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Friday, November 27, 2015

Bow's Thanksgiving 2015

Bow sips of sparkling grape juice
Bow enjoyed his Thanksgiving feast yesterday.

Bow's main Thanksgiving courses prepared by Grandma

As usual, Bow's grandmother is visiting us for Thanksgiving this year, and it is largely due to her culinary skills that we had such great food to eat.

The only thing not made by Grandma was the pumpkin pie, which we ordered from  a local church group
The only thing not made by my mother was the pumpkin pie, which we bought from a local church group. Bow's dessert consisted of  slice of pumpking pie and  a mincemeat cookie baked by Grandma.

Bow's dessert

Bow chose all the sweet things to eat first. He started with the cranberry sauce, which is his favorite.

He ate the pie and mincemeat cookie so fast that it was hard to capture a good shot.

The turkey leg met with limited success. Then it was on to the stuffing, which he ate more slowly.

I made a short montage of key moments in Bow's Thanksgiving feast this year. It has been increasingly difficult for me to upload longer sequences, so this is a good way to compress time and show all the fine eating.

I hope you enjoyed the film and that your Thanksgiving was just as magical.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Remembering Project Bow from A Decade Ago

In the early years of Project Bow, we used to put out an annual DVD in which we chronicled our methods, successes, challenges and hopes for the future. The 2005 Project Bow DVD was the first of these.

The 2005 Project Bow DVD
In those days, I would work with Bow tirelessly all day long, then edit the video in the evenings. As this was our first DVD, then opening sequences were both instructive and lyrical, prospective and retrospective.

If you want detailed information of our earlier methodology, including things that did not work for us, such as the EasyTalk device, and how we eventually settled on printed menus, then the next section can be illuminating. on the other hand, if you are easily bored, you might want to skip this part, as it lacks dramatic tension.

The next part introduces the program that was instituted when Bow turned three, including the menus instead of templates, the Floortime sessions and the internship program.

Part Four continues with Floortime methodology.

As the Fall internship comes to a close, there is some manifest success, as when Bow spontaneously uses his words to invite a stranger to play, but also some dramatic conflict, as Bow attempts to display rather than simply say "No" to an offer of play.

The interns sum up their accomplishments, and then it is time for Sword to engage Bow in play using the Hebrew lexigrams. The very final part of the 2005 DVD features the music of Bettine Clemen, and has me summing up the real problem: that Bow is such a great non-verbal communicator that he sometimes does not see the point of using his words.

The closing credits of the 2005 DVD are my favorite part, as we watch Sword and Bow playing together, both outside and indoors. Do you recognize some of the scenery from my walks? This is the same place we are living in now, but so much has changed. It is not just that Sword and Bow have grown up, but also that new trees have sprouted up in the field behind us, and now we have a much better environment for the local wildlife.

Bow holding up the 2005 Project Bow DVD today
As Bow and I look back on ten years of the Project, there is a sense of great accomplishment. Bow had his breakthrough in 2007 and can spell. He is no longer limited to lexigrams. But there is also still much to accomplish, including some way to safely get Bow back outside to roam in the fine natural setting that we have right outside our doors.

For the deer, the borders of our land are marked by the fact that they are not hunted here. But how can we mark the borders for Bow, so that he, too, understands that it is not safe for him to leave the perimeter? By the same token, how do we keep strangers out?

Sometimes I stand on my land, and I look into the adjoining field, and I worry that during hunting season someone could just walk across. I've never seen anyone do that, but it worries me.

It's so beautiful out there in my overgrown pasture. Let's hope we can find a way to make that work for Bow.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hit and Miss

Sometimes we have what we think of as close calls. Maybe they are not really close calls. But it feels that way to us.

Bow has been watching the Katy Perry music video, Roar. That other video of her with Elmo led him to select this one. The first time he watched it, he swayed with the music and watched it till the very end, calming down when the music stopped.

However, when he watched the same video, a second time,  he started to get worked up and displayed, stopping the video at the exact point where the tiger attacks the man who is with Katy Perry.

Bow did not hurt the computer. It still works, and I am using it to write this post, but he did seem very affected by the tiger attack the second time he saw it.

During this same period, I had what I felt at the time was a close call with a snake. I saw this snake in the middle of the path, and I was going to take its picture. I could not tell from a distance whether it was Prairie Kingsnake or a Copperhead, and the only really good way to tell was to get a close look at its eyes. Copperheads have slit pupils. But before I could get close enough to see the pupils, it jumped out at me. I was startled and dropped the camera.

