The power to speak

This cub was as curious about us as we were about him! Near Skagway, Alaska, June 2000

This cub was as curious about us as we were about him! Near Skagway, Alaska, June 2000

An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”Martin Buber

On a highway near Skagway, Alaska, we noticed a few people stopped alongside the road and quickly found what attracted their attention: a baby bear had ambled right up to the guard rail, looking at everyone with friendly curiosity.  It was raining lightly as I took several photos of one of the cutest animals I had ever seen in the wild (and only later realized that this might have been fatal if an angry Mama Bear had come after me).

Anyone whose household includes an animal (or two or three or more) is well aware of their ability to communicate without words.  Those who aren’t familiar with animals may think us overly sentimental, or accuse us of anthropomorphism when we insist our animals talk to us with their eyes and mannerisms.  But to ascribe the ability to communicate to an animal is not to equate it with a human.  Indeed, some animals may achieve a higher rate of successful communication with each other than their human counterparts achieve among their peers!

In any case, I fail to understand how anyone could look into an animal’s eyes and not see a form of intelligence behind them.  From the sophisticated, almost disdainful glances of gorillas or lions at the zoo, to the watchful awareness of a rabbit or deer deciding exactly how close it will let me come before it flees, animals say many things with their eyes.  Whether or not we interpret them correctly is a different matter.

I wish for you many delightful (and safe) encounters with animals of all kinds!

42 Comments

  1. What a lovely experience ~ surely every time you see this picture, you remember how amazing it was!

    • Yes, that baby bear looks so precious I almost want to give him a hug (but I’m glad I didn’t for safety reasons). That was definitely a highlight of our trip!

  2. What an eloquent commentary of our animal friends!…and I DO mean friends. Yes, they are often better communicators that we humans! They are a great blessing, from our own personal pets to the ducks and cranes I so love to watch in the creek behind our house.

    • And don’t forget your beautiful hummingbirds! I hope that you are still seeing lots of them.

  3. I was really anxious to try out my new snowshoes. Purchased, during a June “sale”, near Breckenridge, CO, I had them temporarily stored in Anchorage, AK. Then, on one layover, perfect weather conditions invited me afield (or at least that’s the term I use in the lower 48 – before the day was over “adrift” in a snowbank would have been more descriptive.)

    I had been stalking a moose – from 200 yards, to 100 yards, to 75 yards – all the while, he was seeming to pay me absolutely no attention, busy pulling roots from a bank he had cleared of snow, and continuing to delightfully munch his harvest. When I got to within 30 to 40 yards, keeping a tight grove of birch trees in sight as a barricade, the mood changed drastically. Suddenly he turned, and stared at me eye to eye – I heard him very clearly: “That’s far enough, Chuchacho!” To make a long story short(er), the barricade served me well, with me clumsily backpedaling in my footgear, and the 1000-pound beast circling, and facing me, the irritation in his eyes, continuing all the while (btw – the hair on his back, between the shoulders, was bristling up about three inches!) The only thing that really saved me was that a cross-country skier appeared on the ridge above us. When the huge denizen of the boreal forest turned to check out this newest intruder, I began back-pedaling in earnest, then turned and got true aerobic exercise getting outta there!

    • Wow, that must have been thrilling and terrifying! I was just recently looking in amazement at the stuffed moose on display at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I was stunned at how huge it was and the spread of its antlers. I still remember being thrilled when we saw that moose crossing the road in Banff. I often find that whenever I think I’m sneaking up on a creature in the wild, I find out they have been seeing me all along. As you say, they seem to have an invisible line drawn regarding how close they will allow us to come.

  4. Ryan

    I just saw “Life of Pi” last night and am in the middle of the book. This reminds me of Pi insisting to his father he connected with Richard Parker by looking into his eyes.
    I connect most with our cat. Some mornings he is very talkative (meowing like crazy) and other mornings less so. A good pet is a definite blessing.

