OUT OF THE GROUND the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name" (Genesis 2:19). Following Adam's lead, we say that is the elephant and the albatross, that is the weasel and the goldfish. What or who they really are we do not know because they do not tell. They do not tell because they lack what is either the gift or the curse of speech, depending on your point of view. Perhaps another reason they do not tell is that they do not know. The marmalade cat dozing among the nasturtiums presumably doesn't think of herself as a marmalade cat or as anything else for that matter. She simply is what she is and what she does. Whether she's mating under the moon or eviscerating a mouse or gazing into empty space, she seems to make herself up from moment to moment as she goes along. 

Humans live largely inside their heads, from which they tell the rest of their bodies what to do, except for occasional passionate moments when the tables are turned. Animals, on the other hand, do not seem compartmentalized that way. Everything they are is in every move they make. When a dachshund takes a shine to you, it is not likely to be because he has thought it over ahead of time. Or in spite of certain reservations. Or in expectation of certain benefits. It seems to be just because it feels to him like a good idea at the time. Such as he is, he gives himself to you hook, line, and sinker, the bad breath no less than the frenzied tail and the front paws climbing the air. Needless to say, the whole picture can change in a flash if you try to make off with his dinner, but for the moment his entire being is an act of love bordering on the beatific. 

"Ask the animals, and they will teach you," Job says to his foul-weather friends. Innocence, as above, is one of their lessons, but the one Job has in mind is another, that is, that "in [the Lord's] hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being" (Job 12:7,10). When the ravens came and fed Elijah bread and meat by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:6), we're told they did it because the Lord commanded them to. However, I suspect that since, in spite of Poe, ravens are largely nonverbal, the Lord caused the sight of the old man to be itself the command the way the smell of breakfast is a command to be hungry or the sound of your best friend on the stair a command to rejoice. 

Elijah sat there all by himself—bald, on the run, in danger of starving to death. If the ravens could have talked, they would probably have tried to talk either the Lord or themselves out of doing anything about it. As it was, there was simply nothing for it but to bring him two squares a day till he moved on somewhere else. The sleek, black birds and the bony, intractable prophet—since all life is one life, to save another is to save yourself, and with their wings, and beaks, and throbbing birds' hearts all working at once, the ravens set about doing it.  

- Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

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