Ann Bennett is out to give science a good (and fun!) name at Science Ladybug. At So Much To Choose From, she blogs about writing, her thoughts & experiences, and so much more. Welcome, Ann!
Sometimes, late in the evening, I can hear my father’s voice. Playfully he spoke in rhymes and shared beloved stories. The ones I loved best were stories from his memory which had been passed down through generations.
This is one of my favorites.
When the world was young, all the animals got terribly mad at humans for killing them for food and never thanking them. So great was that anger, they decided to never speak to humans again. The Earth began to separate between them.
The humans were so sorry. The animals weren’t. They were furious with the humans. But the dog remembered their friend. So before the divide was too great, bravely they leapt to stand with humans. It was a risk. They may not have made it. But they did and were so happy, although they could no longer speak the same language as the humans.
Cats were also fond of humans. Seeing what the dogs had done, and being able to leap much better than the dog, they too made the jump. There was a greater loss of communication, but they were together.
Plants also felt much sympathy for people, and created remedies for their afflictions.
In time, most animals forgave but did not forget to be cautious of people. They left people alone if the people left them alone. Some of the larger, powerful animals have no patience with humans. Only some of the smaller ones continue the fight today. When a spider bites for no reason, it still has the anger of its ancestors.
This story, deceptively simple, holds several truths:
1. The dog is a loyal, dutiful companion for humans.
Dogs historically were used for protection and hunting. The relationship between dogs and humans has been mutually beneficial. The scientific proof is both species have had brain loss from their reliance on one another. Dogs have had a twenty percent loss and humans have had a ten percent loss.
A terrier mix of mine who was named Muffin was a better mouser than any cat I have owned. All of my dogs are mousers; a few have been good at it. A yellow lab which I named Matilda would bring home rabbits she had caught. We all loved how she would pick a pear from a tree for a good snack. She loved it when you peeled a banana and gave it to her.
After taking her in, I had heard she had been traveling up and down the road in which I live looking for a home. She was in pretty good shape when I got her, so her hunting skills must've been quite good. What I have learned from rescuing dogs is that dumping dogs affects their mental health. Like humans, they suffer terribly from deprivation, abandonment and abuse.
I never thought Matilda would stop her constant whining to pledge her fealty to me. It was about five years before she was confident that she belonged. I had someone who was a pureblood fan who wanted her. I did not give her to them in that I never wanted Matilda to be abandoned again. Matilda was a noble dog who was a humble boss of my pack.
Matilda was a friend and companion to my dog Partner. Partner was incredibly afraid of hands, probably due to abuse before my father rescued her. Partner was odd and the other dogs knew it. But Partner had a good friend in Matilda. He would lick the back of my legs on our daily walks. Matilda also trained my Pitbull puppy with a broken leg to become the kind dog she was born to be.
I adopted a pregnant Chihuahua mix. This dog and her puppies have been boon companions to elderly and handicapped family members that live with me. Their antics bring much cheer, and no one sneaks up on us. Our house is in the country and not visible from the road. These dogs warn potential bad guys from the house.
2. Dogs communicate with their body language and vocalizations.
Dogs do have a limited understanding of our conversations. My dogs all understand the word walk. One time when I wanted to disguise my intent to take them for a walk in a few moments, I used the word walk-walk real fast. Their eyes got big and they were watching me; they'd heard their favorite word.
Dogs also are keen to recognize our emotional states. Part of training a dog is to project a confident energy.
Dogs are so attuned to us, in fact, that they can predict low blood sugar levels in diabetics, and potential seizures. They're also trained as assistance dogs for the handicapped.
3. Dogs have stronger communication skills and are more domesticated than cats.
Dogs were domesticated around 10,000 years ago, and the cat about 7000 years ago. When man began to rely on agriculture, cats became useful in dealing with mice that fed on stored foods. The relationship with cats can be quite intense, but cats retain a much more wild nature than the dog.
4. Many pharmaceuticals are plant-based.
My great-grandmother had various cures based on wild and cultivated plants. My mother remembers her making a tea from roots as a child for health benefits. Many medications we take today originated from plants. Biochemists learned to synthesize these compounds in the lab and similar compounds that derive the same result.
5. Wild animals avoid humans.
During hunting season, we know what is being hunted. They show up on my property. It is interesting how the deer and turkey know that no hunting is occurring on my property. Animals can smell us and instinctively move away.
You read stories of an animal attacking a human. They only attack when they have been cornered, or when protecting their young. In North America, we have venomous species of snakes. But none of them will seek us out. It is important to note that there are aggressive animals and/or species. I have read the black mamba in Africa is aggressive. You always have to consider the temperament of the individual, the temperament of the species, and respect the fear response of a wild animal.
One huge tragedy in teaching children that snakes and other animals have value is the unwitting teaching children to not using caution. I had two four year old boys run to my dogs. Luckily, the Pitbull and terrier mix loved children. They stood there gently and allowed little hands to pet them. I did caution them (and Mom) that it is not good to pet strange dogs.
Sometimes what is considered aggression is misinterpreted. The Coach whip snake is very nosy. If it sees you, it will chase you to keep looking at you. The story is they will wrap their bodies around you and whip you to death. I have encountered these snakes in a peach orchard. Yes, they are nosy.
The adage of making a lot of noise to scare snakes is a lousy way to run off a snake. Their sense of hearing is terrible. The best way to avoid snakes is to look carefully for them. Wear appropriate snake-proof footwear when moving through heavy brush. I use a walking stick to check out heavy brush. When clearing heavy brush, I wait until after the first freeze of the year if possible. I don’t like to accidentally kill snakes with my machinery. A good snake is not dead.
But back to my dad’s story. Many folktales pass on wisdom and are relevant. In school, a visiting nurse related how some people in the country had placed spider webs on a wound. She talked about how unsanitary it was. When I proudly told the story at the dinner table, my dad said he remembered that done as a child. The spider web was used to stop bleeding. Spider webs are rich in vitamin K to stop bleeding and were used like gauze to help wounds heal.
Certainly modern medicine is much better than folk remedies. But these folk remedies and stories carry much wisdom and truth that should not be discounted.
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Thank you so much, Ann, for sharing this story and its wisdom, passed on through your father to you—and now, through you, to us. I love how it underlines the truths hidden in myth and legend... Seems to me that's always the case, isn't it? Then again, in Mexico we're pretty big on folk 'medicine'; I have absolute faith in teas and infusions, and herbal remedies for pretty much anything. (Disclaimer: my great-grandmother was a curandera, a medicine woman. Yeah.)
It's a hard line to walk, though. How to balance science with myth? When do we listen to Grandma (or Great-Grandma, as the case may be...)—and when to the doctor? Sometimes they might be saying the same thing with different vocabulary, but... what if they're not?
What say you, readers? Do you have a herbal first-aid kit at home, or is your faith more at home with modern medicine? What folk tales do you remember being told as a child? Was your father a storyteller?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback!