humans always have done. But it’s not always voluntary.” Padel’s intention to bring to light the issue of migration is something that is very interesting, in the United States immigration and migration are issues that are heavily debated topics right now. It is an interesting to me seeing that this is an issue that is debated all over the world and not just within the United States. Padel makes an interesting argument by saying that migration has been going on since the beginning of time will continue. She states that it is not just a human issue, but an animal one as well.

The chapter “The Broken Mirror” brings up other political points that Padel thinks are important to address. One of the reasons that humans migrate according to Padel is the constant looking for more resources. On page 184 she states, “Wanting more –more resources  than the planet has, a place where we can see from a different angle, find what we’ve lost on earth or get what we never had – is wanting the moon.” Padel brings up the issue that humans tend to consume more that we produce, we are always in search of the next thing to consume. One of the reasons for migration is to hunt for these new resources that we have over used and no longer are able to have. The British empire is an example of this idea. When England went through there industrial revolution it was able to mass produce goods that the people bought right up. Once they used up all of their own resources, they turned to places like India and parts of Africa to create these new resources for the empire.

Ruth Padel’s The Mara Crossing is much more than just a book of biology and science when you take the time and look at it. It is a story of migration both human and animal  and the implications of the migration.

The Mara Crossing and Foreign Englishness

The Mara Crossing, by Ruth Padel, details the expansive topic of migration. This includes cell, insect, animal, plant, and human migration, as well as migratory evolution, and the science, context, and/or background of all these things. I decided to look at the idea of Englishness through the lens of human movement and foreign elements in conjunction with ‘The Docks of London’ essay in Woolf’s ‘The London Scenes’ and also with consideration to a poem briefly mentioned in class, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke. These three sources I believe can give a sense of Foreign Englishness.

The Mara Crossing begins its journey by anchoring itself in London saying, “London is immigrant city… [it] was created by migration”. From my own experience of being in London, I know how true this is having met and seen much an incredible variety of people living there. I believe, however, that this quote can extend beyond just the migration of people to include the movement of foreign physical objects as well as unseen, but certainly not unfelt, spheres of influence. In the essay on the Docklands in ‘The London Scenes’, Woolf describes the place thus: “One hears the roar and the resonance of London itself”. Woolf is basically saying that the convergence of foreign commodities on this place of commerce are a defining element of Englishness.

Padel’s books states that, “Bird migration is the heartbeat of the planet… millions of birds are weaving the world together all the time”. Certainly this quote can be translated into the modern human realities of fast-paced shipping routes and the interconnectivity the internet brings us and can change to mean that every space is constantly influencing the spaces it’s connected to, or “weaving the world together”. Padel herself says in her poem ‘Flight of the Apple’, “Because everyone, given time, / changes everyone else”. This constant change and movement is another form of migration, it “is part of the restless, constantly self-renewing nature of all life, in creative tension between the fixed and the wandering” (Padel). This statement compliments a statement that Woolf makes in her Docklands essay, “The only thing, one comes to feel, that can change the routine of the docks is a change in ourselves”. The constant change the docklands see is simply the “wandering” nature of life as people are effected by new, foreign influences.

Thus far we’ve delved into the effect of foreign elements on a sense of Englishness but what about vice versa? In 1914 Rupert Brooke touched upon this very subject in his poem ‘The Soldier’.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Our class’s study of spatiality comes to mind while reading this poem because Rupert Brooke is quite literally a foreign element in a land that is not England. Brooke is saying that if he should die there, his Englishness – his English identity – would forever alter the spatial practice of the piece of land where he is buried, “there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England”. He is saying that he would become part of the history and he would influence that place. This gives us another sense of Foreign Englishness.