    • I love that the tiger’s name is Richard Parker, that cracks me up. Aren’t we lucky to have pets? They add so much to life in so many ways.

  5. Though I have never had any pets I love watching animals at the zoo or in the wild. Yes, they interact much better than human beings. Spoken language seems to be great barrier.
    The cub looks so cute. That might have been an unforgettable encounter.

    • Isn’t it amazing how often words get in the way? Part of why I love writing is that it’s such a challenge to make one’s meaning clear, but seems easier in writing than with talking, at least for me. Yes, I will never forget seeing that baby bear. Probably I won’t ever see another that close up.

  6. It is true that many emotions can be seen in the eyes of creatures sharing our planet. Perhaps foul and fish might not be included.

    My dog always drops his ears flat as a morning greeting and raises them when there is a question, not to mention the tail wagging.

    I think it was the University of Arizona that stated that coyotes have 34 signals they convey with ears, tails, and voices. A coyote always keeps his tail near the ground until they have some message to share.

    While visiting the Tohone O’odham Nation, I’ve watched the wild burros establish a territorial line by charging and halting, but not uttering a sound that I could hear.

    Once in the Portland, Oregon Zoo I saw rage in a camel’s eyes when a treat was snatched away before he could grasp it.

    • I have always heard that camels can be quite difficult if they get angry, so I would be afraid of taking a treat from one! Our dog always raises his ears too when he’s curious about something, and it’s so funny how I see dogs turn their head to the side when they seem puzzled. Someone told me they are re-positioning their ears, trying to pick up auditory cues; maybe that’s why, but it seems so obvious that they are trying to figures something out. I never thought much about birds being very interactive until I watched people with their macaws, parrots or cockatiels. My aunt has a cockatiel that communicates amazingly well, although mostly with its chirping rather than its eyes. My mother’s cockatiel would give her about 60 seconds to say hello when she came in from work, and if Mom didn’t greet the bird directly right away, it would put up a noisy fuss until she did.

  7. Sheila

    Julia, these words are so true. Our household friends (if we’re so lucky) speak to our hearts. I have learned to hear Salty loud and clear over 15 years. He will speak to me long after he’s gone. His eyes have shown me his soul. I know you relate with your precious Pasha. I hope and pray for Jeff to be having a good week, and in turn you will be! Sheila

    • Sheila, I love your words “He will speak to me long after he’s gone.” Even though it won’t be very long before we have to say goodbye to Pasha, I know we will carry fond memories, and lots of laughter, for the rest of our lives. I’m thinking of you and Bill and praying for a good week for you too!

      • Sheila

        I’ve never mentioned my sun conyer,Walter, whose greeting starts the minute that he hears the garage door opening. His most unusual sound came after I wound a long silent clock. I listened closely, several days later, and his sound was “tick tock”. He was just repeating what he heard….much like a child! Thank you for your prayers.

        • Would you believe I had never heard of that type bird, but I looked it up online and they are beautiful! It’s amazing how well they can mimic sounds. My Aunt Peggy’s cockatiel is just like a child. She loves to pose for photos. Really! And then when I turn the camera away and start taking photos of something else, she fusses! Birds can be delightfully amusing.

  8. Sheila

    Julia, a “typo” bird… Haha! It’s a sun conure,as I’m sure that you figured out. He loves music, so I share the musical greeting cards with him and we have fun. Never a dull moment at this house! TTFN.

  9. Sheila – Conyers is a suburb of Atlanta, but I researched your beautiful bird, as soon as I read your comment. In fact, I would venture to say that I appreciate your comments on this blog, more than you enjoy mine. Keep the good stuff going!

    • Eric I appreciate all who comment here. It’s almost like an online salon! 🙂

      • Sheila

        Excuse us, Julia!
        Eric, I am so laughing, because when I realized my typo, it was too late! Conyers,Ga. was the only thing that I could relate to for the mistake. I remembered the Saturday night that Bill and I spent there on our way to Birmingham, AL.! There has to be a colorful crayon in every box of Crayola’s! Also, a smart one…. I do enjoy your comments. Sheila

        • Ditto – I am just joking around, because I am a “T-Totaler”. (Ditto – “excuse us, Julia” from me too!)

