of animal communication now grows dimmer and dimmer, or some readers
may even think it "curiouser and curiouser," as Alice of
Wonderland said when she found herself lengthening out like a telescope.
But there is certainly a trail of some kind ahead, and since we are
apt to lose it or to wander apart, let us agree, if we can, upon some
familiar fact or experience which may serve as a guiding landmark.
Our general course will be as follows: first, to define our subject,
or rather, to make its meaning clear by illustration; second, to examine
the reasonableness of telepathy from a natural or biological viewpoint;
and finally, to go afield with eyes and minds open to see what the
birds or the beasts may teach us of this interesting matter.
It seems to be fairly well established that a few men and women of
uncommonly fine nervous organization (which means an uncommonly natural
or healthy organization) have the power of influencing the mind of
another person at a distance; and this rare power goes by the name
of thought transference, or telepathy.
The so-called crossing of letters, when two widely separated persons
sit down at the same hour to write each other on the same subject,
is the most familiar but not the most convincing example of the thing.
Yes, I know the power and the example are both challenged, since there
are scientists who deny telepathy root and branch, as well as scientists
who believe in it implicitly; but I also know something more convincing
than any secondhand denial or belief, having at different times met
three persons who used the "gift" so freely, and for the
most part so surely, that to ignore it would be to abandon confidence
in my own sense and judgment.
I am not trying, therefore, to investigate an opinion, but to understand
To illustrate the matter by a personal experience: For many years
after I first left home my mother would become "uneasy in her
mind," as she expressed it, whenever a slight accident or danger
or sickness had befallen me.
If the event were to me serious or threatening, there was no more
doubt or uneasiness on my mother's part. She would know within the
hour that I was in trouble of some kind, and would write or telegraph
to ask what was the matter.
It is commonly assumed that any such power must be a little weird
or uncanny; that it contradicts the wholesome experience of humanity
or makes fantastic addition to its natural faculties; and I confess
that the general queerness, the lack of balance, the Hottentotish
credulity of folk who dabble in occult matters give some human, if
not reasonable, grounds for the assumption.
Nevertheless, I judge that telepathy is of itself wholly natural;
that it is a survival, an age-old inheritance rather than a new invention
or discovery; that it might be exercised not by a few astonishing
individuals, but by any normal man or woman who should from infancy
cultivate certain mental powers which we now habitually neglect.
I am led to this conviction because I have found something that very
much resembles telepathy in frequent use throughout the entire animal
kingdom. It is, as I think and shall try to make clear, a natural
gift or faculty of the animal mind, which is largely subconscious,
and it is from the animal mind that we inherit it; just as a few woodsmen
inherit the animal sense of direction, and cultivate and trust it
till they are sure of their way in any wilderness, while the large
majority of men, dulled by artificial habit, go promptly astray whenever
they venture beyond beaten trails.
That the animals inherit this power of silent communication over great
distances is occasionally manifest even among our half-natural domestic
creatures. For example, that same old setter of mine, Don, who introduced
us to our fascinating subject, was left behind most unwillingly during
my terms at school; but he always seemed to know when I was on my
For months at a stretch he would stay about the house, obeying my
mother perfectly, though she never liked a dog; but on the day I was
expected he would leave the premises, paying no heed to orders, and
go to a commanding ledge beside the lane, where he could overlook
the highroad. Whatever the hour of my coming, whether noon or midnight,
there I would find him waiting.
Once when I was homeward bound unexpectedly, having sent no word of
my coming, my mother missed Don and called him in vain. Some hours
later, when he did not return at his dinnertime or answer her repeated
call, she searched for him and found him camped expectantly in the
lane. "Oho! wise dog," said she. "I understand now.
Your master is coming home." And without a doubt that it would
soon be needed, she went and made my room ready.
If the dog had been accustomed to spend his loafing-time in the lane,
one might thoughtlessly account for his action by the accident or
hit-or-miss theory; but he was never seen to wait there for any length
of time except on the days when I was expected. And once (unhappily
the last time Don ever came to meet his master) he was observed to
take up his watch within a few minutes of the hour when my train left
the distant town.
Apparently he knew when I headed homeward, but there was nothing in
his instinct or experience to tell him how long the journey might
be. So he would wait patiently, loyally, knowing I was coming, and
my mother would take his dinner out to him.
In many other ways Don gave the impression, if not the evidence, that
he was a "mind-reader." He always knew when Saturday came,
or a holiday, and possibly he may have associated the holiday notion
with my old clothes; but how he knew what luck the day had in store
for him, as he often seemed to know the instant I unsnapped his chain
in the early morning, was a matter that at first greatly puzzled me.
If I appeared in my old clothes and set him free with the resolution
that my day must be spent in study or tinkering or farm work, he would
bid me good morning and go off soberly to explore the premises, as
dogs are wont to do.
