Words for Beyond Words

I finally finished Carl Safina's book Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel and it's one of the most powerful and moving things I've read in a long time-- I actually had ambitious plans to summarize numerous portions, but the book is over four hundred pages and dense with details, so you're going to have to trust me, this is a really good one; here are a few things to whet your appetite:

1) Lyell Watson's description of an old lonely matriarch elephant standing beside the ocean enjoying the ultrasound rumble of a blue whale and possibly communicating back with her own deep voice: "the blue whale was on the surface again, pointed inshore, resting, her blowhole clearly visible . . . the largest animal in the ocean and the largest living land animal were no more than a hundred yards apart, . . . commiserating over the back fence of this rocky Cape shore";

2) the cruelty of the ivory trade, both to human-slaves and to elephants . . . as late as 1882, slavers chained humans together and had them carry the heavy tusks from the Upper Congo to port-- a 1000 mile slog-- and, as protocol had it, if you got sick, you were killed (to prevent malingering) and if you grew to weak to carry your tusk and your child, then your child was killed, because, as the headman logically explained: "We cannot leave valuable ivory on the road . . . we spear the child and make her burden lighter . . . ivory first";

3) the descriptions of wolves in Yellowstone, their infinitely complex personalities and hierarchies and forays and betrayals . . . the touching moment when Wolf Twenty-one, at the tail end of his years, watched his pack hunt an elk and then headed in the opposite direction, to the top of Druid Peak-- his favorite family rendezvous point-- where he lay down in the shade of a big tree and died . . . on his own terms;

4) the tool use of various animals, including apes, chimps, elephants, insects, dolphins;

5) the self-awareness and theory of other minds that dogs, dolphins, killer whales and primates possess;

6) the variety of killer whale types-- fish eaters, whale eaters, dolphin eaters, seal eaters-- and the various strategies that different tribes of whales use to hunt;

7) the intelligence and creativity of dolphins . . . you can train dolphins to "do something new" for a treat . . . and they will synchronize this creativity with another dolphin . . . my students have trouble with that task;

8) the vast intelligence, empathy, and abstract thinking ability of killer whales . . . and the many injustices done to them in the wild and in marine parks;

9) a lot of other stuff . . . this book is groundbreaking and belongs on the same shelf with two other recent great books about nature: The Sixth Extinction and Wild Ones . . . read all three before you die!


zman said...

Where else can I find a 400 page book summed up in a sentence?

Dave said...

probably twitter, but it won't be as long, rambling, and grammatically inept.

A New Sentence Every Day, Hand Crafted from the Finest Corinthian Leather.