“In the Cree teachings, 'The Listening' means more than anything else to us. (We) learn how to listen to the environment, to the wind, to the rocks. We learn how to listen to everything.”
Vernon Harper, Northern Cree Tribe (“Enter the Silence, Listen, and You Will See” by Tamarack Song, Parabola, Fall 2016)
When I was a child growing up in the western North Carolina mountains, my dad was a Surveyor and map-maker. I learned at about nine years old how to lug a measuring chain through underbrush and hold up a rod for sighting through a transit. One of the great advantages of being my father's first chain man was that he taught as we went. It seemed to me that he knew the names of every plant that grew. He told me how to look at leaves and bark to identify a tree, what plants could be eaten, what should not be touched because it was poison, and what couldn't be disturbed because it was endangered. He taught me to watch the tree leaves, how they turned upside down when rain was on the way, and what the different types of clouds meant weather-wise. He introduced me to the red crayfish living in those mountain streams, taught me the life-cycle of the newt, and how to tell the difference between a brown trout and a rainbow trout. My dad was a listener of nature.
My son has a Corgi-mix dog named Maggie. She is one of the pack of four that stays with me while their humans are at work. Maggie knows when it's time for him to pick her up in the evening almost to the minute. She comes and sits in front of me and asks questions with her eyes. If I try to ignore her, she uses her nose as a prod until I tell her unequivocally, “He's on his way, Maggie. He'll be here in five minutes.” Then she goes to sit at the front door and wait. Animals communicate, just as we do, through body language. I heard an interview on Science Friday (NPR) last week with one of the scientists who's mapped the human microbiome. He reported that people who live with animals, especially dogs and/or farm animals, have richer microbiomes, and therefore better immune systems. Another important way that we are mutually benefited by having furry friends.
As difficult as it is to live in a city and still be a listener and observer of nature, either wild or domestic, I think we should try. It would behoove us to teach some of these things to our children, just as my father taught me. Becoming a listener, and an appreciator of nature is good for the soul, and may be the very thing that saves our lives, and the life of this planet we call home.
In the Spirit,