The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild

The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316066471
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 03/11/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 95,025
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Craig Childs-naturalist, adventurer, desert ecologist, and frequent contributor to National Public Radio's Morning Edition-lives in Crawford, Colorado. His previous books include House of Rain, The Way Out, The Secret Knowledge of Water, and Soul of Nowhere.

Read an Excerpt

The Animal Dialogues

By Craig Childs

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2007 Craig Childs
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-316-06632-7

Chapter One


Animals are watching. Right now they are in the woods, many of them looking back over their shoulders or peering down at us from bridges of tree branches as we march below, snapping dry wood with our boot soles and squashing soft, fleshy mushrooms.

My companion stops.

"Did you hear that?"

I stop too, listening to a chittering forest of birds.

"What?" I ask.

"Something moved over there," he says. "An animal."

We both drill our eyes through the trees.

I am sixteen years old and, like my friend, I am lost in the mountains of western Wyoming. Not interminably lost, we just do not know exactly where we are - besides being on an untrailed flank of the Teton Mountains, over our heads in jackstraw timber. We had taken off from a road at a random point that morning and barged our way into a steep forest where no signs point the way. We wanted to see what it was like in here. Day packs are slung on our backs, containing water and some food. We have no maps, no compasses. No whistles, flares, or shelters. We have knives in our pockets and the clothes we are wearing - all that is needed for a day of going nowhere.

I peer with my friend through a thousand broken shadows, seeing no movement save for twigs springing back as small bark- colored birds flit from one tree to the next. All the way along, we have been hearing animals snitching and scratching, elk lumbering about with heavy sounds, pine squirrels chattering, scolding from overhead. But all we have seen are these few birds. Everything else is lost to us behind tree trunks nearly touching one another. I squint to see better.

"How big an animal?" I ask.

"Big," he says. "I didn't see it, but it sounded like something big."

"I don't see it."

"I don't either."

Only so long can we stare at nothing, so we start moving again, ducking under branches, touching the ground with our hands, and leaving the big animal - whatever it was - behind. Drunken, wild forest, it is far denser than we anticipated, battering our shins as we step through trapdoors of dead wood. Our hands slash in front of us, clearing branches and beards of dry, stringy lichen. Spiderwebs snap like trip wires across our lips, our foreheads, our arms. We've been side-hilling for hours, taking so many brief, natural paths that we don't really know how to get back.

Ahead we find a big dollop of scat on the ground and we stand around it, sweat dripping from our eyebrows, wiped on the backs of our hands. The scat looks like a big can of hash dumped on the ground. It is full of berry hulls and black digested meat.

"Bear," my friend says.

"Yeah," I agree. "A big bear."

"Grizzly, you think?"

"What's grizzly scat look like?"

"I don't know."

My friend turns a grin toward me. "What if it is a griz?" he says excitedly.

Should we be excited? I wonder. Better than being nervous, I suppose.

I don't want to see the bear. I just like the tingle in my spine telling me there is one nearby.

"Let's keep going," he says.

"Yeah," I agree.

Stupid kids, why not?

All we have to follow are animal trails, faint inclinations left by elk or deer or bear that passed through. Even squat clearings left by waddling porcupines come in handy. They are all short- lived, ending as suddenly as they began, putting us back in thick trees where birds send warnings ahead of us, criers calling through green crowns. I crawl under a toppled tree, and my nose grazes the ground. I smell leaf rot and animals. It is the odor of spices in an earthy, slightly unpalatable dish: bonemeal, bobcat urine, wood fungus, worm dung. This is the other side of the coin from the rest of my life, from doors and walls and movie screens. This is the place that does not belong to humans. Animals have scuffed the ground, shat upon it, cleared twigs out of the way, folded down grass in their sleeping. They are talking, leaving messages written in scents on leaves and tree bark, whistling to one another, hearing voices in the distance.

