Nature Connection: The Perils Of Travel

By: Mary Richmond

Topics: Environment

Box turtle. MARY RICHMOND ILLUSTRATION

Travel seems to be part of our universal experience as mobile organisms. We are on the move as soon as we can scoot or crawl across the ground. Baby animals and birds move as soon as they are able as well. Some of us move around close to home all our lives, but many of us feel the need to move well beyond our own dens, nests or backyards. 

Today, humans don’t have to travel for survival as they once did, at least where most of us live. We don’t have to follow the herds of meat- and life-giving animals. We don’t have to follow the warmth of the sun. Some of us travel the world for work, or at least commute an hour or two each way. Mostly, we humans travel today because we want to see and experience new things. Some travel according to season, following the sun or the snow.

The rest of nature still travels out of necessity, however. Birds that eat flying insects or feed in open waters must leave the frozen north behind to feed in friendlier, southern climes. Some mammals travel great distances each season in order to find food and safety. 

Closer to home, animals and birds travel shorter distances. Flocks of turkeys travel from one neighborhood to another. Deer move through forests and fields to find food and coyotes and foxes follow the trails of those animals as well as mice and voles, rabbits and squirrels. 

Squirrels sprint from yard to yard, tree to tree and small flocks of chickadees, nuthatches, titmice and woodpeckers make their way through wooded patches looking for food.

This week I sat in traffic that had come to a standstill on a usually busy road. An ambulance and police car screamed past us and it didn’t take much for us to realize there was an accident ahead. This time the accident was minor but sometimes people aren’t so lucky. As we crept along the road, hoping to reach our destinations before we were late to work or school or dentist appointments, I noticed evidence along the side of the road that an unfortunate squirrel had not made it safely to the other side.

Travel is full of peril, whether it is a short distance or a long distance. Whether human, bird or animal there are dangers from weather, vehicles, gunshots and natural predators. There are also things that simply stop us in our tracks. Water without bridges, mountains without trails or roads, roads full of traffic that is treacherous to cross and fences that don’t let anyone or anything pass through.

A few years ago, I was on a walk in the spring when I came across a box turtle that was on the move. It was a male and given the time of year and the location, my guess was he was looking for a mate. He wasn’t getting very far as there was a chain link fence in his way. One might argue that turtles don’t have a lot of logical reasoning power, and this one just kept pushing forward with all four legs going full speed ahead even though he was at a full stop. I picked him up and moved him to a spot on the side of the fence where he could crawl on his way, but I worried about his return and any future trips he might make.

If you travel through the Province Lands on a damp spring night you know that the spadefoot toads are on the move. Spotted salamanders and other toads and frogs are crossing the roads as well and there are signs and rangers there to let you know you must slow down and proceed with extreme caution. These small amphibians are no contest for giant cars, and you can often see the sad testimony on the roads the following morning.

In our apparent zeal to wall people out of places we think they don’t belong, it behooves us to remember that it isn’t just people that may be stopped by a wall. Thousands of animals travel from one place to another every year, and some are dependent on those travels to feed and procreate. People, given their resourceful natures, will easily figure out alternatives. Others, like my friend the box turtle, won’t be so lucky. This is true in our own yards as well as any larger boundaries. Travel has enough natural perils. The way I see it, we don’t need to add to them.