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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Raising Your Voice

Despite the cold, Bow asks to go outside every day. He has a sweater and socks and clothes he could choose to wear, but he never does. He wants to go out as he is. And while he does not stay out for long, he does seem to accomplish a lot.

One of his favorite things to do is to express himself. First he looks around to see what he can see.

But then he does not wait very long to make his own contribution.

Bow's cries can be heard a long way away. Some people yodel. Bow just vocalizes. Then when he is done he can relax and enjoy the view.

And when Bow feels that he has accomplished all that can be accomplished, he takes that leap back inside, without ever touching the ground.

Does Bow go outside primarily to express himself? Is it because he can use his outdoor voice and it can carry well beyond the borders of our property? Is he sending a message to someone out there, or merely enjoying the sound of his own voice?

Many years ago, someone asked me whether I write in order to express myself or to communicate with others. At the time, I thought it an odd question. What would be the point of expressing myself, if I did not hope others would read and understand? What would be the point of communicating with others, if you were not allowed to express yourself in that communication?

But one of the things I have realized in the past thirteen years is that while communication and self-expression are related and often intertwined, they actually are separable. I am inclined to think that self-expression predates communication. I believe that reciprocity is overrated. Some messages go only one way. Sometimes you broadcast, but never receive. Like a baby's cry, which indicates a want, our most important ways of expressing ourselves go out, whether there is an appropriate audience or not. If the baby is lucky, his call will be heeded by a person who understands the want being expressed. Then self-expression will blossom into communication. But even so, every communication starts out as one-sided. In order to receive the self-expression of someone else, we have to stop speaking long enough to hear the other.

Bow always comes in from his outdoors sessions with a self-satisfied expression. He has said what he had to say. And whether or not his message was received, he feels much better.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bow's Green Shirt

As if all the gifts he received for his birthday were not enough, Bow got a green net shirt from Lawrence this Wednesday.

For some reason, Bow prefers to keep his head hidden within the shirt when he wears it.


It's not that Bow has never worn clothes. He did wear them for the first five years of his life. And it's not that the opening for the head in the shirt is too small. It's plenty big enough. But this is how Bow chooses to wear the shirt, and his preferences are entirely up to him.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Venturing Out

Yesterday was such a great day for Bow, that he did not even ask to go outside once, and he did not mind the snow at all. He had a party, guests and great food. There was no time to feel cooped up. Some of that carried over this morning, because there were still presents to open and play with.

There was the balloon that Laurie had given Bow.

There was his new berber carpet mat. It looked just like the carpet in the living room.

And then there was the brand new pair of socks I got him.


However, late in the afternoon, all this novelty began to wear off, and Bow asked to go outside. I said okay, but I did not really think he would go through with it, because there was still snow. Lots of snow.

Bow surprised me. Without once touching the ground, he went out.

He admired the view. He sampled the snow on the horizontal support.

He turned this way and that, but he never once set foot on the ground.


And when he decided it was time to come back inside, he did so with one quick bound, landing safely indoors.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Bow's Thirteenth Birthday

It snowed last night, and this morning the world was covered in a white blanket as Bow looked forward to his special day.

There was no possibility of going outside, and I also thought that any special deliveries scheduled for today might not be delivered. I seriously doubted that the small birthday party I had planned for him would take place, as many of the roads were impassable. But it was Bow's birthday, so we started the day with an early morning breakfast pear.

Bow took his time, savoring the birthday breakfast treat,

Bow napped a little during the late morning after breakfast, but he also saw me make many preparations, and he knew what to expect. Just before lunch, despite my unplowed driveway, a delivery arrived for "BOW KATZ": two boxes of luxury pears.

At this point, Bow was thinking the party should start, and all during lunch he kept looking out toward the front door, expecting guests. "What's he looking at?" my daughter asked, "He knows it's his birthday, and he's expecting all his friends to come by." "What friends?"

I told Bow that the party wasn't starting till two, but it was actually delayed until two thirty, because getting here was that hard. Our guests were Lawrence and his two daughters, Miriam and Laurie. Bow was very excited!

Bow was fully engrossed by the birthday song for a moment, but before it was over, he was already waiting for cake. After the cake, Bow was just a little overwhelmed by having so many people here at once. He was happy to see them, but he was overstimulated. Bow handles good things better when they are one at a time. So Sword invited Miriam and Laurie to her room, and Bow became much more calm with Lawrence as the only guest. After that, Bow decided on his own when to summon each of the girls separately so he could focus on each with greater clarity in a one on one encounter.

When Miriam appeared alone, Bow could appreciate her all the more.