As we move, a deer bounds away, stabbing its hooves into the ground with punctuated sounds. Only the tips of its fawn- colored ears are visible over ferns and serviceberry bushes. We look for the deer, but it is gone that fast, vanished back into the folds. After that, a gray jay sails in and lands on a branch to see who we are, its soft, inquisitive eyes following us. I feel as if we are dragging tin cans into the wilderness, startling animals from their many private gardens.

A little farther comes a sound like the weight of an elk crashing through dead branches. My friend and I freeze, both listening and wondering if the weight of an elk might also sound like the weight of a mountain lion. I step up on top of a rotten stump, and see nothing.

"What is it?" my companion asks.

Not taking my eyes off the forest, I say, "I don't know. A big animal. Sounds like an elk."

By this age I was accustomed to going out with no adult supervision. My mother had tried Little League on me, and a goofy local version of Boy Scouts, but in the end she just had to shoo me out the door and send me hiking. Both my parents took their own, separate interest in wild places - my father building great fires and showing me the taste of whiskey on cold Arizona mornings, and my mother lightly tramping the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, picnicking atop slender timberline ridges. With such parents I learned not to fear wild animals, only to know they are there.

The forest deepens. We come into a stand of old-growth trees where Douglas fir and short-needled spruce muscle their way toward the light. No longer is there ground to walk on, only decades of huge trees downed from windstorms and disease. We balance across trunks as big around as cars, fifteen feet off the ground, and follow each other down into warrens of shattered debris.

We do not know that a large predator is watching us from only a few feet away. We do not know we are blithely stepping into its territory. We know nothing until it leaps.

A rush of motion and sound explodes from between fallen trunks directly beneath our feet. Blood jacks straight into our muscles. We take wings. We fly. Not once do we look down, not even glimpsing the color of this creature. It is large, something with strong lungs. I can hear its claws grinding dead wood. The animal fills the forest with a territorial uproar unlike anything I have ever heard. I am gone.

Before my conscious mind even recognizes the true presence of danger, before a second passes, I am turned around and a good twenty feet away, trying to outrun my companion with all my might. The animal's voice breaks the air at my back. My mouth goes instantly dry, my whole body cold and fast from adrenaline. I sail over dead trees. Feet barely touch anything solid. I spot a snowmelt swamp cupped nearby into the slope and I think of diving into it to escape this beast, but all I can see is myself bogged to the knees with some unknown creature feasting on my torso. For all I know this is an undiscovered animal, a huge, clawed primate, a meat-eating Sasquatch. I'm not ready to die.

We run through our own cacophony of snapping branches, our hands flinging tree limbs out of our way like we're deflecting daggers in midair. Down the steep slope only our boot tips touch ground. I become an acrobat, no gap between hand and eye, no coordination needed because I am right now a single muscle sliding like pure light between the trees.

They say not to run. Stand your ground or curl up in a fetal ball. Protect your head and your vital organs. Bear, mountain lion, wolverine: whatever the case, do not turn and run. Do not reveal your back and initiate a chase. By the time such warnings enter my mind, I am making a full-speed exit, hoping my companion will fall prey first and give me some extra seconds.

The forest comes to an end and we break into an open, day-lit meadow exactly where we had started hours earlier. A couple of miles in the distance is a road and the car we left there. We had beelined our way back, sprinting down the mountain as if we knew exactly where we were going. We stumble to a halt, panting, leaning over with hands planted on our thighs. We turn and look back. There is no beast. Whatever it was, it has not pursued us. After a minute of watching, my heart pumping but winding down, I say, "Mountain lion. You think?"

"Yeah." My friend exhales. "Mountain lion."

"Or a bear?" I ask.

"What does a bear sound like?"