But when I met him silently with the notion that the day was my day
off, to be wasted in shooting or fishing or roving the countryside,
then in some way Don caught the notion instantly; he would be tugging
at his leash before I reached him, and no sooner was he free than
he was all over the yard in mad capers or making lunatic attempts
to drag me off on our common holiday before breakfast.
That any dog of mine should obey my word, doing gladly whatever I
told him, was to be expected; or that in the field he should watch
for a motion of my hand and follow it instantly, whether to charge
or hold or come in or cast left or right, was a simple matter of training;
but that this particular dog should, unknown to me, enter into my
very feeling, was certainly not the result of education, and probably
not of sight or sense, as we ordinarily understand the terms.
When we were together of an evening before the fire, so long as I
was working or pleasantly reading he would lie curled up on his own
mat, without ever disturbing me till it was time for him to be put
to bed, when he would remind me of the fact by nudging my elbow.
But if an hour came when I was in perplexity, or had heard bad news
and was brooding over it, hardly would I be away in thought, forgetful
of Don's existence on a trail I must follow alone, when his silky
head would slide under my hand, and I would find his brown eyes searching
my face with something inexpressibly fine and loyal and wistful in
their questioning deeps.
Thus repeatedly, unexpectedly, Don seemed to enter into my moods by
some subtle, mysterious perception for which I have no name, and no
explanation save the obvious one-that a man's will or emotion may
fill a room with waves or vibration as real as those streaming from
a fire or a lighted candle, and that normal animals have some unused
bodily faculty for receiving precisely such messages or vibrations.
But we are not yet quite ready for that part of our trail; it will
come later, when we can follow it with more understanding.
Should this record seem to you too personal (I am dealing only with
firsthand impressions of animal life), here is the story of another
dog-not a blue-blooded or highly trained setter, but just an ordinary,
doggy, neglected kind of dog-submitted by a scientific friend of mine,
who very cautiously offers no explanation, but is content to observe
and verify the facts:
This second dog, Watch by name and nature, was accustomed to meet
his master much as Don met me in the lane; but he did it much more
frequently, and timed the meeting more accurately. He was nearer the
natural animal, never having been trained in any way, and perhaps
for that reason he retained more of the natural gift or faculty of
receiving a message from a distance.
His owner, a busy carpenter and builder, had an office in town, and
was accustomed to return from his office or work at all hours, sometimes
early in the afternoon, and again long after dark. At whatever hour
the man turned homeward, Watch seemed to follow his movement as if
by sight; he would grow uneasy, would bark to be let out if he happened
to be in the house, and would trot off to meet his master about halfway.
Though he was occasionally at fault, and sometimes returned to brood
over the matter when his master, having started for home, was turned
aside by some errand, his mistakes were decidedly exceptional rather
His strange "gift" was a matter of common knowledge in the
neighborhood, and occasionally a doubtful man would stage an experiment:
the master would agree to mark the hour when he turned homeward, and
one or more interested persons would keep tabs on the dog.
So my scientific friend repeatedly tested Watch, and observed him
to take the road within a few moments of the time when his master
left his office or building operations in the town, some three or
four miles away.
Thus far the record is clear and straight, but there is one important
matter which my friend overlooked, as scientific men commonly do when
they deal with nature, their mistake being to regard animals as featureless
members of a class or species rather than as individuals.
The dog's master always came or went in a wagon drawn by a quiet old
horse, and upon inquiry I found that between Watch and the horse was
a bond of comradeship, such as often exists between two domestic animals
of different species.
Thus, the dog often preferred to sleep in the stall near his big chum,
or would accompany him to the pasture when he was turned loose, and
would always stand by, as if overlooking the operation, when the horse
was being harnessed.
It may well be, therefore, that it was from the horse rather than
from the man that Watch received notice when heads were turned homeward;
but of the fact that some kind of telepathic communication passed
between two members of the trio there is no reasonable doubt.
Some of my readers may make objection at this point that, though something
like telepathic communication appears now and then among the brutes,
it should be regarded as merely freakish or sensational, like a two-headed
calf; while others will surely ask, "Why, if our dogs possess
such a convenient faculty, do they not use it more frequently, more
obviously, and so spare themselves manifold discomforts or misunderstandings?"
Such an objection is natural enough, since we judge as we live, mostly
by habit; but it has no validity, I think, and for two reasons. First,
because such animals as we have thus far seen exercising the faculty
(and they are but a few out of many) are apparently normal and sensible
beasts, precisely like their less-gifted fellows; and second, because
the telepathic power itself, when one examines it without prejudice,
appears to be wholly natural, and sane or simple as the power of thought,
even of such rudimentary thought as may be exercised in an animal's
As for emotions, more intense and penetrating than any thought, it
is hardly to be questioned that a man's fear or panic may flow through
his knees into the horse he is riding, or that emotional excitement
may spread through a crowd of men without visible or audible expression.
