We all suffer from end-of-year burnout and Sydney and I were no exception. Exhausted after a huge inaugural year, it was time to recharge our leaky batteries, pack up the car and head south. Approaching our final destination, we sucked in the sweet perfume of burnt pine on lupin and finally relaxed back into the leash-free Labrador country of Central Otago’s mountains, lakes and rivers.
Every year Kiwis head ‘home’ to recapture the energy of good times past. Like the birds, bees and salmon, we are lured back to a place of familiarity and comfort to reverse the ravages a busy year leaves on our bodies and minds. Could this poorly understood ‘homing instinct’ be considered an evolutionary necessity for the continued survival of the time-poor, money-hungry human race?
How do the animals we live among mysteriously find their way home without the aid of road maps or GPS? For birds and bees, navigating by the sun, stars, or moon appears to be the way to go. For salmon, the smell of their home waters is definitely the key attraction. The legendary homing pigeon is thought to have olfactory navigation allowing them to follow an ‘atmospheric odour map’, or alternatively, use a ‘map and compass’ method based on the location of the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field in order to find their way back to their comfy home loft.
That infuriating cat that keeps walking back to your old place is thought to have magnetoception equipment located in their brain. This acts like a tiny compass guiding them back to previously conquered territory. After all the time and effort spent securing their range, negotiating access and spraying rights with neighbours and generally getting on top of all things feline, they simply cannot understand why they should change location on a human whim.
Do we share our felines’ amazing direction-finding abilities? Researchers aren’t so sure. So far, studies haven’t turned up any magnetized cells in our brains, but this doesn’t stop us navigating the way to our ‘happy place’ for soul replenishment as often as we can.
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