Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The joy and clarity of non-verbal communication

All's quiet in angler Ken Lehmann's sunrise photo

You can 'feel' your partner's body language in a boat. Sunset photo by Ken Lehmann
Another way of stating this would be: "Shut up! Just shut up!"
I once wrote a blog about why I enjoy fishing with a dog. The main reason, I said, was that the dog doesn't talk and because of that I'm better able to enjoy nature.
When we are talking or listening to another person talk, we miss all the other sounds such as fish swirling on the surface, a stick cracking from a creature on shore, owls hooting, loons calling -- there's a lot to hear out there and we're missing it all. That's why I prefer a canine fishing partner.
It would be incorrect, however, to think that the dog and I aren't communicating. We absolutely are and very clearly too. I mentioned in that previous blog that I would sometimes notice my old dog, Sam, looking intently at something. I would follow his gaze and see that he had spotted a creature, perhaps a moose. So Sam alerted me to this without saying, "Hey, Dan! Look! There's a moose standing on the shore! See that patch of weeds? Now look beyond it into the bush. See it? Huh? It's a big one, isn't it?"  I got exactly the same message without either of us saying a word and without scaring off the moose.
Sam often "told" me that he had detected animals that were out of sight. He did this by putting his nose in the air and sniffing. If he sniffed without trying to see it as well, I knew it was pretty far back in the trees. I could estimate the distance just by the strength of the wind and the effort he was putting into the sniffing. The harder he worked at it the farther away it was.
Our previous dog, Bud, once "told" me at camp that there were moose standing in Pipestone Narrows, about a mile to the north. Not only that but he indicated it was a bull and a cow! How did he do this? Well, there was a steady, but not too strong, north wind so I knew the moose were straight north of us. Bud had to "work hard" getting the scent, tilting his nose upward over and over again so I knew the moose were far off. The farthest land mass to the north is Pipestone Narrows. Beyond that are several miles of open water. What about telling me it was a cow and a bull? That was an educated guess based on Bud's communication. He did his sniffing act for a couple of days. That meant the moose weren't moving. It was late September and I knew the moose would be in the rut. A cow that is coming into heat will hold the attention of a bull (or several bulls) for days until she's ready. So it figured that there were both sexes of animals present. A single moose would have moved off within a few hours. It could have been more than one bull and cow, of course.
Incidentally, my brother-in-law, Ron, and I passed through Pipestone Narrows by boat a couple of days after Bud had first "told" us what was going on and, sure enough, we saw a cow with an enormous bull.
Bud and Sam's behaviour also indicated the species of animals they were smelling. If they growled, it was a bear and not too far away. If the hair stood up on their necks but they didn't growl, it was a bear but far off. If it was a wolf, they looked fearful and moved closer to me. They paid little attention to deer other than to watch them if they were within sight, the same thing they did with any other animal.
These are intimate forms of communication and they mean more to us than do just words. People can communicate non-verbally too, especially when they are in a boat together. That's because you not only can see their body language, you can feel it.
Let's say you are sitting at the stern, looking backwards, and you feel the boat make a sudden little jerk.
Your partner in the bow just set the hook into a fish. Without even looking you know he has tied into a big one because the drag on his reel is going out. You can tell the same thing by looking at the bend in his fishing rod.
If your partner changes lures with increasing frequency it means he is getting bored and would like to try another spot. If he checks his watch or looks up at the sun, he is thinking about lunch or supper. Maybe you can also hear his stomach growling.
If he rubs his hands or scrunches his shoulders, he's cold.
"Reading the signs" comes from being together and being observant. It creates a bond, a lasting relationship. It means so much more than does a continuous stream of talking. In fact, constant chatter can mean a person is nervous; he's not comfortable with you. He fills the "awkward silence" with just anything that pops into his head.
Non-verbal communication takes practice and it takes "being in the moment." That's what I like about it.
There is no other time except the present. The past is gone. The future doesn't exist until it happens.

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Pat Ozment said...

Have you ever considered writing a book?

Anonymous said...

My sentiments exactly!! Sometimes we just don't- "Stop and smell the roses"
I really like the sunrise picture. Something I have seen many times over the years at Bow Narrows.
Dave M.

joe overman said...

Dan, you should write a book on your experiences in the wilds of the forest and your philosophies on life. I would certainly buy it.
Joe Overman

Dan Baughman said...

Yeah, I've thought about writing a book and the process is so daunting I usually grab the dog and go fishing instead!
Thanks, guys, for the encouragement. Who knows, I may do it some day.