That a dog should receive a wordless message or impulse from his master
at a distance of three or four miles is, fundamentally, no more unnatural
than that one man should feel another's mood at a distance of three
or four feet. Whether we can explain the phenomenon on strictly biological
or scientific grounds is another matter.
I am not a biologist, unfortunately, and must go cat-footedly when
I enter that strange garret. I look with wonder on these patient,
unemotional men who care nothing for a bear or an eagle, but who creep
lower and ever lower in the scale of living things, searching with
penetrating looks among infinitesimal microbes for the secret that
shall solve the riddle of the universe by telling us what life is.
And because man is everywhere the same, watching these exploring biologists
I remember the curious theology of certain South-Pacific savages,
who say that God made all things, the stars and the world and the
living man; but we cannot see Him because He is so very small, because
a dancing mote or a grain of sand is for Him a roomy palace.
Yet even with a modest little knowledge of biology we may find a viewpoint,
I think, from which telepathy or thought-transference would appear
as natural, as inevitable, as the forth-going of light from a burning
Thus, historically there was a time when the living cell, or the cell-of-life,
as one biologist calls it with rare distinction, was sensitive only
to pressure; when in its darkness it knew of an external world only
by its own tremblings, in response to vibrations which poured over
it from every side.
Something made it tremble, and that "something" had motion
or life like its own. Such, imaginatively, was the sentient cell's
first knowledge, the result of a sense of touch distributed throughout
its protecting surface.
Long afterward came a time when the living cell, multiplied now a
millionfold, began to develop special sense-organs, each a modification
of its rudimentary sense of touch; one to receive vibrations of air,
for hearing; another to catch some of the thronging ether waves, for
seeing; a third to register the floating particles of matter on a
sensitive membrane, for taste or smelling.
By that time the cell had learned beyond a peradventure that the universe
outside itself had light and color and fragrance and harmony. Finally
came a day when the cell, still multiplying and growing ever more
complex, became conscious of a new power within itself, most marvelous
of all the powers of earth, the power to think, to feel, and to be
aware of a self that registered its own impressions of the external
And then the cell knew, as surely as it knew sound or light, that
the universe held consciousness also, and some infinite source of
thought and feeling. Such, apparently, was the age-long process from
the sentient cell to the living man.
Since we are following a different trail, this is hardly the time
or place to face the question how this development from mere living
to conscious life took place, even if one were wise or rash enough
to grapple with the final problem of evolution.
Yet it may not be amiss while we "rest a pipe," as the voyageurs
say, to point out that, of the two possible answers to our question
(aside from the convenient and restful answer that God made things
so), only one, curiously enough, has thus far been considered by our
The thousand books and theories of evolution which one reads are all
reducible to this elementary proposition: that the simple things of
life became complex by inner necessity. In other words, an eye became
an eye, or an oak an oak, or a man a man, simply because each must
develop according to the inner law of its being.
That may be true, though the all-compelling "inner law"
is still only a vague assumption, and the mystery of its origin is
untouched; but why not by outer compulsion as reasonably as by inner
necessity? A cell-of-life that was constantly bombarded by moving
particles of matter might be compelled to develop a sense of touch,
in order to save its precious life by differentiating such particles
into good and bad, or helpful and harmful.
A cell over which vibrations of air and ether were continually passing
might be forced for its own good to develop an ear and an eye to receive
such vibrations as sound and light; and a cell over which mysterious
waves of thought and emotion were ceaselessly flowing might be driven
to comprehend that particular mystery by developing a thought and
emotion of its own.
I do not say that this is the right answer; I mention it merely as
a speculative possibility, in order to get our alleged scientific
mind out of its deep rut of habit by showing that every road has two
sides, though a man habitually use only one; and that Reason or Law
or God, or whatever you choose to call the ultimate mainspring of
life, is quite as apt to be found on one side of the road as on the
Inner necessity is not a whit more logical or more explanatory than
external force or compulsion when we face the simple fact that an
animal now sees and feels in the light instead of merely existing
in darkness, or that primitive cells which were dimly sentient have
now become as thinking gods, knowing good and evil.
What this thought of ours is we do not know. Beyond the fact that
we have it and use it, thought still remains a profound mystery. That
it is a living force of some kind; that it projects itself or its
waves outward, as the sun cannot but send forth his light; that it
affects men as surely as gravitation or heat or the blow of a hammer
affects them,-all this is reasonably clear and certain.
But how thought travels; what refined mental ether conveys it outward
with a speed that makes light as slow as a glacier by comparison,
and with a force that sends it through walls of stone and into every
darkness that the light cannot penetrate,-this and the origin of thought
are questions so deep that our science has barely formulated them,
much less dreamed of an answer.
