The legend of Solomon's ring, the adventures of Dr. Doolittle, the attempt to decipher the dots and dashes of dolphins, and the attempt to teach chimpanzees to type out their thoughts on computers all reflect our ancient dream of being able to talk with the animals. As fascinating as a message from outer space would be a message from the inner space of a great blue heron or a common house cat sunning herself on the kitchen linoleum. Their mute gaze suggests a vision of reality beyond our imagining. What do they see in their ignorance that we in our wisdom are mostly blind to?
In the book of Numbers, Balaam's ass sees an angel of the Lord barring the way with a drawn sword in his hand and thereupon lies down in the middle of the road with Balaam still on his back. When Balaam clobbers him over the head with a stick, the ass speaks out reproachfully in fluent Hebrew, and then Balaam sees the angel too.
This is perhaps a clue to the mystery. Whereas people as a rule see only what they expect to see and little more, animals, innocent of expectation, see what is there. The next time the old mare looks up from her browsing and lets fly with an exultant whinny at the empty horizon, we might do well to consider at least the possibility that the horizon may not be quite as empty as we think.