It’s difficult to answer that question. I usually explain it by saying that I wanted to write Choosing to Be as a story, and I wanted to have dialogue. I say that since Poohbear Degoonacoon and I are the main characters, well, he had to talk. People smile and accept this — it fits into their frame of reference. It keeps them from thinking I’m crazy.
But this really isn’t the truth. Talking with animals, and hearing what they have to say, has come naturally to me for most of my life. I never question it. It just is. But having spent the first 20 years of my career in the business environment, I learned to keep this part of myself to myself, lest I be dismissed as “that strange young woman who talks with animals.”
Then yesterday I was reading Spirituality & Health Magazine and came upon an article about the vision of the Inuit. In addition to the beautiful pictures of Inuit art, there was a poem. I was compelled to read this poem aloud, almost as a chant — and tears rolled down my eyes as I did it. Here is the poem (I suggest you read it out loud):
Magic Words (An Inuit Poem)
In the very earliest time,
When both people and animals lived on earth,
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
And an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
And sometimes animals
And there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
Might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
And what people wanted to happen could happen
All you had to do was say it.
Nobody could explain this:
That’s the way it was.
I grew up in Kodiak, Alaska in the early fifties, when Alaska was still a territory. In fact, I attended Kodiak Territorial School. I was friends with Eskimos and with kids whose fathers braved the treacherous ocean as fishermen. Most years, someone I knew lost their father to the Alaskan wilderness.
I talked with the moose and bears and seals and rabbits and the many other animals around me. It seemed natural. My Eskimo friends told stories of animals and we related to them as part of us. I cheered the sled dogs as they swept through the little town of Kodiak in a blur during the annual Sled Dog Races. I knew these animals and their spirits as though they were my own. I respected the animals and fish my father took for our food. I watched him build fish ladders with the Civilian Conservation Corps to aid the salmon upstream for their spawning, and I saw the respect these men paid to the beautiful fish that provided us with sustenance during the long and dark winter. We had a neighborhood smokehouse where we all stored our meat and fish, often exchanging our bounty for something different that a neighbor had put up.
I was part of the natural way of things, and I took it for granted that it would always be that way. I was wrong. Today my heart hurts with this knowledge. The Inuit poem has touched me so deeply that I find tears welling up and a lump in my throat as the words from the poem swirl through my head again and again.
And so, I talk with animals. I learn from them. I admit this. And today, I am proud of it.