Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Interspecies Communication

I want to detail two very different interactions I had just minutes apart while on an early evening walk through my neighborhood.

The first interaction took place as I passed another walker, a man in early middle age also walking at a brisk pace:
Me: With a nod in his direction, "Hey."
Man: "I'm fine, how are you?"
Me: Puzzled, "I'm fine."
Man: "Thank you."
We both continued to walk throughout the brief interaction. Once he was clearly behind me I started shaking my head, thinking, "That might have been one of the most inauthentic conversations I've had in a long time. That man didn't hear a word I said." He was merely going through the motion of social niceties.

The second interaction was maybe three minutes later. I rounded a corner I heard a rustling in the decorative brush in a neighbor's side yard. I slowed my pace, wondering what might be making the noise.
"Is it a cat?" I wondered. "Maybe the neighborhood fox. What would I do if I ran into a fox?"

As my internal musing continued an animal burst out of the ornamental grasses. It was a skunk.

I froze.

The skunk froze, with its gorgeous tail waving slightly in the ocean breeze.

I slowly started to back away.

The skunk did the same.

When it assessed there was enough distance between us it finished scurrying across the road into the bushes of another neighbor. With the skunk out of sight I hurried past our rendezvous point and continued my walk.

As I did so I thought to myself, "I think the skunk and I understood each other better than me and that other man did. We both communicated we were scared. We both knew to back away, and we both knew the skunk needed to safely cross the street before I could continue my walk. And all without uttering a sound."

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