Language of the imagination

I met this chipmunk at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, September 1999.

I met this chipmunk at Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada, September 1999.

“ ‘They are all beasts of burden in a sense,’ Thoreau once remarked of animals, ‘made to carry some portion of our thoughts.’ Animals are the old language of the imagination; one of the ten thousand tragedies of their disappearance would be a silencing of this speech.”Rebecca Solnit

I’m not sure I understand this quote, but I do find it intriguing.  It reminded me of how children are almost universally drawn to animals, and perhaps this is due, in part, to the child’s incomplete grasp of language.  Children might feel a kinship with animals based on having to live concurrently in two worlds; one of their own, which makes perfect sense to them, and one belonging to adults, which must surely be unfathomable.

Almost all of us have had the experience of what felt distinctly like a wordless conversation with an animal, and for some of us, it may be a rather common occurrence.  Perhaps we converse with animals in a language of the imagination, one we have almost — but not quite — forgotten.

One year ago today

Another step toward simplicity



  1. HarryS

    I am absolutely enchanted by animals!

    PS I made an additional post to yesterday’s topic concerning morning time which may be read if so desired.

    • Animals add so much joy to my life. Whether it’s a lizard, toad, dog, cat, squirrel or rabbit, I can’t seem to pass one without stopping to say hello!

  2. I adore chipmunks ~ such a cute shot! I feel that kinship with animals. I had the most lovely experience seeing a newborn fawn with her mom not even 8 feet away from me 2 years ago in my neighbor’s yard. The mom watched me and listened as I spoke to her quietly, murmuring kind words. She knew I wouldn’t hurt her ~ she even let me take her photo. It was so special.

    • WOW, I have never seen a fawn up close. I have seen them from a distance and they are so beautiful. I just love it when wild animals figure out that we are not going to hurt them. Once they pass that initial vigilance, they seem almost as curious about us as we do about them!

  3. A very thoughtful message Julia, what you say is so very true! I lived near Bellevue Nebraska for about 12 years and our house backed up to a wooded common area and then woods. It would always amaze me, that the peacocks, quails, deer, raccoons and other animals felt comfortable enough to come near to me when I would sit out on the deck. At night and even in the daytime, I would look in their eyes and I always felt them look into mine. It was like they could see right into my heart and knew they were safe. There was some kind of communication there because even when their young ones were born they would come to. I think kindness between all living things has its own language. Thanks for sharing!

    • That must have been a wonderful place to live, with so many “critters” to keep you company! That’s how I feel about our home in York County. Jeff and I sometimes worry that the deer in Alexandria are so tame and unafraid of people, they are more likely to be harmed eventually because they are not wary enough. I know a lot of people would say I’m anthropomorphizing animals, but I don’t think it’s necessarily that; I know they have their own worlds and their own ways of thinking, but I do think they definitely intersect with humans, and often enjoy the interaction as much as we do. Thanks for sharing about your experiences with them!

  4. Hey, I know him! hehe. Actually when I first saw your little friend, I was thinking of the beach walk on Coronado as I have a very similar photo of a wee one I spotted there 😀

    It’s really a coincidence that this is your message today Julia, I just had this conversion on my blog yesterday with the delightful Dani from T&T:

    “Once, I went to refreshen Buddy’s water bowl and there was the fattest mouse sitting waist deep in there. The poor thing was shivering. I guess it got in but couldn’t get out (a big round aluminum bowl). I can’t imagine what Buddy thought of it, LOL. I carefully carried the bowl to the garden and gentle poured it under the peonies (nice and shady there). The whole time, my little mouse made eye contact with me, I really felt like we had a moment of understanding and if he could, he would say “thank you”. Silly right?”

    I’ve always had a deep heartfelt connection with animals and have had some unusual connections. I had a small robin befriend me for a couple of days at the lake. I found it sitting in a window box first, just looking into my kitchen window. I worried about our cat so went out to see if it was ok. It didn’t fly away and actually just looked at me. I got the feeling it had a message as she stayed for a couple of days.

    I suppose it’s more me than them dictating these scenario’s, but it’s a little serendipitous that they seem to find me.

