PAT NEAL: If we could talk to the animals

THROUGHOUT HISTORY AND around the world, man has studied the ways in which animals communicate in an effort to form a deeper understanding of the creatures that cohabit our planet.

Our Roosevelt elk are usually quite vocal.

Get several bulls together with a full moon during the mating season and it can sound like a Saturday night in Jurassic Park.

The calves are born with a sharp mewing call that expresses alarm or demands attention.

The cow elk have a bark that sounds like a belch from a logger that just chugged a beer.

This all changes after a few months of hunting season.

The other day I was walking by a herd on the way to the fishing hole.

The elk were as quiet as church mice.

The bulls were either shot or hiding in the swamps. The calves did not make a peep. A cow must have smelled me or seen me move.

In any herd of elk there are any number of sentries.

Chances are when you are watching one elk another one is watching you and trying to get your scent.

Which is not tough when you are wearing waders that have been in the bottom of a boat since salmon season.

It’s an olfactory experience that an elk would have to shove a cork up its nose to miss.

Then a cow barked an alarm no louder than a hen cluck.

Every elk in a hundred-yard circle surrounding me took off like they’d been cattle-prodded.

Understanding the elk language is relatively easy compared to other creatures for whom it appears there is no known method of communicating.

Last week I was birdwatching with my shotgun in an effort to make the traditional chicken-fried duck for Christmas dinner.

The key ingredient of which is a duck. I had no luck.

Other than watching a display of shore birds hurtling past mere inches from my head in flocks of twenty to fifty flying in a zig-zag pattern as if they were tied together.

Leaving me to wonder how in the world these sandpipers or sanderlings could fly together with such precision without a nod or a wink or a call to clue in the rest of the flock about which way they were going to swerve or dive without a single collision.

Was it group telepathy, mass hypnosis or an evolutionary trait that allowed these plump little birds to dodge the many hawks and falcons that hunt them throughout the length of their migration.

This display of non-verbal communication becomes even more mysterious when we look at our most mysterious bird, the raven.

These birds are considered sacred by many people who say the raven created the sun, moon and stars.

Noah launched a raven from the Ark to find land.

Ravens have many calls from a sound like dripping water to what almost sounds like a human voice.

It is the raven’s non-verbal language that is the most fascinating.

When one raven finds food, the others mysteriously gather from miles around without benefit of a rallying call.

Suddenly, a horizon that was free of ravens before has ravens streaming in from all points of the compass.

How did the ravens know about the feast when they were out of earshot and out of sight beyond the distant ridge tops?

Compared to the ravens, man’s attempt at communication is a confused babel, but here goes.

If animals can communicate why can’t we?

This week’s column is nothing more than a primitive attempt to communicate with humans by wishing you all a very happy New Year.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal

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