Yet if we once grant the simple proposition that thought is a force,
that it moves inevitably from its source to its object, the conclusion
is inevitable that any thinking mind should be able to send its silent
message to any other mind in the universe. There is nothing in the
nature of either mind or matter to preclude such a possibility; only
our present habit of speech, of too much speech, prevents us from
viewing it frankly.
As a purely speculative consummation, therefore, the time may come
when telepathy shall appear as the natural or perfect communication
among enlightened minds, and language as a temporary or evolutionary
makeshift. But that beckons us away to an imaginative flight among
the clouds, and on the earth at our feet is the trail we must follow.
The question why our dogs, if they have the faculty of receiving a
master's message at a distance, do not use it more obviously, is one
that I cannot answer. Perhaps the reason is obvious enough to some
of the dogs, which have a sidelong way of coming home from their roving,
as if aware they had long been wanted. Or, possibly, the difficulty
lies not in the dog, but in his master.
Every communication has two ends, one sending, the other receiving;
and of a thousand owners there are hardly two who know how properly
to handle a dog either by speech or by silence. Still again, one assumption
implied in the question is that dogs or any other animals of the same
kind are all alike; and that common assumption is very wide of the
Animals differ as widely in their instinctive faculties as men in
their judgments; which partly explains why one setter readily follows
his master's word or hand, or enters into his mood, while another
remains hopelessly dumb or unresponsive.
The telepathic faculty appears more frequently, as we shall see, among
birds or animals that habitually live in flocks or herds, and I have
always witnessed its most striking or impressive manifestation between
a mother animal and her young, as if some prenatal influence or control
were still at work.
For example, I have occasionally had the good luck to observe a she-wolf
leading her pack across the white expanse of a frozen lake in winter;
and at such times the cubs have a doggish impulse to run after any
moving object that attracts their attention.
If a youngster breaks away to rush an animal that he sees moving in
the woods (once that moving animal was myself), the mother heads him
instantly if he is close to her; but if he is off before she can check
him by a motion of her ears or a low growl, she never wastes time
or strength in chasing him. She simply holds quiet, lifts her head
high, and looks steadily at the running cub. Suddenly he wavers, halts,
and then, as if the look recalled him, whirls and speeds back to the
If the moving object be proper game afoot, the mother now goes ahead
to stalk or drive it, while the pack follows stealthily behind her
on either side; but if the distant object be a moose or a man, or
anything else that a wolf must not meddle with, then the mother wolf
trots quietly on her way without a sound, and the errant cub falls
into place as if he had understood her silent command.
You may observe the same phenomenon of silent order and ready obedience
nearer home, if you have patience to watch day after day at a burrow
of young foxes. I have spent hours by different dens, and have repeatedly
witnessed what seemed to be excellent discipline; but I have never
yet heard a vixen utter a growl or cry or warning of any kind.
That audible communication comes later, when the cubs begin to hunt
for themselves; and then you will often hear the mother's querulous
squall or the cubs' impatient crying when they are separated in the
dark woods. While the den is their home (they seldom enter it after
they once roam abroad) silence is the rule, and that silence is most
For hours at a stretch the cubs romp lustily in the afternoon sunshine,
some stalking imaginary mice or grasshoppers, others challenging their
mates to mock fights or mock hunting; and the most striking feature
of the exercise, after you have become familiar with the fascinating
little creatures, is that the old vixen, who lies apart where she
can overlook the play and the neighborhood, seems to have the family
under perfect control at every instant, though never a word is uttered.
That some kind of communication passes among these intelligent little
brutes is constantly evident; but it is without voice or language.
Now and then, when a cub's capers lead him too far from the den, the
vixen lifts her head to look at him intently; and somehow that look
has the same effect as the she-wolf's silent call; it stops the cub
as if she had sent a cry or a messenger after him.
If that happened once, you might overlook it as a matter of mere chance;
but it happens again and again, and always in the same challenging
way. The eager cub suddenly checks himself, turns as if he had heard
a command, catches the vixen's look, and back he comes like a trained
dog to the whistle.
As the shadows lengthen on the hillside, and the evening comes when
the mother must go mousing in the distant meadow, she rises quietly
to her feet. Instantly the play stops; the cubs gather close, their
heads all upturned to the greater head that bends to them, and there
they stand in mute intentness, as if the mother were speaking and
the cubs listening.
For a brief interval that tense scene endures, exquisitely impressive,
while you strain your senses to catch its meaning. There is no sound,
no warning of any kind that ears can hear. Then the cubs scamper quickly
into the burrow; the mother, without once looking back, slips away
into the shadowy twilight.