    • Boomdee, I wondered if you knew him 🙂 . Thanks for telling the story about the mouse in the water dish. I don’t think it’s silly at all. I do think that little mouse felt grateful (in his own way) for being rescued. I too have had robins look at me intently and without fear; once I wondered whether one of them had been one of the babies I used to watch in its nest as a hatchling. I don’t think it’s impossible that they might have senses we can’t imagine – smell or sight or “radar” of some sort – that helps them identify people and situations. I also think that there are different personalities, levels of intelligence, etc. within any species, and some of them certainly seem more interested in people than others. I could never figure out whether it was higher intelligence, or LACK of intelligence that would make one animal more fearless around people than another would be. In any case, I always enjoy it when I am able to have some eye contact with a critter!

    • Sheila

      Boomdee, was that little mouse in the bowl your model for the cute felt mouse you made and shared on your blog? So sweet….. And your assistant is equally precious! 🙂

      • Hey, I missed the felt mouse! Or maybe I forgot about it like I did the KEO. I am so far behind. I have to go find that mouse. Thanks for the tip, Sheila!

      • Hi Sheila,
        The little mouse in Buddy’s bowl, as I remember him, was so much cuter. More like this one:

        Put a ballon or flowers in the hand of a mouse and they become extraordinarily irresistible. Better yet, a jaunty little jacket and I’m head over heels

        Such talent out there. I am but a novice 😀 Thanks ever so much for saying hello!

        • Wow, I found your mouse! Adorable! How original of you to think of using a die cutter for that. (I have to admit, the photos of Petals were my favorites though. If you were using catnip to stuff the mouse, no wonder she was so interested!) I clicked over to your Pinterest page and was amazed at the stuff people can make from felt. I used to make clothes for my troll dolls from felt, but nothing I did ever looked THAT good. I used to pay 25 cents per square for the felt at the Craft Castle, which was a lot of money to me in those days.

          • Thanks for finding it Julia and I hope you don’t mind if I don’t convey your lovely message to Ms Petals. She already thinks she’s the main attraction, LOL

            These felt artists are amazing. Their work just makes me smile. BTW, I see your link to Robert Louis Stevenson’s delightful Poem above. I’ve done a screen print to include it in a future art card. Thank you, I loved it.

            • Petals and Blossum are such gorgeous kitties. Those eyes are absolutely arresting. Of course, I have a special fondness for black furry creatures after 16+ years with Pasha!

              I’m so glad you liked the Stevenson poem! I grew up reading and hearing A Child’s Garden of Verses, and so many of those delightful little rhymes have stayed with me over the years. You may have read where a blog reader recently quoted “A Happy Thought” in the comments, which is another one I love. Also “The Land of Counterpane” and really too many others to mention, you might enjoy just reading through some of them. I think many of them would make great cards! Hmmm, more entries for Julia’s Exhaustive Encyclopedia of Good Intentions

    • So delightfully you. Thanks for pointing me in this direction. I absolutely think animals connect with us, on different levels. They certainly seem to sense intent.

      • I wonder whether we are as good at reading them as they seem to be at reading us? It reminds me of a quote I read (attributed to someone named Fred Jungclaus, about whom I know nothing): “I used to look at [my dog] Smokey and think, ‘If you were a little smarter you could tell me what you were thinking,’ and he’d look at me like he was saying, ‘If you were a little smarter, I wouldn’t have to.'” How true!

        • I love it! Thanks for sharing that, Julia.

          • You’re welcome! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed it.

      • 😀 thanks hon, I can’t imagine life without them.

  5. Jenelle

    I read that quote over and over and I don’t fully grasp it either. I’ve haven’t had my morning coffee yet so that might be a factor. I do understand about the power of the imagination and we cannot ever silence that “speech”. Ever. I agree about the connection with animals, especially children. Kids say the simplest things or nothing at all and animals somehow feel their emotions. Well, that’s been in case with my family. I guess it goes for adults too 🙂

    • Yes Jenelle, one thing I loved about having a dog around is that he was so sensitive to what we were feeling. When I would be sad or crying he would come sit beside me quietly, just showing that he knew something was wrong. Once when I lost it and started yelling, the dog looked at me with genuine alarm and reproachful concern – as if he was literally thinking “OH NO, she has finally gone off the deep end this time!” When I saw him look at me that way I couldn’t help but burst out laughing and somehow whatever was upsetting me mostly vanished. It always amazed me how dogs and cats seem to “get it” about kids. Most of the ones I have known were way more tolerant of a kid messing with them (accidentally pulling a leg or a tail or such) than they would have been with an adult. Pasha never once snapped at Matt no matter what he did, although he would sometimes give Jeff or me a “warning” snarl if we stepped on him 🙂 .