We’ve been told by our readings that it is essential to keep history in mind whilst trying to gain an understanding of Englishness but I also believe that one must also keep in mind both the historical foreign influences and also the ever-occurring ones. The world is ever changing – ever migrating like Padel says and it’s safe to say that it’s ever weaving together through intersecting influences. This gives us a sense of Foreign Englishness but also begs the question: Will the world someday reach a state of cultural equilibrium? Just food for thought…


Perspectives on Migration: A Look At Ruth Padel’s “The Mara Crossing”

Mara%20Crossing IMST-00085976-001geese_newmexico

In Ruth Padel’s The Mara Crossing, there was a variety of perspectives that could be found that are represented in historical, geographical, and scientific context.  The first perspective that I feel is presented in the reading, is religious influence on migration.  For example; in the first chapter, “Migration Made the World,” Padel states that, “…We were put in a garden.  But that went wrong and now we are wanderers between two worlds…” (2)  This refers to the climax of the story of Adam and Eve and how they were exiled from the paradise known as The Garden of Eden for Eve’s picking of the forbidden fruit.  Also, I thought it was interesting that in that same chapter I was introduced to a more scientific approach, as well as religious approach, to the roots of migration.

The chapter goes on to discuss the development of cells, how they are the basic units of life and how cells are what make up every living organism on this Earth.  This of course being the scientific definition known as “Cell Theory.” Another approach that is taking in discussing migration is on the side of the zoological as well.  In the chapter, “There is Always a River,” Padel seems mentally drawn to Africa and the Serengeti when she talks about the struggles for survival in what is referred to as “…the greatest migration of mammals on the planet.” (99)  This is the wildebeest migration; in which 1.5 million wildebeest, and 350,000 zebras and gazelles try to go through the obstacles of crocodiles, poisonous insects, lions, hyenas, jackals and cheetahs all for the goal of not thriving but surviving. it’s all part of getting to their final destination, the Mara river.

The next approach was the references to all of the different civilizations mentioned throughout the book.  From the discussion on the Greek philosophies of the river’s importance in symbolism (i.e., the River Styx); to the discussion of the Masai tribes in Kenya, there is a great diversity of different ancient cultures represented in the topic of migration. So whether it is the geographic region, the scientific and/or religious philosophies, or just the overall significance of the river on both humans and wild animals, one concept is clear. Migration is what helps keep us and all other organisms alive from the tiniest Monarch Butterfly, to the largest wildebeest, to the smartest and bravest Masai warrior we all play a role in this process and it’s progress.  And Ruth Padel’s “The Mara Crossing” is a perfect example of how that influences the reader and the author.

The Mara Crossing


“This book is about the journey” 

           Ruth Padel’s The Mara Crossing provides intricate examples of the constant fluidity and movement in our world. The movement is not limited to human beings or animals, but dispersed through plants and our non-physical forms that we push out into the world. In the same way that Virginia Woolf believes that no truth is ever concrete, no portion of our lives, or the spaces we inhabit, is ever solidified and unchanging; therefore, we exist in a world of constant movement. She begins with the smallest element that makes up all beings: the cell. She shows that even cells are constantly migrating to different parts of our beings to heal, to morph, and to strengthen. Padel argues through a serious of poems intermixed with prose that, “Life began with migration, and millions of human beings are doing it today as humans always have done. But it’s not always voluntary” (“Poetry has a Responsibility to look at the World”) These migrations are what change us, particularly ones that are involuntary, forcing us to alter everything we know: “58m of us, pushed out of homes and jobs, losing families, land, identities” (“Poetry has a Responsibility to look at the World”). However, all migrations are the attempt to move towards something better or something vital to our survival.