At the den's mouth a foxy little face appears, its nostrils twitching,
its eyes following a moving shadow in the distance. When the shadow
is swallowed up in the dusk the face draws back, and the wild hillside
is wholly silent and deserted.
You can go home now. The vixen may be hours on her hunting, but not
a cub will again show his nose until she returns and calls him. If
a human mother could exercise such silent, perfect discipline, or
leave the house with the certainty that four or five lively youngsters
would keep out of danger or mischief as completely as young fox cubs
keep out of it, raising children might more resemble "one grand
sweet song" than it does at present.
So far as I have observed grown birds or beasts, the faculty of silent
communication occurs most commonly among those that are gregarious
or strongly social in their habits. The timber-wolves of the North
are the first examples that occur to me, and also the most puzzling.
They are wary brutes, so much so that those who have spent a lifetime
near them will tell you that it is useless to hunt a wolf by any ordinary
method; that your meeting with him is a matter of chance or rare accident;
that not only has he marvelously keen ears, eyes that see in the dark,
and a nose that cannot be deceived, but he can also "feel"
a danger which is hidden from sight or smell or hearing. Such is the
Indian verdict; and I have followed wolves often and vainly enough
to have some sympathy with it.
The cunning of these animals would be uncanny if it were merely cunning;
but it is naturally explained, I think, on the assumption that wolves,
more than most other brutes, receive silent warnings from one another,
or even from a concealed hunter, who may by his excitement send forth
some kind of emotional alarm.
When you are sitting quietly in the woods, and a pack of wolves pass
near without noticing their one enemy, though he is in plain sight,
you think that they are no more cunning than a bear or a buck; and
that is true, so far as their cunning depends on what they may see
Once when I was crossing a frozen lake in a snowstorm a whole pack
of wolves rushed out of the nearest cover and came at me on the jump,
mistaking me for a deer or some other game animal; which does not
speak very highly for either their eyes or their judgment. They were
the most surprised brutes in all Canada when they discovered their
But when you hide with ready rifle near some venison which the same
wolves have killed; when you see them break out of the woods upon
the ice, running free and confident to the food which they know is
awaiting them; when you see them stop suddenly, as
if struck, though they cannot possibly see or smell you, and then
scatter and run by separate trails to a meeting-point on another lake-well,
then you may conclude, as I do, that part of a wolf's cunning lies
deeper than his five senses.
Another lupine trait which first surprised and then challenged my
woodcraft is this: in the wintertime, when timber-wolves commonly
run in small packs, a solitary or separated wolf always seems to know
where his mates are hunting or idly roving or resting in their daybed.
The pack is made up of his family relatives, younger or older, all
mothered by the same she-wolf; and by some bond or attraction or silent
communication he can go straight to them at any hour of the day or
night, though he may not have seen them for a week, and they have
wandered over countless miles of wilderness in the interim.
We may explain this fact, if such it be (I shall make it clear presently),
on the simple ground that the wolves, though incurable rovers, have
bounds beyond which they seldom pass; that they return on their course
with more or less regularity; and that in traveling, as distinct from
hunting, they always follow definite runways, like the foxes.
Because of these fixed habits, a solitary wolf might remember that
the pack was due in a certain region on a certain day, and by going
to that region and putting his nose to the runways he could quickly
pick up the fresh trail of his fellows. There is nothing occult in
such a process; it is a plain matter of brain and nose.
Such an explanation sounds reasonable enough; too reasonable, in fact,
since a brute probably acts more intuitively and less rationally;
but it does not account for the amazing certainty of a wounded wolf
when separated from his pack.
He always does separate, by the way; not because the others would
eat him, for that is not wolf nature, but because every stricken bird
or beast seeks instinctively to be alone and quiet while his hurt
I have followed with keen interest the doings of one wounded wolf
that hid for at least two days and nights in a sheltered den, after
which he rose from his bed and went straight as a bee's flight to
where his pack had killed a buck and left plenty of venison behind
In this case it is possible to limit the time of the wounded wolf's
seclusion, because the limping track that led from the den was but
a few hours old when I found it, and the only track leading into the
den was half obliterated by snow which had fallen two nights previously.
How many devious miles the pack had traveled in the interim would
be hard to estimate.
I crossed their hunting or roaming trails at widely separate points,
and once I surprised them in their daybed; but I never found the limit
of their great range. A few days later that same limping wolf left
another den of his, under a windfall, and headed not for the buck,
which was now frozen stiff, but for another deer which the same pack
had killed in a different region, some eight or ten straight miles
away, and perhaps twice that distance as wolves commonly travel.
If you contend that this wounded wolf must have known where the meat
was by the howling of the pack when they killed, I grant that may
be true in one case, but certainly not in the other. For by great
good luck I was near the pack, following a fresh trail in the gray,
breathless dawn, when the wolves killed the second deer; and there
was not a sound for mortal ears to hear, not a howl or a trail cry
or even a growl of any kind.