Smelling people's socks is always a good way to get to know them better.

Laurie wanted to show Bow the feather Sword gave her, but Bow was not impressed. However, by now he was relaxed enough to take a rest on the floor even though there was still company. By the time the party was over, Bow was very relaxed.

This was such an eventful birthday, that Bow did not even find time to open most of his presents, and he did not ask to play with the balloon Laurie gave him. But that just means there will be plenty more to celebrate tomorrow!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Bow is about to turn thirteen this month. This is an important birthday. In prehistoric, Biblical and aboriginal cultures, when a boy turned thirteen, it meant he was ready to be a man. It's kind of true for chimpanzees, too.

One sign of Bow's maturity is his frequent displays. But another sign of maturity is that he can decide that he's displayed enough, and it is time to move on. When Bow is done with that, nothing that Leo contrives in order to re-ignite him is going to work. Bow has self-control.

After active exercise, many lazy hours are spent enjoying a nap in the sun. Bow is secure in the knowledge that his needs are provided for and that he is a valued member of the family.

Lately I have been reminiscing about how all this began.

Bow was a month old when he came to join our family. He was completely helpless at the time. In a few months, he learned to walk.

Early development in chimpanzees is much faster than in humans, and Bow has always been a natural gymnast.

Bow traveled with us to New Hampshire to attend a linguistics conference, and he has always been very affectionate, adventuresome, but careful not to fall into water.

When Bow moved into the pens, that is when he became most literate, and yet he never ceased to be part of the family. 

Because we depend in part on the sales of books, I encourage anyone who has a small child in the family and another child on the way to buy the story of how my daughter first met Bow. A new baby in the family -- human or not -- can be a big adjustment.

But did you know that you can help in other ways? If you follow the link to Amazon, you can vote down the negative "review" posted there by an animal rights activist. Commitment to a chimpanzee -- or to any other creature or person in your life -- means not abandoning them as they grow and develop and change through different stages. Not everyone is capable of that kind of commitment. Sometimes people who cannot commit try to make trouble for people who can.

Was that person's negative experience inevitable? What would be the most compassionate way to respond to those remarks? Sometimes I think I should write a book about potty training. How many people have failed to get through that one stage of development with their chimpanzee or their human child? How much unhappiness is still just a result of not being able to get over that one little hurdle? Would that poor reviewer have had a completely different experience with their own chimpanzee if only they had had a little guidance in that one area of life?

As it is, Bow is well trained, but he also has constant companionship. This means I have to be in the pens twelve hours a day to supervise, and he is never alone, because when I am not there, he has Lawrence. 

Sometimes people ask me how I can stand to be so cooped up. In fact, it was much harder at first, in 2007, when Bow first was confined,  than it is now, eight years later. I have grown used to our living arrangement, as has Bow, and we have found ways to accommodate each other's needs to not always be engaged in the same activity while spending our time together. Life in the pens is good. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Constrained Choice and Owning the Wilderness

Bow can choose whether he wants an apple or some yogurt.

He can choose whether to stay inside or go out.

He can choose to exercise or to rest.

But these are all constrained choices, and he can't, for instance, choose to move to Africa tomorrow. Then again, neither can I.  My choices are constrained, too, though, admittedly, not as much.

Bow can no more change his place of residence by mere choice, than I can go live next door instead of here, without consulting the neighbors about it, or emigrate to a different country without getting permission from the local authorities.  We are all very constrained about where we are allowed to go.

Many people would like to come live here, but they can't.  Many others may want to leave this area, but they don't know how. Not without a job or a place to live or some friends or someone to support them.

People sometimes feel trapped. They may want to go live someplace else, but they can't, unless the people who are in charge of someplace else agree, and even then, they would have to live by rules set down by the people in charge there. Most Americans who are out of work do not even consider working abroad. The natural emigration out of difficult economic circumstances is thwarted by borders -- real and psychological. When there is a famine in one country, people tend to go someplace else where there is no famine, but sometimes the life that they find there is not good.

Sometimes people become enslaved, because they don't know any other way to live. Involuntary servitude happens when choices are so constrained that in order to live, you have to do another person's bidding. whether you like it or not.

Bow is not a slave, because he does not have to work for a living at all, and can choose what he does, albeit from a limited menu of choices. He is not supporting me. I am supporting him. He does not serve me; I serve him. I serve him all day long, meeting his  basic needs, so much so that I can't really leave or go someplace else until he goes to sleep each night, unless I have a sitter.

But wouldn't it be better if Bow were free, free to live in his natural habitat? Yes, much in the same way that it would be good if I could go live free in my natural habitat. But my natural habitat has been destroyed, and his is in the process of being destroyed. So we are refugees, in a way, both of us.