            Migration is a necessity to life, because our lives demand us to be adaptive and fluid beings. Migration is defined as “a process with two elements: the journey towards a new life and the settling into it” (The Mara Crossing 3). Thus, we encounter a condition that is less than desirable and engage in a migration towards something better, or something that can make us stronger and more able to grow. Padel defines human beings using this model of the everlasting cycle of migration, stating “Human beings are both fixed and wandering, settlers and nomads. Our history is the story of the nomad giving way to the settler but when people are unsettled they have to migrate” (The Mara Crossing 2) Animals migrate based on the need for better conditions and the instinct that drives them all to survive. As human beings, ones who can think and rationalize and adapt, we are able to be fixed for certain portions of our lives, but even when our physical place may be fixed, our contents –mind, opinions, desires – are never stagnant. That fixed space that we come to exist in cannot constantly stay the same, for “home is something we make, then things change, either in ourselves or in the world, we lose home and have to go elsewhere” (The Mara Crossing 2). Therefore the spaces that we inhabit cannot suit our needs and interests forever. Padel describes her ideal effect of the interaction between herself and reader as, “when the poem, and its many possible meanings, can migrate bountifully between poet and reader. When readers bring their own associations, give their own new life, to the poem” (“Poetry has a Responsibility to look at the World”). As we map our journey through this course, this country, and our lives, we must not only search for the physical alterations of space, but also how these spaces have changed us.crossing-close-up

Interesting Links:

Footage of the Wildebeest Migrating

National Geographic’s Map of Human Migration

History’s Push and Pull: Kwasy (On John White’s Lost Colony)

After our discussion in class, I felt that going back and analyzing one of Padel’s poems using the supplemental information was pertinent. I chose to hone in on “Kywash (On John White’s Lost Colony).”

Padel gives a concise description of White’s history, putting in her own thoughts here and there when she mentions “he painted in watercolour (unusually – most painters preferred oil-based paint)” and that “one thing I love about White’s portraits…is their warm smiles” (123). What I was most interested in, both in the poem and the prose, is the conflict between the English and the Indians. The paintings that White did on his first expedition depict a good relationship between the two groups of people. Here are a few pictures from his collection now pictured at the British Museum:
Group of Indians during a ceremony (possibly “their circle-dance” that Padel references in her poem.)
Woman and a girl
Like Padel notes, the people in the pictures are friendly and happy, which may be evidence that they had a good relationship at first. The poem on page 140 writes that “our first sight of them, fishing…I see myself/ painting an old man smiling at me from his winter rug/ Their sitting at meat: a husband and his wife, / smiling at me and at each other.”

I found this article that expanded on Padel’s information on John White. When it comes to the dispute, it reads that “although relations with the local Indians had been mostly friendly at first, they deteriorated as the military men struggled to feed themselves… During the summer, a dispute with the Roanoke Indians provoked Lane to storm their town of Dasemunkepeuc, where his men killed and beheaded the weroance Pemisapan (formerly Wingina).” What’s interesting is that Padel doesn’t really touch upon the disputes and the violence in her prose, but explores it in the poem. The first act of violence from the English was when “we burned/ the village of Aquascogoc” because they assumed that the Indians stole the Governor’s silver cup. I couldn’t find any information on this particular instance; what’s interesting is how these few lines subtly introduce the idea of the scapegoat into the poem. Up until that point, the relationship between them is positive. The shift is brief and almost possible to miss; immediately something is missing and it’s clearly the native people’s doing. Padel doesn’t have White, the narrator, present and evidence that it was them, they just burn down the town.

The second instance of violence is on pages 141-2, where White is the one that burns down an Indian village. By this time he is the governor and writes “then we lost a fellow/ shot in the surf by an arrow. In punishment/ I burned their village. I would to God/ men could undo what they had done.” Again, there is no evidence that an Indian shot the arrow or that it was intentional. Padel shows how easily the people jump to violence to answer the dispute.

At the end of the prose, Padel ends White’s story telling us about his return to find the settlers. On another website sheds light on what was written on the tree: “‘CRO’ carved into a tree and the word “CROATOAN” on a post of the fort. Croatoan was the name of a nearby island)…and a local tribe of Native Americans…the colonists had agreed that a message would be carved into a tree if they had moved and would include an image of a Maltese Cross if the decision was made by force. There was no cross.” We discussed in class how the last two lines of the poem, from White’s perspective, were positive about the whereabouts of the settlers and how this is more hopeful than truthful. But this new information about the cross might add to the truth of his hopefulness; on the flip side, the history of violence between the settlers and the Indians.