As I look into the trees, I wonder how many animals are now settling from our loud, desperate visit. How many eyes had watched us pass, how many heads turned to see us careening through the woods? We overturned their applecarts, stampeded through their bedrooms and dining rooms, threw open their doors. We start laughing. We laugh at ourselves. We laugh at our good fortune - both the fortune of encountering what must have been a large predatory animal and the fortune of it not running us down and devouring us. We chide each other, letting our guard drop a little. But we do not take our eyes off the dark wall of trees. There is an animal inside with the smell of us fresh in its nostrils. I realize that it had not been attacking us. We would have been easy to catch. Instead, the sound of its voice was strictly territorial, designed to root down into our spines and trigger a flight response. We did as we were told. We answered the animal clearly, playing our part in the conversation with everything we had.

When my companion finally turns and walks into the meadow toward the road, I linger. I am not ready to render myself back into a human being, not ready to return to a car and an asphalt highway. I want to stay just a moment longer. I peer into the forest, where every bit of darkness and light has a face, a set of eyes looking out at me. Nothing emerges. I feel the tug at my back, my friend walking away, and I turn to catch up and become human again.



Excerpted from The Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs Copyright © 2007 by Craig Childs. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Even as a child, Craig Childs was intrigued and felt an affinity with wild life. He took notes and recorded sounds as he walked the fields below the east side of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Childs is a naturalist and adventurer. In his recent book The Animal Dialogues, he shares a few of his adventures with readers. One section of the book is dedicated to his encounters with bears. I find it fascinating that the bears seem to respect Childs and to see him as no threat. The raccoon was not so pleasant. Childs sought to help the starving animal. When deer mice became a problem, the wisest solution seemed to be a cat. The feline predator formed a ¿Zone of Death.¿ Few creatures were safe, squirrels, chipmunks, birds and rabbits were his prey. Nothing was safe except the mice. The Animal Dialogues is written with a unique understanding and respect for animals. Craig Childs has a talent for the retelling of his encounters, weaving in fascinating details to form a tapestry that few can experience. Those who care for wildlife will not want to miss The Animal Dialogues. Reviewed by Debra Gaynor for
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got this on a whim for my fiance who has a huge affinity for animals. He LOVED this book. He liked that the stories were short enough to hold your attention, and enjoyed how quickly you could go from a salmon to a trout to a cougar, so it kept you from getting bored. He said it was a lot about understanding the relationship with humans and nature, and nature by itself. He envied the author for his experiences, and really enjoyed the fact that the author shared his stories. More than 1 year ago
The Animal Dialogues Uncommon Encounters in the Wild is a collection of essays by Craig Childs. Child's encounter with a bear was both touching and frightening. The bear was at the edge of his grandparents' property in Arizona. Grabbing his camera, he stalked the bear--almost running into it. I am fascinated with black bears but do not want to have a close encounter with one. I could not help but cringe as I read about the porcupine. Child assisted a dog owner in removing quills from the roof of the puppy's mouth. Porcupines often fall out of trees and at time poke themselves with a quill. The quills do not carry infections--perhaps to protect the porcupine from their self inflicted injuries. Child's takes the reader on a journey into the wilds and oceans as he explores the animal kingdom. From bears to mosquitos, Child is fascinated by them all.
Ujvari70 More than 1 year ago
This is a remarkable book. I am completely bowled over not just by all the interesting facts but by the beautiful and elegant prose, which sometimes errupts in unexpected levity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I've read of Childs' and I feel like I have discovered treasure. I've learned so much and have had some ideas validated but even more so, his style of writing has really captured me. When I sit down to read a few more chapters, it's like wrapping myself with a warm blanket. He has a way of describing moments with animals and birds that really allow you to experience them yourself. Looking forward to digging into his other works.
camillecox More than 1 year ago
My first experience with Child's writing and I'm wowed! His writing style is my personal favorite - master of the metaphor, both intimate and educational. His passion for the natural world is infectious. I read many of these stories aloud while driving which doubled the pleasure. I've ordered 4 copies as gifts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. And learned alot about different animals and their habits insects history. Wonderful Read. Shelly