In this article from the New York Times, George Monibot addresses the great loss that most humans have suffered by the ecological changes that humanity has wrought.

While part of this lament resonates for me, another aspect of the article is very annoying. Like most people who are allowed to publish articles in the New York Times, Monibot is a left-winger. So he gets in a few jabs at an unconstrained economy before proceeding with his paean to primitive living.

We fetishize the freedom of business from state control; the freedom not to pay taxes; the freedom to carry guns and speak our minds and worship whom we will. But despite, in some cases because of, this respect for particular freedoms, every day the scope of our lives appears to contract.
We most certainly are not free to conduct our business any way we want, and where did he get this freedom not to pay taxes? I don't know of anyone who has such a freedom, whether the taxes are on income, purchased items or on the real estate and personal property that we already own, but must keep paying taxes on every year in order to be allowed to continue to own them. And yes, this taxation has a great deal to do with the constraints on our choice to live a more primitive life.

Property taxes are kept high so that land will be maximally exploited. Small farms have ceded to large, corporate agriculture not because the small farmers did not want to hold onto their family farms, but because regulation of food production, taxes on income and on land ownership and other government created pressures, including inheritance taxes that apply to the family farm when one generation ends and another takes over, have over the past hundred years pretty much eliminated the majority of privately held farming operations. Now many people who want to farm have to do it on the weekend, as a hobby, while they work in  a big city all week long.

Monibot is actually aware of this, and he has a plan for what to do with the abandoned family farm:

Across many rich nations, especially the United States, global competition is causing the abandonment of farming on less fertile land. Rather than trying to tame and hold back the encroaching wilds, I believe we should help to accelerate the process of reclamation, removing redundant roads and fences, helping to re-establish missing species, such as wolves and cougars and bears, building bridges between recovering habitats to create continental-scale wildlife corridors, such as those promoted by the Rewilding Institute.
I have not heard of this Rewilding Institute, but it sounds sinister. Mind you, I am allowing my own land to go wild just by not tending to it.

I don't need an institute to help me do that. My fences are crumbling on their own, my woods are being reclaimed without planting.  I just need to be left alone. In the wild corridors that Monibot envisions, will humans be allowed? Will they be allowed to hunt for a living and to become hunter-gatherers again? Or will government thugs keep these wild corridors wild by keeping everyone out? Will it be a paradise no one is allowed to enter, much less live in?

The wonderful thing about a wild existence is that you are allowed to pick all the flowers, hunt all the wildlife, eat all you can eat at a buffet served by nature, with only your strength to prevent others from encroaching on your own little eden. I wish I could give that to Bow, but how can I, when I can't even win this for myself? Taxation and regulation are a big part of the reason why.

All around the world, primates are being deported from their natural habitats and sent to sanctuaries and zoos, just as aboriginal people are moved to reservations.  Even macaques in Gibraltar get shipped off to places like Scotland, when doing what comes naturally bothers the people in charge.

The same people who believe in universal healthcare and high taxation of asset ownership  -- who think children should not be allowed to inherit the property that parents leave behind -- are the people who decry the loss of nature. Can't they see that it's their own policies that lead to this?

If real wealth is the ability to control vast expanses of nature, then aboriginal tribes wherever they are found are the richest people on earth. But they are also a small elite: less than the one percent. And yet most of the people who hate the wealthy don't think that less than one percent should be allowed to own wealth that, if exploited to the fullest, could feed billions of people. The policy articulated by James Monroe  in his presidential address  is the policy that most liberals support against the wealthy.
The hunter state can exist only in the vast uncultivated desert. It yields to the more dense and compact form and greater force of civilized population; and of right it ought to yield, for the earth was given to mankind to support the greatest number of which it is capable, and no tribe or people have a right to withhold from the wants of others more than is necessary for their own support and comfort.

 When you speak out against the one percent, remember this address by President Monroe and who the one percent are and always have been.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Taste for Snow

It snowed this morning, and school was canceled.

Bow spent most of the morning  after breakfast asleep, completely hidden by his blanket. But around 10:30 am he asked to go outside. I was skeptical. There was still snow on the bench.

However, Bow insisted that he did want to go outside, so I complied.

At first Bow just settled on the ledge, reluctant to step on the floor below, where there was snow.

But then he started to take an interest in the snow that had accumulated on top of the horizontal support bars.

The snow was starting to melt a little, and Bow decided to sample it.

After making some loud, slurpy, lip-smacking noises of satisfaction with the quality of the snow, Bow decided to go back inside, where it is warm.