Canto

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.

—Nalungiaq,
Inuit woman interviewed by ethnologist Knud Rasmussen in the early twentieth century.

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The Tortoise at Ringmer, Sussex. Wood engraving.
Eric Ravilious (1903 - 1942)

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For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.

—and the rest, from Jubilate Agno,
Christopher Smart

The warping night air having brought the boom

Of an owl’s voice into her darkened room,
We tell the wakened child that all she heard
Was an odd question from a forest bird,
Asking of us, if rightly listened to,
“Who cooks for you?” and then “Who cooks for you?”

Words, which can make our terrors bravely clear,
Can also thus domesticate a fear,
And send a small child back to sleep at night
Not listening for the sound of stealthy flight
Or dreaming of some small thing in a claw
Borne up to some dark branch and eaten raw.

— "A Barred Owl",
Richard Wilbur

A lecture on ferrets

Ferrets are small, tawny animals with four paws and a snout. They use their front paws to dig their underground cities, to hunt rats, and to hold food and baby ferrets. They use their hind paws to stand up, to mount females, and to jump. They use all four paws to run, walk, and dance. They use their snout for sniffing and to grow whiskers on, for eating, and to show their kind and benevolent feelings. They also have a furry tail, which is a source of pride to them. Justified pride, moreover, for what would become of a ferret who wasn’t proud of being a ferret? Their congenital trait is prudence, but with time they acquire wisdom as well. For them, everything in the world is red, because their eyes are red, that being the appropriate eye-color for ferrets. They are deeply interested in engineering and music. They have certain gifts of prescience, and would like to be able to fly, but so far have not done so, prevented by their prudence. They are loyal and brave. And they generally carry out their intentions.


—Renka to Livna'lams,
Kalpa Imperial, Angélica Gorodischer

But somewhere on the side of the darkening hill a horse lifted its voice to neigh. The sound had the clear distance of history.

Peace Like A River, chapter 'Boy Ready'
Leif Enger

Owl Saint (2006).
Ursula Vernon
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    Vega nightfishes in the Great Sky River. Copyright © 2021

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