Flying Home

The other day on my way back from doing some errands, I saw a large flock of migratory birds in a very long V-formation. It was one of the longest perfect V-pattern I have seen for a while. Since I was driving through a less traveled dirt road, I was able to stop and snap a picture of it.


It was an amazing sight to say the least, with their wonderful flight formation, and all 100 or so of them (yes, I counted them), maintaining their alignment.

Why do birds fly in the V-formation anyway? Studies have shown that they do this to catch the updraft wind created by the flapping of the wings of the one preceding them. This make their flight more aerodynamic and efficient. But what about the bird in the very front? It is doing all the hard work, right? Well, it was observed that they take turns on being the lead flyer. Interesting.

As I was watching them, I have noted that they were heading North. A little more Northwest to be exact, according to the compass on my iPhone. That means this cold winter is finally ending and spring is coming, as the migratory birds are coming back home from their migration down south.


Another question that comes to mind is how do they navigate their way without using GPS? Research indicates that they employ many techniques like using the position of the sun or the stars, or rely on big landmarks like lakes or mountains. But the most fascinating part is that birds seem to have a built-in compass in their brain, like a magnet, that can sense the Earth’s magnetic field, so they know which way is North and which way is South. They do have GPS after all.

Yet the most intriguing part to me is why do these migratory birds fly back North to the place where they were born (or hatch) every spring? They could have stayed in the South where it is always warm and save them all the trouble of flying so many miles. Do you suppose they do this to earn frequent flyer miles? Every year they come back to the place where their parents raised them, a place where they spend the first summer of their lives. They do always come back home.

I don’t think only migratory birds are like that. I think many creatures including us, humans, long to go back home. There might be innumerable hassles in traveling back. There may be chronic ills pestering the land where we came from. Yet there is something magical to that place where we were born and raised. Something more than mere nostalgia. Something much deeper. And it does not matter how far we have wandered away. It does not matter how long we have been gone. The connection and pull of that place we have once called home is always there.

I was musing with all this flying home subject matter when I was interrupted by an announcement overhead. I adjusted my seatbelt and looked outside my window.

I am nearing home.


(*photo taken with iPhone)

In Search for Direction

People are not created equal. There are those that are tone-deaf. Some are color blind. Some have no fashion sense. And some are directionally challenged. I am one of them. Just the last one. (Or maybe the second to the last too.)

I admit I have a very poor sense of direction and navigation. I always get lost. I cannot tell my left from my other left. And I have been late to some important meetings just because I cannot find my way. I even missed a wedding for the same reason. Fortunately, it’s not my wedding, but I was supposed to be a secondary sponsor.

It is believed that the sense of direction is innate. Migratory birds have magnetic-sensing neuron near their beaks that can sense magnetic field. Other birds have light-sensing cells in their eye that allow them to orient to where the north is, and thus help them navigate. Studies show that even in newborn rats, they have an innate sense of spatial orientation even before they begin to explore their surrounding.

Maybe I lack some magnets in my brain. In fact a neurobiologist who claimed that she had poor sense of direction before, was able to improve it by wearing a magnetic north-sensing hat, in other words a compass hat.

Should I wear this on my head? (wind vane in our deck)

Because of my inherent impediment, one of the most appreciated human-invented gadgets that I have is a GPS. Actually it was a gift from my wife. Maybe I will receive a compass hat next time.

Since I got the GPS, I don’t get lost much anymore. Maybe if I follow the GPS “all” the time, I would not get lost ever. You see, sometimes I feel I’m smarter than the GPS.

A couple of years ago, we were coming home from a place in Missouri which was a 4-hour drive from our home. The sun had set and darkness had blanketed the horizon. My GPS was still new at that time. I decided to take a shorter route, so I programmed the GPS to take an “alternate” route instead of the main highways. It made me turn to a small, dark country road. Then the country road became smaller and smaller. And then it turned into a twisting complex of dirt roads.

For almost 2 hours, the GPS led me into turn after turn of small dirt roads. On the right and left of the roads were vast gloomy expanse of cornfields. There was only darkness around us. No lamp posts, no light from houses or buildings, not even lit phone towers. I cannot read the street names, and I am not even sure if the roads are even marked. The only light I could see is my headlights and the faint twinkle of the stars above. Since I am not Columbus and cannot navigate by following the stars’ orientation, I had no choice but to follow my GPS.

To say that I was anxious during that time was an understatement. I was terrified! If our car would stall in that maze of cornfields in the middle of nowhere, I was afraid that it would probably be  days before someone would pass those lonely dirt roads and find us.

After nerve-wracking 2 hours of navigating through darkness, we emerged into a main highway. The GPS guided us home. If I did not trust the GPS before, after that experience, I trust it as if my life depended on it.

The journey through life though is not as easy as following the GPS. The road to our life’s destiny is much more convoluted and uncertain. Many times, even our destination is uncertain. However, I believe that we are not left to navigate life without direction.

Recently, my beliefs are being shaken to the core. I have questions to the views that I have embraced since I was a child. And no, its more than querying if there really is a Santa Claus. Which makes me think, which is worse: to believe with utter conviction something that may not be true? Or be uncertain on what you believe in? Or not believe in anything at all?

As for me, I needed something to believe in.

In my search for direction, I know that even though that there will be times that I cannot see where I am, I have faith that I will be guided home.

“We live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Cor. 5:7