Phenomena, Comment and Notes

As scientists probe deeper into whether animals really have consciousness, peripheral questions arise. If they think, do we really want to know what they think . . . about us?

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"Across the top of the hill. On one side of us now are the trees that always stay green. I can smell the leaping wild ones. They're here; I know they're here. Sometimes I find places full of their scent where the grass is all mashed down: the places where they sleep.

"We're alongside the naked trees now, walking easily where eight-foot-high flowers made it tough in the summer. He always crosses the barbed wire at the same place, where a rotting log makes it easier for him to step over. Being vertical must be a drag. I can walk under the fence in a hundred places.

"As we make our way through the bushes on the other side of the fence, we emerge into another pasture. He follows a grass-eater trail that descends the hill on an angle, moving slowly down. I go straight down (the slope isn't that steep!) and get to the bottom in one-fourth of the distance. Here there's a truly tiny stream, and yet he looks for a shallow place to cross.

"Red alert! A hot scent fills my being and I'm off, running effortlessly with my nose only inches from the ground. I start the wrong way and feel the scent cooling. Reverse direction, and the scent gets warmer and warmer . . . and then ends in that same little stream.

"Across this pasture we come to the big stream and the pond below the dam. He always stops here and looks around, but I know there is nothing of any interest because we have walked into the wind and I would have smelled it. To go upstream we have to climb over a stone wall that extends out from the dam. I walk up and jump down on the other side and start to walk. Oops, no two-foot. I look back and there's Old Clumsy, carefully putting one foot on a rock in the wall, then another foot on another rock. The wall only comes up to his shoulders, but he acts like he'd be killed if he slipped. Finally he's on top and drops down to the other side, which is only a little jump.

"It's so much easier now than it was in the summer. But still the long skinny green stems catch in his outer pelt (fur is so much easier); sometimes he actually cuts a path. Across the stream a flier is making a sound just like a two-foot laughing.

"We're both alert now, because we're coming to where the underwater animals live. A furry face silently pops up out of the water; the animal swims slowly to no place in particular, dragging that flat, hairless tail behind it. Then it makes a loud slapping sound and rolls under the water. A few minutes later it is up again, swimming just as slowly. Old Clumsy always looks at me to see what I'm going to do. I watch it for a while, and then look away and pretend it's not there. He surely can't expect me to retrieve something as big as that, especially while it's still alive.

"The sun is beginning to feel warm now. Clumsy is taking the extra pelt off the top of his head.

"We get to where the ground is collapsing and there are lots of dens, some of them almost big enough for me to walk into. But most of them have no fresh scent, so I move on. Clumsy never checks them. Across the stream a flier is hitting its head against a tree.

"I climb down the bank and swim across to the other side. Another hot scent: I'm off, nose to ground, coursing back and forth up the hill through the trees. But up on top I lose the scent, come back, swim back across and have a good roll. He watches.


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