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The hum

Kissing the lion's nose

Elena Shumilova

Elena Shumilova

I'm going to stay with Jay Griffith's juicy book Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape for two more posts, the first on the subject of children and animals:

"That children love animals is a manifest truth," writes Griffiths, "and they also seek love from them. So crucial are animals to children's happiness that in a significant UNICEF study of childhood well-being children specified that pets were one of the top four most important things for their happiness. 'I want a kitten...a puppy...a horse,' children clamor for years, and this is perhaps only the most audible part of their love. Children talk wordlessly to their pets, taking a dog in their arms or, upset, burying their faces in a cat's fur and crying. They whisper secrets to their pets and feel understood by them. Children want to talk with the animals, eat with them, curl up with them and think with them, for children intuitively understand that animals are guides for the mind in metaphor-making."

Elena Shumilova

"Children's authors, peopling their books with animals, know that children are fascinated by tales of crossing the species-fences, and the stories work carnally, suggesting a nuzzling sensuality, fostering a child's animal nature and answering a longing deep within children to be suckled by earthmilk, pressing their faces into the warm flank of horse, lion or wolf, breathing in the spicy messageful air of animals, falling asleep in their paws.

Elena Shumilova

"Aslan. To run your fingers through his golden mane, to see 'the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes,' to feel that humming, purring warmth and its ferocious power; 'whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten,' the children cannot say. The writer Francis Spufford recalls a tender trespass of his childhood when he was suddenly seized with the desire for Aslan and reached his face up to a poster of the lion on his bedroom wall. Stealthily, heartfeltedly, he kissed the lion's nose. From early childhood, I remember that feeling, wanting to nudge myself into the musk and silage, the mushroom, rust and grass of an animal's den, wanting to know with my whole body the felt world of fur and pawpads and to feel the animal world in its fullness, its yawls, hackles and green-scent, to be batted by the paws of the furred earth, my senses drunk with it, living in the whiskey of animality. And to kiss the lion's nose.

Elena Shumilova

"There's a fox in the garden. Those words would thrill us to the core. My brothers and I would crowd to the window in pressed silence, breathless, excited and honored that something so wild might bestow on us for a Elena Shumilovaflickering moment its feral presence. Birds and animals come into our lives as 'guests,' say Mohawk tales, and people must treat them well....Animal-helpers snuffle in the hedges of fairy tales and they feather the tree-tops with bird-advice. In the nick of time, the winged lion or armored bear swerve into stories. If the fairy tale hero treats an animal kindly, it offers its skills, pecking out grain or tracking a scent beyond human guesswork.

"Creatures are friends to the psyche of a child. When Henry Old Coyote, from the Crow nation, was a boy, his grandfather would wake him early to listen to the birds and encouraged the child to know the exuberant joy of this bird medicine and to keep it inside him all day. I'm told that in Tamil Nadu, India, a child suffering nightmares may be cured by walking under an elephant's belly, being blessed by Ganesh. The nightmares, knowing better than to contend with an elephant, beat a retreat."

Elena Shumilova

Elena Shumilova

"'In the old days the animals and the people were very much the same...They thought the same way and felt the same way. They understood each other,' says Simon Tookoome, an Inuit elder, recalling a belief common to many indigenous cultures. As a child, he adopted animals, including a caribou which followed him everywhere like a dog, and, at different times, five wolves."

Elena Shumilova

Elena Shumilova

"One strange peculiarity of modern childhood in the West is its estrangement from the animal world and the consequent silence of that world, its unmessaged, listless, speechless vacancy. Poet Gary Snyder speaks of the necessity to 'Bring up our children as part of the wildlife,' but the dominant culture treats wildlife as insignificant to children's happiness, which, as children themselves know, is a terrible oversight. Children's classics such as Anna Sewell's Black Beauty and Michael Morpurgo's mesmerizing War Horse touch the hearts of millions of children as they willingly listen to the experience of creatures other than human."

Elena Shumilova

"Shape-shifting is an epistemology, a way for people to increase their sensitivities, to perceive the world with an imaginative leap, to feel through the body of another, metaphorically. Pueblo Indian children, from three years old, transform themselves into antelope and deer, they don fox skins, deer hooves or parrot feathers. In rituals and dances, through lyrics, choreography and costume, the child embodies earth-knowledge -- of corn and cloud, of sun and lightning, of buffalo and skunk -- and steps through the looking glass. Animal nature is another side of human nature, a mirror, by twilight, by twolight, where the twinnedness of those myths is reflected....Through a relationship with animals, we human add to the repertoire of our senses the beady alertness of a bird, the scent-subtlety of a mole, the smooth-swum escape of the fish. This is the apprenticeship which children gleefully follow, given half a chance."

