Nature Connection: When There Are No Words

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond illustration

Sunsets do not utter sentences. Waves do not speak in rhymes. Trees don’t spout half truths and flowers tell no lies. Birds sing but not with lyrics. Coyotes howl and yip but with no paragraphs or grammar. Rabbits and deer are mostly silent, yet they get their points across.

Underwater there are clicks and whines, melodies and harmonies but no whales or fish use words to tell their tales.

Only we do that. We tell stories, make jokes, recount dreams and whisper of love. Some shout their hate while others sing praises to their chosen gods. We use words to express ourselves but sometimes those words aren’t true. We are the only species that lies. I’m no historian or psychologist, no anthropologist or scholar, but I can’t help wonder if lying isn’t a basic human survival tactic. Even small children do it.

Foxes and mice don’t need to lie. Their stories are played out in real time. There may be hiding, stalking, fooling, but everything is pretty much out in the open. If the fox misses the quick turn and shimmying down a hole of the mouse, that’s on him. If the mouse stops to eat a seed before running like heck because the fox seems to be looking elsewhere, that’s on her.

These last few days I’ve had to go outside to get away from all the words. I needed to listen to the branches of trees rub against each other in the woods. A squirrel chattered and a nuthatch called. Twigs and dried leaves crackled beneath my feet. Each sound told a story without words and for that, on a day when my head was spinning with too many words, I was grateful.

In January the sea is a gorgeous blue green with sparkles of light and undulating movements of waves that shift the colors with every ripple. Some days the sea roars and shouts, and on others she is silent, reflective, glassy with calm. Gulls in their dull winter feathers line the shore, watching for a chance to grab a scallop, a clam or a whelk. Broken remains of former meals are scattered on the sand, on the jetty, and in the parking lot. It isn’t hard to read these stories. Their plots are simple and direct.

There are deer tracks in the sand by the edge of the marsh. They are deep and fresh in the mud of early morning. I rarely see these deer, but I know they are here. There’s a fox and a skunk, rabbits and turkeys. Their tracks meander or trot, stop and move on. Sometimes I find a passel of feathers from a bird taken by a hawk and sometimes I find small skulls or bones from small mammals that have left this life.

We humans are a species that loves words. We even think in words. Imagine thinking like a hawk or fox or deer. No words. Images, scents, and sounds guide them. There is no lie in the scent of a mouse, no untruth in the scattering of doves when a bird of prey flies overhead. There is just knowing, truth, the reality of the present.

I stop and sniff the air. It is full of salt, the fermenting of peat and something fresh I can’t identify. The air is cold and still, and I wonder if that is what I am smelling, the coolness of stillness. My nose is woefully inept compared to that of a coyote. Should I be able to smell the rabbit, the decaying dune mushrooms, the sour notes of rotting scallop bits left behind as inedible? Would all that sensory knowledge enhance my life? Would it be better than words?

Words define our human world in ways no animal or plant could comprehend. No fern worries about its propensity for dark, damp places. It just is what it is. It doesn’t dream of being a fanciful, pink marsh mallow blossom. Or does it? Does a sliver of bright, pink wistfulness enter its greenness on a late summer day? Does the mallow ever tire of standing in the heat of the August sun and long for a cool, damp, lime green moment in the shady woods?

We cannot know the thoughts of plants, frogs or dragonflies. We can only wonder. We have lost our abilities to intuit and know without speaking or writing, reading or listening to others speak. We have lost our simple truths, our natural ways of knowing. When we learned to use words we learned to elaborate, define, lie and deceive. We insisted on this word, not that, said this way, not that way. Words became our new sense, one unique to us.

Language is actually a living, breathing entity of its own. It is always changing, evolving with every generation. It is easily adapted to the fads and mores of the times, not always with illuminating or refreshing results. It is no more static than a summer breeze.

As I listen to the birds chattering, the trees whispering, I realize I am giving them human words to describe their noises. I guess it is how we connect and comprehend. I don’t know what they are saying or communicating but I do know they aren’t making up lies, telling untruths.

If only we could relearn the language of truth. All of us. How much simpler life might be.