Posted by: gaylejervis | June 10, 2010


My husband had a good chuckle at my expense when he handed me a newspaper article for me to read titled “Many People Get Lost Every Time They Hit The Road”.   My husband loves to tell people  how whenever we were lost while traveling in Europe with another couple, they solved their dilemma by asking me which direction I would go.   Suddenly decisive, they would choose the opposite direction that I recommended and uncannily we would end up back on track!   I have absolutely no sense of direction and my eyes glaze over when people ask me if I am heading North or South.   Before I got ill and began staying home, Greg would draw me maps to help me get from point A to point B and even then, I would often get lost as I tried to reverse those map directions in order to find my way home.

My getting lost very easily  increased my fascination with the story Song of the Swallows, a Caldecott award winning picture book that is based on a true story. For centuries, these cliff and barn swallows have taken an annual 6,000 – mile flight from their winter residence in Goya Argentina to their summer residence in a small village called San Juan Capistrano.  They return each spring on March 19th and make their nests under the eaves of the Mission.  Thousands of visitors arrive around the same date in order to witness this miracle.

These tourists are most likely fascinated by the swallows’ endurance,  captivated by their instincts to know when they are to begin their flight, and are  charmed by the quaint, picturesque location these swallows have chosen. However, others might be like me who are  interested in this phenomenon because we often feel quite lost.  I am not just referring to our tendency to get lost  in a physical sense but lost in what we are supposed to do with our lives, lost when circumstances cause us to take quite a turn in the direction we were once heading, lost when we need to make decisions but are uncertain what that means.  As we imagine their 6000-mile flight, we are in awe of their terrific sense of direction, their confidence knowing when it is time to leave, and where they need to go. Their yearly migration encourages some of us to believe that perhaps it is possible to figure out where we are supposed to be going and that we will arrive there successfully.

With these thoughts in mind, I was rather stunned to discover in my search to learn more about these birds that they no longer return en masse to Capistrano!   Apparently, in the past few years, very few swallows are making this long flight due to decreasing food supply as the area has become heavily settled.

Disappointed, I wish I hadn’t learned about this change in their migration.  Suddenly these swallows became symbolic of  changes that we have no control over, and symbolic of being lost especially if these swallows haven’t found a new migration route!.   But then I began to think what they still have is the ability to travel together.  I couldn’t help start reminiscing about the many, many times I have been lost – but while with another person:  walking with my cousin from the concession booth unable to find our car in the drive-in theatre parking lot ; being pulled over by a pleasant R.C.M.P officer who told my sister and me that that we did an illegal u-turn but showed us mercy when he realized how lost we were; .being trapped with my daughter in an underground parking lot unable  to find the exit; my sister and me leaving a party the same time as others and how we should have all been traveling on the same route except that unfortunately we left first.  We began to laugh hysterically as we knew that those “following us” had turned left and would   be wondering where on earth we were going as we were heading toward the highway.     I have been lost many times alone and it can be frightening, but when I am lost with another person we usually end up dissolving in hysterical laughter.

I’m realizing now that the most important lesson from the swallow’s migration was that they were traveling together!  They helped one another so that even if they did take a wrong turn, they never felt frightened because they had the support of the other birds!  And perhaps it isn’t disappointing but exciting that now the birds must find a new route and perhaps share a new adventure.

In the newspaper article, the author included a website called that includes a test to determine to what extent I have developmental topographical disorientation and then it could suggest a possible treatment.   However, I don’t think I will take that test.  Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to not know where I am always going.  It is a good physical reminder to the truth written by R. U. Fitzhenry:  “Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life.  Don’t let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.”  I would just like to add that we become even more energized when we share those uncertainties and mysteries with others!




  1. I visited San Juan Capistrano as a teenager, and it is a beautiful place. My family stopped there on our way to Disneyland because my mom had long been fascinated by the swallows. I’ve always remembered our visit there and I’m equally captivated by the migration. I’m glad the swallows are smart enough to now figure out that they need to find a safer place to live. While I share your concern about the affect of development on the birds’, I also see the birds’ decision to change their migration as a sign of hope, that they act on their instinct for survival and migrate with that intention.

    A side note: I have a good sense of direction but a poor instinct for time so I often can figure out the “where” but the “when” is a whole different story!

  2. It’s not where you’re going but who your with that matters. By far getting lost in the parkade is one of the funniest times we’ve had. Of course heading down the wrong road in Crete was pretty fun. Nothing like passing through old town with the seniors watching us pass back and forth and trying to get directions when no one speaks English. While that might have caused some people a lot of stress, having the chance to see those out of the way places and laughing along the way was an awesome memory. Just always make sure there’s gas in the car!

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