      • Oops, Sheila – another typo: sal two “o’s” – “where everybody knows your name. . .”

        • OK Eric, I don’t get this one, can you explain it? All I keep hearing in my head is the song from Cheers. WAIT A MINUTE – I get it – I did NOT mean “saloon” – I meant THIS KIND (complete with inspiring host – picture me doing a Barney Fife sniff or two here).

          • A perfect illustration of the last sentence in the second paragraph of my post above! 🙂

  10. Julia, the “Barney Fife sniff” is one of the classic pieces of your repertoire that always brings a smile to my face!

  11. Sheila

    Are we the only ones in this saloon or salon? Guess we scared everyone else away! Last call? Sheila

    • Well I’m glad there was someone to close the place down with me last night! We may have “lurkers” but they are welcome too!

    • singleseatfighterpilot

      re: “last call” Set. ’em up !

  12. Carlyle

    The most entertaining comments I have enjoyed on your blog!

    • Daddy, I guess being an “insider” you can picture what it’s like when Eric and I get on these silly exchanges (something that has not changed for over 50 years!). We are one step away from doing a virtual tail-kicking contest.

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Dam straits

      • Sheila

        Good morning! In these so serious, stressful times, the light hearted moments that we were able to enjoy, meant so much. Sending happy thoughts today….Sheila

        • Sheila, you won’t believe it when you see the post I have scheduled for April 23. I had already done it before all this funny business about your bird! Now it will be even funnier.

  13. Wow, you did get a good shot there, but always best to be cautious.

    I love animals so much. I can never read bad news or watch any movies or tv shows that compromise their safety or lives. I feel so connected, I’ll cry for hours if I see an animal hurt. It was hard to live in the country and come across a road fatality. Of course we’ve had the joy of a dog in our lives and looking in their eyes you will totally know that animals think and feel far more than most people give them credit for.

    • I am the same way, when I was a little girl if I would see a cat or dog that had been killed by a car, it would make me feel sad all day, and really still does. Ditto for seeing stray animals. I used to dream of buying a very large farm where I could take in any unwanted animal I saw or heard about, and have them all live there and be taken care of. Not a very practical dream but kids think adulthood will bring more power than it does in reality. Even before we got Pasha, we went to two or three different shelters looking for a small dog (we had to have a small one because of our frequent moves and not knowing where we would end up living) and all of the dogs were too big, but it just tore me up me to leave any of the dogs behind, I wanted to take them all with me. I have thought of volunteering in an animal shelter but I’m not sure I could take it from an emotional standpoint.

      • I know what you mean about shelters. I went to our local spca several times looking for our previous kitty. Even though we lived in the country, our county didn’t have a shelter and I was told any found animals when to Edmonton. I had no luck and it was really hard. Lot’s of crying. Maybe it’d be ok if you weren’t looking for a pet. At least you were able to rescue Pasha and give her a loving forever home! That’s wonderful.

        • But that’s just it, we ended up having to buy Pasha from a breeder! At the time I didn’t realize they had rescue societies for most breeds. That’s where I’d go now. The shelter thing is traumatic but I would probably still try there first because I feel so sorry for those animals. I support no-kill shelters but so many of the animals there have been there for years and years, some for more than a decade! But at least they are fed and looked after.

          • At least you tried Julia. Hopefully peoples mentality is changing in regard to having pets. I would guess not too many of the rogue pet owners are blocking. We’re all Animal lovers here ❤

            • Yes, and I think most of us have changed our perspective considerably just from the experiences we’ve had living with animals. I have always loved them but I learn more about them the more I watch them. Come to think of it, I guess that’s true about people and really about anything else.

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