Someone else has finally articulated my long-held but private thought that there really is communication between ourselves and other mammals. Whales, it seems, are checking us out. When Charles Siebert described the female humpback swimming around her rescuers in “joyous circles” and then “nudging them all gently as if in thanks”, a whole series of experiences with whales and other mammals came to mind.
While kayacking out in Kachemak Bay in Alaska, we encountered a finback and her calf. We thought that we were imagining their playfulness, and their skillful game of tag with the small whale watching boat that followed them. In fact, our daughter noted that perhaps we might move closer into the shore lest the daredevil whale come up underneath and “tag” us ! “Nonsense,” we told her. “The whales aren’t coming in this close” we said and then we paddled on to scope out an otter family that was in a small cove. No sooner had we put our daughter’s anxiety to rest, then the mother humpback rose to the surface and flipped her tail in the exact spot where we had been with our kayaks just moments ago.
I’m not sure how to explain the complex interaction between whales and humans, or between humans and other mammals. The more research, testimonials and observations about animal communicative strategies that I come across, the more my own subliminal communicative experiences with animals jump out ready to be seen and validated. Yes, that fawn under a shady tree did scream when I unexpectedly came upon her and, yes, we made eye contact during which I somehow assured her that I was safe. Yes, the moose and her calf understood that we were safe when they swam just ahead of our canoe. And yes, the anhinga that we rescued on the coast of Sanibel Island recognized that we were helping her when we gently lifted her into a cardboard box.
These tender and moving stories are also still counter-cultural. They challenge consciousness. Our way of life derives from the assumption that humans are not the same as animals and that civilization differs from nature. Conceiving of earth and edifice as well as human and animal as blended permutations of each other will complicate the way we make use of, some would say exploit, the earth and animals for our own dubious needs and gain.
Are we humans often abusive without realizing it? If animals have as much consciousness as they seem to, we may be committing great violations that we can’t perceive simply because such interpretations fall way beyond our authorized cultural categories. Children, however, before they become acculturated seem to have an easy affinity for animals.
My children believe that they do have a relationship to animals, and that they can communicate with them. Maybe they are right.
Listen to our children, and hear the animals. If we think of such observations as legitimate, how do we now see ourselves? If the animals are watching us, what do they see?