They followed, killed and ate in silence, as wolves commonly do, their
howling being a thing apart from their hunting. The wounded wolf was
then far away, with miles of densely wooded hills and valleys between
him and his pack.
Do you ask, "How was it possible to know all this?" From
the story the snow told. At daybreak I had found the trail of a hunting
pack, and was following it stealthily, with many a cautious détour
and look ahead, for they are unbelievably shy brutes; and so it happened
that I came upon the carcass of the deer only a few minutes after
the wolves had fed and roamed lazily off toward their daybed.
I followed them too eagerly, and alarmed them before I could pick
the big one I wanted; whereupon they took to rough country, traveling
a pace that left me hopelessly far behind. When I returned to the
deer, to read how the wolves had surprised and killed their game,
I noticed the fresh trail of a solitary wolf coming in at right angles
to the trail of the hunting pack.
It was the limper again, who had just eaten what he wanted and trailed
off by himself. I followed and soon jumped him, and took after him
on the lope, thinking I could run him down or at least come near enough
for a revolver-shot; but that was a foolish notion. Even on three
legs he whisked through the thick timber so much easier than I could
run on snowshoes that I never got a second glimpse of him.
By that time I was bound to know, if possible, how the limper happened
to find this second deer for his comfort; so I picked up his incoming
trail and ran it clear back to his den under the windfall, from which
he had come as straight as if he knew exactly where he was heading.
His trail was from eastward; what little air was stirring came from
the south; so that it was impossible for his nose to guide him to
the meat even had he been within smelling distance, as he certainly
The record in the snow was as plain as any other print, and from it
one might reasonably conclude that either the wolves can send forth
a silent food-call, with some added information, or else that a solitary
wolf may be so in touch with his pack-mates that he knows not only
where they are, but also, in a general way, what they are doing.
In comparison with timber-wolves the caribou is rather a witless brute;
but he, too, has his "uncanny" moods, and one who patiently
follows him, with deeper interest in his anima than in his antlered
head, finds him frequently doing some odd or puzzling thing which
may indicate a perception more subtle than that of his dull eyes or
keen ears or almost perfect nose. Here is one example of Megaleep's
I was trailing a herd of caribou one winter day on the barrens (treeless
plains or bogs) of the Renous River in New Brunswick. For hours I
had followed through alternate thick timber and open bog without alarming
or even seeing my game.
The animals were plainly on the move, perhaps changing their feeding-ground;
and when Megaleep begins to wander no man can say where he will go,
or where stop, or what he is likely to do next. Once, after trailing
him eight or ten miles, twice jumping him, I met him head-on, coming
briskly back in his own tracks, as if to see what was following him.
From the trail I read that there were a dozen animals in the herd,
and that one poor wounded brute lagged continually behind the others.
He was going on three legs; his right forefoot, the bone above it
shattered by some blundering hunter's bullet, swung helplessly as
he hobbled along, leaving its pathetic record in the snow.
On a wooded slope which fell away to a chain of barrens, halting to
search the trail ahead, my eye caught a motion far across the open,
and through the field-glass I saw my herd for the first time, resting
unsuspiciously on the farther edge of the barren, a full mile or more
From my feet the trail led down through a dense fringe of evergreen,
and then straight out across the level plain. A few of the caribou
were lying down; others moved lazily in or out of the forest that
shut in the barren on that side; and as I watched them two animals,
yearlings undoubtedly, put their heads together for a pushing match,
like domestic calves at play.
Hardly had I begun to circle the barren, keeping near the edge of
it but always out of sight in the evergreens, when I ran upon a solitary
caribou trail, the trail of the cripple, who had evidently wearied
and turned aside to rest, perhaps knowing that his herd was near the
end of its journey.
A little farther on I jumped him out of a fir thicket, and watched
him a moment as he hobbled deeper into the woods, heading away to
the west. The course surprised me a little, for his mates were northward;
and at the thought I quickly found an opening in the cover and turned
my glass upon the other caribou.
Already they were in wild alarm. For a brief interval they ran about
confusedly, or stood tense as they searched the plain and the surrounding
woods for the source of danger; then they pushed their noses out and
racked away at a marvelous pace, crossing the barren diagonally toward
me and smashing into the woods a short distance ahead, following a
course which must soon bring them and their wounded mate together.
If I were dealing with people, I might say confidently that they were
bent on finding out what the alarm was about; but as I have no means
of knowing the caribou motive, I can only say that the two trails
ran straight as a string through the timber to a meeting-point on
the edge of another barren to the westward.
If you would reasonably explain the matter, remember that these startled
animals were far away from me; that the cripple and myself were both
hidden from their eyes, and that I was moving upwind and silently.
