In this week’s American Scholar, in a column on books that have influenced people's lives, a weekly piece called “Reading Lessons,” Sy Montgomery, the author of 20 books on animals and nature, discusses a book he once read that was formative for his career. And he quotes and comments:
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals,” Henry Beston wrote in his 1928 classic, The Outermost House. “For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”
This week’s writeup is on a book subtitled “A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod.” Montgomery goes on to say:
Beston brought to his observations of the natural world all of his talents—not just his intellect, but his emotion and intuition as well. His book is, to me, a blueprint for how to open your soul to creation, how to see animals in a new, humbling, and revelatory way.
A lady has helped us manage our home for nearly twenty years. Our dogs know when she leaves her own house across town to come to ours. Our cat has trained us in various ways to do what he wants us to do, and when he wants us to do it. How much do animals understand? What’s their thought and feeling world like? When I ponder this intensely enough, it makes me want to be a vegetarian. We’ve even had a group of wild deer years ago show that they knew when the kids would come home from school each day, and gather behind our house to wait for their daily afternoon treat of dried corn. Who was their timekeeper? Who called the meeting? One day, when we were late, the boldest of the deer, a young one, came across to our back deck, and walked up the steps to peer into the door, presumably to find out what was delaying things.
I’m sure you have your own stories. What is our place in nature, really? How much could we benefit and learn by opening ourselves to new insights? What do we need to learn from our mystical colleagues, the animals?
Maybe you should ask your dog or cat.