In his new book, Derrick Jensen expresses his belief that people can and should carry on conversations with "pigs, dogs, coyotes, squirrels, rivers, trees and rocks."
But Jensen wants you to understand that the book, A Language Older Than Words, is not the work of some whacked-out Dr. Doolittle. In fact, he acknowledges in the preface, the "interspecies communication" thing went against everything he had been taught by school, church, newspapers and his training in science.
"I began to question my sanity, which further piqued my curiosity," he added. While Jensen took his ability to pique curiousity as a positive reading on the sanity meter, I think we should reserve judgment.
Rather than take the obvious route and write a "feel-good best-seller" about how to communicate with your pets, Jensen turned his book into a lamentation about why "we numb ourselves to our own experiences" and "how you can't find redemption if you're avoiding difficult issues."
At the same time, he explains, this is "a love story about that which is and that which was but is no longer." (Any resemblance to a proclamation about the word "is" by a U.S. president is purely coincidental.)
But before we get swept up in the grandiose things Jensen's book deals with, I think it would behoove us residents of the Rim country to take a closer look at its basic premise: that humans can and should communicate with animals and inanimate objects.
I say this for two reasons. One, because the summer drought has brought many of us Rimaroos into much closer contact with the creatures of the forest like elk and javelina. As in right in our yards. If we can talk to these creatures, maybe we can still salvage some fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
And two, because in my mind, if Jensen's interspecies communication premise cannot be verified, then it doesn't much matter what the rest of his book says.
Jensen explains that he used to raise chickens and ducks for food, but was having problems with coyotes eating his fowl. One day, out of frustration, he asked a stalking coyote to stop. Lo and behold it did, and so did all of its buddies. In fact, they never returned.
When he asked "others" if they talked to animals and various inanimate objects, about half admitted, albeit with some hesitation, that they did. He concluded that pigs, dogs, coyotes, squirrels, and yes, gentle readers, rivers, trees, and rocks could all speak and listen. We just need to join the conversation.
Before buying into Jensen's lamentation about lost redemption and other things that are no more, I decided to put his basic premise to the test on my dog BoBo.
Now BoBo, the 90-some-pound half brained, half Rottweiller, half black Lab has a bad habit of eating the food the cat leaves in her bowl. He used to be surreptitious. After we'd go to bed, we'd hear his tags rattling on the cat bowl. Or if we were gone, we'd come home to an empty bowl.
But over the years, he has become bold and brazen, engaging in this practice right under our very noses, and continuing to clean out the bowl even as we are exhorting him to stop.
So I ceremoniously fed the cat, then called BoBo over to me. "BoBo," I said with great sincerity, "I'm asking you nicely not to eat the cat food."
After several hours, the cat food remained untouched. It was even starting to congeal and harden.
Thinking there must be something to Jensen's theory, I went outside for the ultimate test: interspecies communication with rocks. "Rocks in the ground," I implored, "please move aside so I can dig a hole."
With that, I plunged my shovel into the soil all of about two inches before I heard a loud clunk, the unmistakable sound of rock on steel. I bolted for the house, but I was too late.
Greeting me at the door was BoBo, still drowsy from his three-hour nap, but licking his lips with obvious pleasure. I raced past him into the kitchen to discover ... an empty cat food dish.
Which leads me to the following deductions:
1. If you want to try interspecies communication on the elk or javelina in your yard, you might want to do it out the window rather than up close and personal.
2. In his preface, Jensen asks, "If the salmon or the chickens or the forests could write a book, what would it be like?" I think he's given us a pretty good idea.