It was impossible that they should hear or see or smell me; yet they
were on their toes a moment after the cripple started up, as if he
had rung a bell for them.
It was not the first time I had witnessed a herd of animals break
away when, as I suspected, they had received some silent, incomprehensible
warning, nor was it the last; but it was the only time when I could
trace the whole process without break or question from beginning to
end. And when, to test the matter to the bottom, I ran the trail of
the herd back to where they had been resting, there was no track of
man or beast in the surrounding woods to account for their flight.
One may explain this as a mere coincidence, which is not an explanation;
or call it another example of the fact that wild animals are "queer,"
which is not a fact; but in my own mind every action of the caribou
and all the circumstances point to a different conclusion-namely,
that the fear or warning or impulse of one animal was instantly transferred
to others at a distance.
I think, also, that the process was not wholly unconscious or subconscious,
but that one animal sent forth his warning and the others acted upon
it more or less intelligently. This last is a mere assumption, however,
which cannot be proved till we learn to live in an animal's skin.
It is true that the event often befalls otherwise, since you may jump
one animal without alarming others of the same herd; and it is possible
that the degree or quality of the alarm has something to do with its
carrying power, as we feel the intense emotion of a friend more quickly
than his ordinary moods.
In this case the solitary caribou was tremendously startled; for I
was very near, and the first intimation he had of me, or I of him,
was when my snowshoe caught on a snag and I pitched over a log almost
on top of him.
Yet the difficulty of drawing a conclusion from any single instance
appears in this: that I have more than once stalked, killed and dressed
an animal without disturbing others of his kind near at hand (it may
be that no alarm was sent out, for the animal was shot before he knew
the danger, and in the deep woods animals pay little attention to
the sound of a rifle); and again, when I have been trying to approach
a herd from leeward, I have seen them move away hurriedly, silently,
suspiciously, in obedience to some warning which seemed to spread
through the woods like a contagion.
The latter experience is common enough among hunters of big game,
who are often at a loss to explain the sudden flight of animals that
a moment ago, under precisely the same outward influences, were feeding
or resting without suspicion.
Thus, you may be stalking a big herd of elk, or wapiti, which are
spread out loosely over half a mountainside. You are keen for the
master bull with the noble antlers; nothing else interests you, more's
the pity; but you soon learn that the cunning old brute is hidden
somewhere in the midst of the herd, depending on the screen of cow-elk
to warn him of danger to his precious skin. Waiting impatiently till
this vanguard has moved aside, you attempt to worm your way nearer
to the hidden bull.
You are succeeding beautifully, you think, when a single cow that
you overlooked begins to act uneasily. She has not seen or heard you,
certainly, and the wind is still in your favor; but there she stands,
like an image of suspicion, head up, looking, listening, testing the
air, till she makes up her mind she would as lief be somewhere else,
when without cry or grunt or warning of any kind that ears can hear
she turns and glides rapidly away.
Now if you value animal lore above stuffed skins, or experience above
the babble of hunting naturalists, forget the big bull and his greed-stirring
antlers; scramble quickly to the highest outlook at hand, and use
your eyes. No alarm has been sounded; the vast silence is unbroken;
yet for some mysterious reason the whole herd is suddenly on the move.
To your right, to your left, near at hand or far away, bushes quiver
or jump; alert brown forms appear or vanish like shadows, all silent
and all heading in the direction taken by the first sentinel. One
moment there are scores of elk in sight, feeding or resting quietly;
the next they are gone and the great hillside is lifeless.
The thrill of that silent, moving drama has more wisdom in it, yes,
and more pleasure, than the crash of your barbarous rifle or the convulsive
kicking of a stricken beast that knows not why you should kill him.
Such is the experience, known to almost every elk-hunter who has learned
that life is more interesting than death; and I know nothing of deer
nature to explain it save this-that the whole herd has suddenly felt
and understood the silent impulse to go, and has obeyed it without
a question, as the young wolf or fox cub obeys the silent return call
of his watchful mother.
Such impulses seem to be more common and more dependable among the
whales, which have rudimentary or imperfect sense-organs, but which
are nevertheless delicately sensitive to external impressions, to
the approach of unseen danger, to the movements of the tiny creatures
on which they feed, to changes of wind or tide and to a falling barometer,
as if nature had given them a first-class feeling apparatus of some
kind to make up for their poor eyes and ears.
Repeatedly have I been struck by this extraordinary sensitiveness
when watching the monstrous creatures feeding with the tide in one
of the great bays of the Newfoundland or the Labrador coast. If I
lowered a boat to approach one of them, he would disappear silently
before I could ever get near enough to see clearly what he was doing.
That seemed odd to me; but presently I began to notice a more puzzling
thing: at the instant my whale took alarm every other whale of the
same species seemed to be moved by the same impulse, sounding when
the first sounded, or else turning with him to head for the open sea.