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C4RO on LibraryThing 23 days ago
Finally managed to finish this. Childs has an occasionally tedious tendency to waft off into very purple prose descriptions that was putting me right off picking this back up. In the last sections it moves more into creatures of the sea which I really enjoyed. The section on meeting the mountain lion was likewise really well written. The structure is 35 or so small stories from 3 - 20 pages describing his meeting animals in the wild. I have not seen/ read any of his books before but it seems he is also somewhat of an adventurer/ wanderer by habit as well as deeply interested in some depth in the animals that he meets there. I prefered when he gets really into details about the specifics of the animal behaviour or habit although when his stories more onto topics such as people getting lost in blizzards he can keep the interest. Although it took so long, I think I would recommend this to anyone that likes outdoorsy pursuits.
preetalina on LibraryThing 23 days ago
I just loved this book - the writing was fantastic; it was absolutely lyrical. This far north the sun was still up, although very low, riding through the mountains as if looking for something it lost on the ground. (p24)The author shares his experiences with various animals in the wilderness (or even in his backyard). The book is divided into chapters based on each different animal, including everything from a mountain lion, to a raven, down to a praying mantis. I could imagine the scenes as I read, picture them happening in front of my eyes. During the mountain lion chapter, I felt like I was there, waiting to see if the cat would come out and attack me.The writing was just very poignant and if you are a nature or animal lover, I think you would really appreciate it. For example, the dog chapter, though short, was perfect, just the right blend of poignant and practical, and I love how he connected it with the nature of humans at the end. I imagined this was not an easy life for a dog in such isolated country, working alongside a grouchy caballero, ever aware of the presence of large wild animals lurking in the woods beyond. I tried to look away and hear what the caballero had to tell us, but the mutt was staring right at me, insisting I address her, damn near scratching a secret SOS into the dirt with her paw. We were a ray of hope for her, strangers with welcoming smiles, but there was nothing I could do for her. I looked away. (p70)Overall, I just love the respect and appreciation that he gives to animals and to nature. The elk that you glimpse in the summer, those at the forest edge, are survivors of winter, only the strongest. You see one just before dusk that summer, standing at the perimeter of the meadow so it can step back to the forest and vanish. You can't help imagining the still, frozen nights behind it, so cold that the slightest motion is monumental. I have found their bodies, half drifted over in snow, no sign of animal attack or injury. Just toppled over one night with ice working into their lungs. You wouldn't want to stand outside for more than a few minutes in that kind of weather. If you lived through only one of those winters the way this elk has, you would write books about it. You would become a shaman. You would be forever changed. That elk from the winter stands there on the summer evening, watching from beside the forest. It keeps its story to itself. (p183)I loved this one description he gave: This is not wilderness for designation or for a park. Not a scenic wilderness and not one good for fishing or the viewing of wildlife. It is wilderness that gets into your nostrils, that runs with your sweat. It is the core of everything living, wilderness like molten iron. (p156)Even though this is a place I would never go to, that I could not survive in, I just loved reading about it. It reminds me that nature was not made for us. It exists, indifferent to us and our needs. It's good to be reminded.He talks about having his camera with him on some of his adventures so I wish there were pictures. But that's just a small want on my part.The one thing that got to me, that made stop reading and almost discount everything I'd read up to then (which was pretty much the whole book since I was near the end), was when he talks about squids. He says, "The largest animal on the planet is a squid, a rubbery predator that lurks in deep sea trenches." (p296) He even goes on to mention that some "reach lengths of sixty feet" - but that's still not as large as a blue whale, which can be 100 feet. So what the hell? Is there some nuance of writing I missed there? I tried to google the error but didn't come up with anything.Okay, but other than that (glaring!) error, I did love this book!Some of my other favorite quotes: Most animals show themselves sparingly. The grizzly bear is six to eight hundred pounds of smugness. It has no need to hide. If it were a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boas
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