"I am pod, I felt, with no sense of my single self; I belong.

"Mystics may call it divine union, this melding of minds, bodies, and souls, this solitude that suddenly opens into the solace of We are one. If dolphins are known to be self-aware, they also show us this soul-mingling and connection which our human species only glimpses in rare spiritual insights. Perhaps this is what dolphins have spent their long evolution achieving: Instead of changing the environment around them, they have changed themselves; those big brains are attuning themselves to one another and the natural world. Dolphins bring their whole mind to bear upon the skills of communication and group survival — maybe that's what they've been doing these thirty million years longer than humans have been around: seeking to survive together as a whole. Meanwhile, we've been battling and selecting who among us will survive, never imagining that we are all humans, all one pod.

"It was time to ease myself out of the middle of this nursery pod and back up into my kayak — a watery feat I accomplished with much less grace than what my dolphin companions possessed. They were executing perfect leaps and gymnastic spirals all around me. From the sea level height of my kayak I recognized with delight several mother-calf duos accompanied by what must have been aunts, sisters, and perhaps even a few brother scouts swimming together in their protective pod.

"I, too, felt protected and nurtured in this dolphin nursery, made up mostly of strong females concerned with the survival of their next generation. And I wished my own human nursery-sisterhood of Paula and my nieces could be with me in these expansive, warm waters to meet this wild pod. If there is anything hope to teach my nieces and nephews as an elder aunt, it will be this vision of animals as our brothers and sisters — all born and belonging together as family, as lifelong pod.

"If listening to our female elders is what has often assured the well-being of an entire species, then perhaps we human beings can learn to listen again to animals such as the dolphins and elephants who have been on this earth so much longer than our species.

"Katharine Payne ends her book, Elephants Calling, with a plea that every sister pod and pachyderm and human tribe might take to heart. 'I try to help people understand what the world is losing,' she writes. 'It is losing deep voices — and some of the richest sounds that have ever been heard are in the songs of whales. It is losing great listeners — and the most intense listening I have ever observed is the listening of elephants, which unites and bonds their peaceful society . . . If we learn to listen as often and as well as elephants do, it is possible that listening will keep the world safe.'

"Keeping the world safe by listening: Now that is a very feminine concept, one that every sisterhood knows to be true. In listening to the women in this book tell their sister stories, I've been moved to hear how many times those stories are about keeping one's sisters, one's family, one's tribe, and one's world safe. As always, a survival skill is in remembering, or discovering, a lost language, of elephants, of sisterhood."