A score of times I tried the experiment, and commonly, but not invariably,
with the same result. I would sight a few leviathans playing or feeding,
shooting up from the deep, breaching half their length out of water
to fall back with a tremendous souse; and through my glasses I would
pick up others here or there in the same bay.
Selecting a certain whale, I would glide rapidly toward him, crouching
low in the dory and sculling silently by means of an oar over the
stern. By some odd channel of perception (not by sight, certainly,
for I kept out of the narrow range of his eye, and a whale is not
supposed to smell or hear) he would invariably get wind of me and
go down; and then, jumping to my feet, I would see other whales in
the distance catch the instant alarm, some upending as they plunged
to the deeps, others whirling seaward and forging full speed ahead.
This observation of mine is not unique, as I supposed, for later I
heard it echoed as a matter of course by the whalemen. Thus, when
I talked with my friend, Captain Rule, about the ways of the great
creatures he had followed in the old whaling-days, he said, "The
queerest habit of a whale, or of any other critter I ever fell foul
of, was this: when I got my boat close enough to a sperm-whale to
put an iron into him, every other sperm-whale within ten miles would
turn flukes, as if he had been harpooned, too."
But he added that he had not noticed the same contagion of alarm,
not in the same striking or instantaneous way, when hunting the right
or Greenland whale-perhaps because the latter is, as a rule, more
solitary in its habits.
Wolves and caribou and whales are far from the observation of most
folk; but the winter birds in your own yard may some time give you
a hint, at least, of the same mysterious transference of an impulse
over wide distances. When you scatter food for them during a cold
snap or after a storm (it is better not to feed them regularly, I
think, especially in mild weather when their proper food is not covered
with snow) your bounty is at first neglected except by the house sparrows
Unlike our native birds, these imported foreigners are easily "pauperized,"
seeking no food for themselves so long as you take care of them. They
keep tabs on you, also, waiting patiently about the house, and soon
learn what it means when you emerge from your back door on a snowy
morning with a broom in one hand and a pan in the other. They are
feeding greedily the moment your back is turned, and for a time they
are the only birds at the table.
When they have gorged themselves, for they have no manners, a few
tree-sparrows and juncos flit in to eat daintily. Then suddenly the
wilder birds appear-jays, chickadees, siskins, kinglets and, oh, welcome!
a flock of bob-whites-coming from you know not where, in obedience
to a summons which you have not heard.
Some of these may have visited the yard in time past, and are returning
to it now, hunger driven; but others you have never before met within
the city limits, and a few have their accustomed dwelling in the pine
woods, which are miles away. How did these hungry hermits suddenly
learn that food was here?
The answer to that question is simple, and entirely "sensible"
if you think only of birds that live or habitually glean in your neighborhood.
Some of them saw you scatter the food, or else found it by searching,
while others spied these lucky ones feeding and came quickly to join
For birds that live wider afield there is also an explanation that
your senses can approve, though it is probably wrong or only half
right: from a distance they chanced to see wings speeding in the direction
of your yard, and followed them expectantly because wings may be as
eloquent as voices, the flight of a bird when he is heading for food
being very different from the flight of the same bird when he is merely
looking for food.
But these most rare visitors, kinglets or pine-finches or grosbeaks
or bobwhites, that never before entered your yard, and that would
not be here now had you not thought to scatter food this morning,-at
these you shake your head, calling it chance or Providence or mystery,
according to your mood or disposition.
To me, after observing the matter closely many times, the reasonable
explanation of these rare visitors is that either wild birds know
how to send forth a silent food-call or, more likely, that the excitement
of feeding birds spreads powerfully outward, and is felt by other
starving birds, alert and sensitive, at a distance beyond all possible
range of sight or hearing.
By no other hypothesis can I account for the fact that certain wild
birds make their appearance in my yard at a moment when a number of
other birds are eagerly feeding, and at no other time, though I watch
for them from one year's end to another.
Like every other explanation, whether of stars or starlings, this
also leads to a greater mystery. The distance at which such a summoning
call can be felt by others must be straitly limited, else would all
the starving birds of a state be flocking to my yard on certain mornings;
and the force by which the silent call is projected is as unknown
as the rare mental ether which bears its waves or vibrations in all
Yet the problem need not greatly trouble us, since the answer, when
it comes, will be as natural as breathing. If silent or telepathic
communication exists in nature, and I think it surely does, the mystery
before us is no greater than that which daily confronts the astronomer
or the wireless operator.
One measures the speed of light from Orion; the other projects his
finger-touch across an ocean; but neither can tell or even guess the
quality of the medium by which the light or the electric wave is carried
to its destination.
Reprinted by permission of Inner Traditions Publisher. Copyright ©
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