Tamed & Untamed by Sy Montgomery and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Published by Chelsea Green, 204 pages, $18
Labeling the reader—as well as themselves—as “a midsize ape known as a human,” Sy Montgomery and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas are upfront about their attitude to Homo sapiens in their collection of essays exploring the animal world. Sure, we read books and drive cars unlike other apes, but we share much in common with cats, birds and fish. Indeed, they often surpass us in sensory or intuitive ways—a dog’s sense of smell is up to 200,000 times more acute than ours.
In one of the book’s short yet delicious science-filled chapters, Marshall Thomas writes of a moment when her mood suddenly, unaccountably, turned from sunny to sad, and she noticed her dog also became tense next to her. She soon discovered that her husband simultaneously met a man in a store who was the ambulance driver after their daughter was in a bad accident. Marshall Thomas believes that her husband’s grief was transmitted via ESP to the dog and then to her. The authors, who were both longtime contributors to The Boston Globe’s Tamed/Untamed column, use similar tales to show how our relationships and communications with various creatures, though wordless, go deep.
Mindful connections are thrillingly described throughout the book, as when Cornell University researcher Katy Payne—potential prey—held still for 12 hours as a lion held a tight gaze on her. Seemingly respecting her admirable equilibrium, the great beast let her be. Through more than 50 stories, Montgomery and Marshall Thomas bring to light that animals wild and tame have kinships and reciprocities with us “midsize apes.”
From page 34: “Rats understand some human words. They easily learn their names and will come when called. They can fetch, walk a tightrope, and sit up, among other tricks. Marion has taught several of her rats to “play basketball,” eagerly carrying a ball toward a mounted hoop, standing up, and then pushing the ball through the hoop with their tiny, dexterous hands.” ◆