On A Pause North

Chao Wu, M1, Class of 2024


In the spring of 2020 our lives were completely turned upside down. The pandemic swept across the world and many of our activities came to a standstill. Travel plans were cut short and we stayed closer to home. In those dire moments, however, many found escape in our very yards and neighborhoods.

Since elementary school, I have come to find a sense of solace in all things nature. Countless field guides, identification challenges, and academic stressors etch out that balance in life! Insects, arachnids, birds…all combine into an amalgamated escape from my busy life. It took until the summer before undergrad that I fully delved into birding. It was a new world filled with unique challenges, interesting trivia, fascinating people, and a multitude of feathered friends (or perhaps fiends?!).

For over half a decade after that fortunate summer, I have continued to use the birding world to balance my own life. Whether it was escaping the stressors of academics, breaks from life’s struggles, or just mere curiosity, birding helped create that escape. Over these years, I have had the great privilege of meeting many friends and mentors (birding and beyond) who guided me through academia and life in general. Birds are still more of an avocation for me, but I have certainly incorporated many sightings, moments, and images into public science outreach.

In May, while working in the yard during the pandemic, I spotted this little Swainson’s Thrush perched delicately on some wires and I snapped a few photos for the fun of it. Undoubtedly, the individual was on a pause north to its breeding grounds. This species breeds in the northern boreal and western mountain forests of North America during the northern summer, but travels as far south as Argentina to spend the northern winters. For this bird, which weighs less than the average golf ball, the biannual marathons of journeys are not crazy, mind-boggling, or unprecedented – they are just life.

As our own world struggles to cope with our crises, this Swainson’s Thrush is continuing on with its life. Every day, it faces predators, starvation, fires, storms, collisions, and human activity. Yet, despite so, it carries on, just as it has for all of the species’ natural history. Perhaps we as humans can find solace in the fact that the world doesn’t stop turning. Perhaps we as humans can find escape in the fact that the birds don’t stop singing. Perhaps we as humans can find a sense of intrigue in the journey of this [somewhat] unknown species. Perhaps we as humans can use such opportunities to de-stress in the midst of our struggles. Perhaps we as humans can find a sense of worry in the continued decline of our biodiversity. Perhaps we as humans can elucidate issues regarding academic burnout. Perhaps we as humans can start conversations about environmental injustices. Perhaps we as humans can talk about the then resulting healthcare disparities. Perhaps we as humans can reveal the unusually powerful “elixir” that is of nature to improve our mental mindsets.

Most importantly, perhaps we all can work together to moderate this intersectionality between education, medicine, and nature.

Can one little bird REALLY cause all of that? Well, the answer is a resounding NO! But, as individual humans within a position of leadership, healthcare, and guidance we most certainly have the obligation to take the first steps to address such dilemmas inundating the world – within the pandemic and beyond…

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