“And we are not the only animal that has to teach our young. Old lobsters show their migration routes to young ones by holding claws, the way we hold hands, and walking the long miles together. A kitten without a mother to teach her may not ever learn to hunt small mammals. Such cats will let mice run all over them—though once they are shown, they never forget. A bee coming home from her first pollen run will be stroked all over by the other bees in praise and encouragement, even though she’s probably carrying only one-tenth of what she will learn to in a few weeks. Beavers held in captivity without flowing water don’t know how to make dams—that knowledge was passed down through the generations until humans interrupted their process of enculturation.”
There are many stillnesses we didn’t get around to in this essay—snow; fog; moonlight; chastity; the gerundive; Odysseus tied to the mast while sailing past the Sirens (the Sirens who, according to Franz Kafka, were anyway silent); the stillness of unsent letters; the stillness inside an egg; the stillness of all the omnibuses in London driving around empty on 18 December 1936 while a king was abdicating on radio; the stillness of all the swimming pools in the world that are closed at night; the stillness of Thomas Edison’s last breath, which is preserved in a glass tube in a museum in Detroit, Michigan. And finally I would have liked to mention lips, or the action of closing the lips one upon the other, for which ancient Greek had the verb lύeim, giving us English “muteness” and “mystery,” as well as various words for sounds that can be made with closed lips, all of which brings to mind those persons in detention centers or asylum who choose to stitch their lips shut as a gesture of resistance or rage. But having no idea what to say about those people, I stopped.