I certainly would have followed it as a child, being one of those kids with no interest in dolls but who carried stuffed animals everywhere. I've been making up for lost time ever since, inviting animals into my writing, art, and life. Embracing "the whiskey of animality," to use Jay Griffith's wonderful phrase, and kissing the lion's nose. Or at least my dog's, which is just as good.

Elena Shumilova

The images in this post are by Elena Shumilova, who has become known around the world for her photographs of her sons and other children and animals on a farm in rural Russia. To see more of her charming work, go here.

Elena Shumilova

Elena ShumilovaRelated posts: Wild Neighbors, The Speech of Animals, "Word Magic, and The Animals That We Are."


What a delightful piece if writing. I found the images so captivating that I wanted to be with them. I recall fondly being on my grandmother's farm when young abd being surrounded by farm animals, each with a name. Thank you for putting this up. I loved it.

First of all may I say that I wouldn't kiss any part of my cats' anatomies; I've seen where and what part of themselves they wash, and I've also witnessed what they literally drag back after hunting in the garden! (Clare kisses them, despite my protests, and being allergic her lips then swell to the size of lorry tyres!!!)

Having said all of that, when it comes to my books, I love writing about the animal characters most of all (apart from the Vampire King and Queen...but there again, they're actually based on the worst sort of cat!)As a child I had all sorts of animals, most notably a guinea-pig that lived for eight years and loved bacon and eggs, and my parents had a lovely old tom cat called the BBC (Big Black Cat). He once chased off two enormous German Pointer dogs and was afraid of absolutely nothing. I used him as the basis of Cadwalader, the King's fighting cat in the Icemark books.

Love the photos. What an enormous dog; it looks like it could make a small snack of the child cuddling him!

It is amazing, how gentle animals can be around children. Especially dogs... Sure, sometimes I have to rescue the kid when our big Labrador mix whacks him with his tail - and I also have to save the dog when the little one gets overexcited and trys to screw off an ear or so, but otherwise they are great together. The most funny thing is to see them both barking at the occasional passing car...

Luckily, there are also lots of other animals around, cows, sheep, horses and throngs of birds. When the neighbour's girl takes our elder son to the sheephouse to see the newborn lambs we have to listen for hours to stories about this or that sheep.

I once had an interesting conversation with somebody who wouldn't allow her children pets - she did't want them to encounter death and loss. So sad to deny children the company of a pet because parents are uncomfortable around death...

Another beautiful post, and stunning photographs. Just wonderful.

Caught in boxes
Perched within huge cities
Languish without animal friends.
Perhaps, this is the root of poverty, turmoil, hatred.

Roberta Doster

Beautiful post, and a salve to my raw wounds of loss for my Familiar, our Forest Magician, accomplice and old friend Jots. A small black cat who as you quoted above from the Inuit, reminded me "Shape-shifting is an epistemology, a way for people to increase their sensitivities, to perceive the world with an imaginative leap, to feel through the body of another, metaphorically." She stepped out of a forest in the middle of an industrial city to love us long and true. She lived wild, and taught us to rebuild life in the second-half of a human life on the broad shoulders of love; the swift running of joyful times on narrow trails; and the keen nose of being alive now. She hunted. It was who she was born to be. And then you was hunted, and the cycle continues. With her humans' tears and grief adding to the watery mystery we grow the story. E lele 'oe (Run old friend)

"So crucial are animals to children's happiness that in a significant UNICEF study of childhood well-being children specified that pets were one of the top four most important things for their happiness." SO true. Another beautiful meditation for the children in all of us and all the children of the world.

Perhaps birds on windowsills,
Are there to tell them
Some warble and squawk,
You are stuck here now.
But someday you'll be free.

I live near the slum we call the Tenderloin and I see small children with kind teachers and mothers with then in the small parks, and I see them as so beautiful and always smile,and some smile back.

I've long been a fan of Elena's photography, so thanks for sharing them!

As I was reading your post on the connections of children and animals it reminded me of a story... Marcia and I used to manage a resort in Ontario's 'near north' (i.e. north of Toronto, but not nearly 'north' as far as Ontario goes). One day I was at the local library doing some research on the area and I happened across an account from 1838.

