"I don't think he speaks your language, duckling." The aunt turned her profile and one eye to the swan and made a sound like the swan spoke, not quite a honk and almost a whine. The swan padded back to the pond. (1.21)
Quack, quack—Ani can't speak to the ducks at first, but her aunt makes sure Ani takes notice of the animals and how to communicate with them. This is lucky for Ani, since nature winds up offering her comfort and friendship that she doesn't have with humans.
The Creator spoke the first word, and all that lived on the earth awoke and stretched and opened their mouths and minds to say the word. Through many patterns of stars, they all spoke to one another, the wind to the hawk, the snail to the stone, the frog to the reeds. But after many turnings and many deaths, the languages were forgotten. Yet the sun still moves up and down, and the stars still shift in the sky, and as long as there are movement and harmony, there are words. (1.27)
What a pretty picture of the world her aunt paints for her. It's important for Ani—and us—to learn that the natural world and everything in it is just as powerful as the royal world that the queen rules. We might not see the social classes or laws quite so clearly, but they are there in nature too.
"The third is lost or rare. I've never known one with the gift of nature-speaking, though there are tales that insist it once was. I strain my ears and my eyes and my insides"—she tapped her temple lightly—"but I don't know the tongue of fire or wind or tree. But someday, I think, someone will discover how to hear it again." (1.34)
As soon as Ani's aunt plants this idea in her head, we can't help but hope for a nature-speaking scene. And boy does the book deliver. Not only do we learn that Enna knows how to hear what the fire is saying, we also see Ani learn to talk to the wind.
The trees there thinned into lighter woods. Ani looked back and surprised herself with a longing to stay in the true forest. Gilsa's house, small and lost in a ponderous ocean of trees, seemed more like a home than all her memories of her mother's palace. (6.11)
Since Ani contrasts her mom's coldness with Gilsa's warmth and love, it's only fitting that she compares their houses too. Gilsa's pad might be smaller and less grand than her mom's digs, but it's more connected with nature, so it feels more like home.
Enna looked back at the fire. "We're so ignorant out there in the trees, Isi. We've no idea the world's bigger than the walk to a foothill pasture." (10.26)
Enna says this of the forest people, but we think it could really apply to everyone in the book—while the royals might think they've got it all figured out, they need the forest people and their knowledge of animals and nature to survive.
"Wild horses, white as light on water, tall as cherry trees. They love to run, so fast they think they can become the wind if they just keep running. They run by the maiden, and the wind of their running blows her hair around her." (10.49)
In her story about the horse, Ani describes the horses running wild as beautiful and majestic. We totally get that, especially since Ani loves horses and nature. There's a much deeper meaning behind the story though, about figuring out who you are and where you belong. The girl in the story is willing to give up everything to see the horses run like the wind. For more on this story, check out the "Symbols" section.
She shook her head and told herself that the wind was not speaking to her and that this was not the forest that was full of death and betrayal. Nothing in this wood put bodies on those thin memories and made flesh what was nightmare. In fact, she discovered, there was a comfort in the close trees. And just being on horseback again gave a confidence to her entire body. She smiled. "Nothing. This is perfect." (12.96)
We get the feeling life is pretty perfect for Ani when she's hanging out with Geric in the pasture. It probably has a little something to do with the fact that Ani feels really at home in nature, even if she has had some pretty rough experiences there.
He stopped. Looking into his dark eyes was like gazing at a calm river, and in them she saw the reflection of the leaning trees behind her, of golden leaves, of herself crowned by autumn. She lifted her face to him and was aware of the fullness of the sun on her skin, breaking through the cold air. Geric touched her cheek, smooth as a teardrop, thrilling as a lightning storm. She felt real. (13.22)
Geric is torn between staying and going, but check out how Ani is described—it's all in terms of nature. So much of their relationship happens out and about instead of in the palace where Selia is trying to be ruler. Out in nature is where Ani and Geric get to know each other for themselves, not their titles.
She had begun to feel it more profoundly since winter came. The cold deadened the world—froze stones, emptied streets, buried the pasture, and iced the stream. The bare trees stood against the whiteness like rigid ink strokes reaching upward to the dimmed, gray paper sky. (15.6)
As the seasons change, Ani does too. We get to see her grow up while the leaves fall and it changes to winter. It helps us mark the passage of time, but it also gives us a sense of how Ani understands her world—through the changing weather and earth.
Sometimes it was too thin and slow to do more than loosen into still air, or so strong that it barely touched her skin before pushing itself away. Unlike a bird or horse, the wind was passionless; not thoughtful or playful, but often persuadable. (15.111)
Wind—unlike animals—doesn't come with passions and thoughts, but it can still speak to Ani. It's a powerful concept, and as Ani learns to listen to the wind more and more, she also learns how sometimes nature has its own way of communicating that has nothing to do with how humans speak, reason, and play.