As a kid I loved Dr. Doolittle. I even had a record with Dr. Doolittle songs on it, my favourite being ?If I Could Talk to the Animals.? The song explored the potential joy of learning how to speak elephant and chimpanzee. I loved the idea of being able to talk to my many pets. What lovely conversations we would have! I would never have to wonder what they were thinking again.
As an adult I can see the pitfalls of animal speak. I suspect the things they would tell us would not be so lovely at all. Who wants to step out of the shower and be told they look fat by a cat? We come home to a dog bouncing off the ceiling and we think, ?Isn?t that sweet. At least someone is happy to see me. My dog sure loves me.? Meanwhile, if Rover could talk he would probably be shouting, ?Where have you been? I?ve been watching out the window for you all day. I?m about fed up waiting for you all the time. My water is too warm and I hate the last brand of kibble you bought. Do we have any of those little round treats or were you too cheap to buy them again? I want to go for a walk. Take me out for a walk right now. That hat looks really stupid on you by the way. What are you doing? Where are you going? What are you looking for? Oh, please don?t tell me you lost my leash again. I don?t believe this. The cat is always saying how thick headed you are and frankly, I?m starting to believe her.?
There?s a good chance that if animals could talk we would never have domesticated them in the first place. If they all started speaking to us tomorrow I?m willing to bet that within a week we would be releasing every last one of them back to the wild where they would spend the rest of their lives sharing weird tales with each other about their life with humans.
If that were to happen humans would have to hope their former pets never developed a human affection for money or they would be able to blackmail their former owners for every cent they had. Or force an invitation back into our homes where they would never have to worry about us finding time to take them for walks or feeding them the cheap treats again.
I think we love things that can?t talk back. Animals, books, art, babies, even husbands. Darcy and I have had some of our most meaningful conversations while I was talking to him from the kitchen and he was on the couch riveted to a hockey game. And then there are plants. If plants could talk would there still be gardeners? Even though they don?t talk back, it?s supposedly important to their health for us to talk to them. Some scientists think talking to plants helps because you exhale carbon dioxide on their leaves, providing them with an extra boost of CO2, which they like. Others point out that if you take the time to talk to your plants, you are probably the type that will take good care of them and while you?re chatting it up you are far more likely to notice when they need something. Like water!
That may be so, but how do you explain the success of horticulturist Luther Burbank who lived between 1849 ? 1926 and claimed that he was able to breed a spineless cactus because he constantly talked to his plants telling them they didn?t need their defensive thorns anymore because he would look after them?
Apparently some people believe that talking to seeds matter too. According to one of my gardening books there are some farmers in the American Midwest who chant ?As big as my butt and as round as my head? as they sow cabbages or turnips, following an age-old tradition requesting a good crop. Sort of makes you worry about the poor skinny farmer with a small head and a wee bum ? I mean what about his cabbages? Though I suppose even a small bum would still equal a pretty good sized cabbage. Or turnip.
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from the Peace River country. You can read more of her writing online at www.shannonmckinnon.com