Going from memory here but there was a young lad who was out berry picking in the woods in the late fall when a storm blew up (as it happened, it was the northern remnant of a hurricane). He got lost in the wind and the rain on the way home and was cold, tired and very scared when he found this hole in the ground where there was this big brown dog. He crawled in beside the dog, snuggled into the fur and went to sleep. The next day the dog got up and left, but came back in the evening and the boy snuggled back in and slept again. This process repeated itself until he was found four days later - hungry and thirsty, but fine.

You've probably connected the links by now, but he was found by a dog trained to hunt bears, and so-called black bears are mostly black but some are white (kermode), 'blue', and 'cinnamon'. The bear went out foraging during the day in preparation for hibernating through the winter. So far as I could tell from my research, this is a true story, and it wouldn't surprise me.

Apparently when I was at the crawling stage my grandmother had an old black lab at the farm who was going blind, mostly deaf, arthritic and didn't generally like people. They say I would crawl over to that dog, grab onto his ears, pull myself up to standing, crawl on his back... and he never moved.


P.S. This fits in here: I want to tell this boy that with a little patience, if he listens carefully, the tree will share its song with him.

Where would I be without the animals I've had throughout my life? I shutter to think.

Lovely post and beautiful photos, Terri - thanks for this celebration of the animals in our lives.

I love this whole poetic exchange, Roberta and Phyllis.

I'm so sorry for your loss, Mokihana. It is so hard to lose family members, whether two-footed or four-footed. She sounds like a special, precious being. A candle is lit here on Dartmoor for Jots today.

I love children-nursed-by-bear stories. Barbara Kingsolver relates a good one from India in her essay "Small Wonder" (in the essay collection of the same name), and Alice Hoffman draws upon them in her wonderful collection of interlinked stories The Red Garden. I like The Red Garden when I first read it, but over time and re-reading it has wound its way into my soul and become one of my favorite of her books. It has a quiet, subtle power. And bears.

I'm the same. They have saved my life.

Aww, thank you, dear!

I wish every kid could have grandparents (or some close relative) with a farm!

I love the animals in your work, Stuart. One of the many, many reasons why your books appeal to me!

Personally, I think protecting your kids against death and loss simply renders them unable to cope with it when they finally encounter it. And of course they *will* encounter it. Such a sad reason to prevent children from the wonders of relationships with animals. I'd certainly rather be one of your kids, Cristina!

Thank you, sweetie. I hope all your animals are thriving.

"For the children in all of us." Yes. And nothing brings out the child in me more than being around animals, whether domestic or wild.

Thank you, Terri. The animal characters are always so much more interesting to write, especially Cadwalader who's enjoyably unhygienic!

Where would The Jungle Book be without Baloo? ☺

Wonderful! Lovely and eloquent!

You've described so perfectly the love of animals I had as a child (and still do!). This love is what led me to pursue not only animal and nature art, but also a degree in zoology. :)

Thank you so much for sharing your writing gifts with the world! Wishing you all the best <3

Ohhh...mahalo Terri. This is such a kind and loving gesture. We remember her with song, a mele inoa, a name song so we put her with the wind of all time, and tears here ... the family stricken.

Thank you.

I am beginning the third and last novel of Icemark. I too love the animals, especially the
Ice Leopards, who are sophisticated and polite. So much sly jokes and genuine emotion.
I know some Medea's and hope she can be saved. I love that world and I will probably drop in off and on. Gosh, and without a passport.

Thank you, Keena!

Thank you Phyllis. I loved writing the Snow Leopards too! In my head Tharaman Thar sounds like an individual I knew in my youth who had one of those really posh English accents. Really, he sounded just like the Queen. But he could drink anyone under the table and he knew some really filthy songs which he would sing loudly in his impeccably correct accent!

Reading this post has brought tears back for my little dog. I'm not sure what she taught us, perhaps just that you should always be absolutely yourself, no matter what people think you should be like, and damned if she was going to 'fetch' just because every other dog did. I miss her very much. Any time we have leftovers, my mind starts with the thought "ahh, Flynn will like that titbit...", and then I remember she's not here. The pizza crusts and the bacon rind remain unloved and unwanted, and my little red shadow isn't there to greet me when I pull into the drive at the end of the day.

I'm so very sorry for that loss, Cristina. I would be devastated too. I wish I could put my arms around you, but a virtual hug across the oceans will have to do.

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