      • Jenelle

        Yes, Julia, you nailed it! Dog especially have a way of giving that “look” that makes one laugh off the day’s worries or stress! And as for kids, the patience a dog has with them is SO envied, haha!

        • We are SO LUCKY, aren’t we, to have canine wisdom in our lives?

  6. MaryAnn

    Julia, I love your take on “meeting” this chipmunk. We met eagles in Alaska, deer at Yosemite, plus other critters in both places. Everywhere I go, I love to encounter God’s gift of wild animals. There was a very large raven eating out of Paul’s hand at Cascade Lake, Oregon. Seems just the other day, but had to be in the 80’s.

    • I love ravens and crows and all the other blackbirds! They seems so smart. Did you see the link I posted here sometime last year where the crow was going sledding using a plastic lid as a sled? It was so cool! I’m glad you love animals too – of course I figured you would!

      • MaryAnn

        WOW! I just viewed it for the 1st time!What a joy to watch, incredible! Then, there was a “How smart is a crow?” video. It was terrific, also.

  7. Sheila

    Julia, I’m glad you advised me of today’s blog when we were having our “coo-coo” conversation earlier this week. We were ahead of our time! I find it interesting that when I take Walter to be boarded occasionnally, his unique accent makes his presence known immediately. Without even seeing him, an employee will say, “Walter!” Love the chipmunk and the many comments! 🙂

    • Do you have any videos of him that have sound? I would love to hear him even if only virtually! Meanwhile I hope he is keeping warm and not planning any tropical getaways he hasn’t told you about 🙂 .

      • Sheila

        I’ll work on a video and try to capture him dancing. BTW, I wanted to surprise you but I hope you will soon be in receipt of a package I mailed last week. I hope it’s not lost!

        • Sheila, thank you so much! I’m sure the package is not lost, but we have our mail on hold in Alexandria (we were in York most of this week, and don’t get any mail at our York address since our mailbox here is not the locking type and we never know when we’ll be where). I should be getting the held mail there by Monday, provided they don’t forget to deliver it (which does happen, but just results in delay, not loss). Meanwhile I will look forward to it! So sweet of you to think of me!

  8. rayanard

    Julia I guess in my Eddie Murphy Dr Doolittle voice can say to my dogs ‘Stop talking to me’.one dog after a few years responds while the other “rolls his eyes”As I wait for my wife’s red velvet birthday cake to come out of the oven, I did have fish hamsters ,cats and dogs I use to have “lengthy conversations with. Onet thing I know for sure they never interrupted your conversation or corrected your grammer. lol be blessed

    • Raynard, I haven’t seen the Eddie Murphy version but I will have to watch for that line. I told my husband the other day, now that our dog Pasha is gone I never had anyone to talk silly to anymore until our grandson came to visit 🙂 . Happy birthday to your wife! Red Velvet cake sounds lovely. Give her our best wishes for a wonderful day and if she opens a gift that is a Mrs. Potato Head she should look it over closely!

  9. Nancy

    Awesome shot, Julia….

    • Thank you Nancy! And speaking of awesome shots, WOW how your young men have grown. We loved their photo. Hope you are all well!

  10. Sheila

    Good morning,Julia. Thank you for the update regarding the little package. I hope it will put a smile on your face! 🙂

    • It already has! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  11. sarvjit

    Short and precise – We can talk to anything in this universe if we know the language of soul or simply, heart.

    • So true! And for those of us who are as wordy as I am, sometimes that requires more silence than we usually make time for. A good incentive for me to keep my mouth shut sometimes! The language of the heart is universal.

      • sarvjit

        Really, words are just too short to describe the beauty of heart. It remains silent but can change the universe. It’s silence silences.

        • From what little experience I have had with learning to keep silent, I have found this to be true. It reminds me of the quote I used for this post. Silence is a powerful thing.

          • sarvjit

            Reminds me of the silence of freely flowing water that can rip apart mountains. Silence IS a powerful thing.

            • Yes, silence — and persistence as well! Thanks for your thoughts on this intriguing subject.

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