After retrieving my phone, I decided it would be more prudent not to get a closeup of the snake, after all. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. I shared the picture with many of my friends, and most of them were convinced it was a copperhead. But then a snake expert on Twitter ruled that this was just a harmless mole kingsnake, So it was not a close call, after all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

To Be Alone

How much alone time is optimal? What is worse: being isolated or being forced to share space with conspecifics all the time? I think to a certain extent, it depends on the individual. To some people, solitary confinement may seem like the worst punishment imaginable, and for others, the scariest nightmare of prison life is the idea of being forced to share a very small space with a cellmate.

Speaking about these issues with other primatologists, I can't help but feel that they are projecting their own preferences onto the chimpanzees whose rights they believe they are championing. Social people are suggesting that solitary life is cruel and unusual. Those of us who would rather be alone than trapped without a way to escape unwanted companionship feel the opposite. Some of the comments that I get from viewers of my Youtube videos give me the impression that they are in the social camp. They talk about Bow being "all alone."

First of all, Bow is not all alone. I am there with him most of the day.

Perhaps people get the idea that he's all alone because the videos focus on Bow and not on me. But that hand caressing him or helping to operate the computer is not disembodied.

And the other point that may not be clear to our viewers is that like all people, Bow sometimes asks to be alone. Often he wants me to leave and sends me away, so that he can do his own thing. That's when I go for my walk in the pasture, where I sometimes encounter deer.

Most of the deer I see travel in groups.

But the one with the antlers is always alone.

This reminds me of the character of Bambi's father in the book Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten.

This book was read to me by my own father in a Hebrew translation. In the book, Bambi's father was an aloof figure who was usually absent, or watching from afar, but he showed up in person to chide Bambi for not wanting to be alone after the death of his mother. This is described well in an  article by Ralph H. Lutts, who contrasts the Disney movie Bambi with the book on which it was based when it comes to the father son relationship.
Disney, however, changed the nature of this relationship. The ability of Bambi's father to live a solitary life, to appear without warning, and then to vanish into the forest, are keys to his survival. To be visible is to be vulnerable. Bambi's maturation in Salten's story is a process of learning the lessons of survival. "If you live, my son," his mother explains, "if you are cunning and don't run into danger, you'll be as strong and handsome as your father is sometime, and you'll have antlers like his, too." Bambi's father, the Great Prince, achieved his stature by surviving to become the oldest and wisest of the deer. In Salten's book, the Great Prince is a teacher who passes his survival wisdom on to Bambi. He teaches mostly by example, but also with words. His first words to Bambi come at a time when the fawn is alone, crying for his mother. The stag suddenly appears and scolds, "Can't you stay by yourself? Shame on you!" Bambi learns his lessons well and eventually becomes as skillful and solitary as his father; he learns "the most vital lesson of the woods: 'Be alone'." These lessons in survival come full cycle years later when, at the very end of the book, old Prince Bambi comes across a pair of fawns crying for their mother. "Can't you stay by yourselves?" he scolds.
 The original novel may have anthropomorphized the animals, but it did not play down the presence of death in nature even without man, nor did it make it seem that if only we got rid of guns, then all would be peaceful in the forest.

In addition to that, the novel by Salten celebrated the importance of being alone. Everybody needs to learn how to be alone, and even autistic individuals are allowed to ask for the alone time they crave.

Any humane arrangement on behalf of chimpanzees in captivity needs to give each individual a way to opt out of socializing at will, and to join the group only when he wants to. The luxury of alone time can mean the difference between a fight to the death among competing individuals and the ability to walk away from a fight. But even under much less extreme conditions, when there is no immediate danger to life,  there can be no freedom if we are not free to be alone. The right to turn down companionship is key.

Because so many people in academia are communitarian, if not downright socialist, it seems they do not know this yet. When I talk to them about concentration camps, they agree that those are bad. But they have no idea what makes a place a concentration camp. They seem to think it is about the intentions of the gatekeepers rather than facts of daily life.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bow and the Arkansas Black Apple

Bow had a nice full day yesterday.

Bow grooming my arm

It started out very foggy. You could hardly see any distance at all from the house. Bow decided to groom my arm.

A Foggy Morning
Despite the fog,  Bow was able to watch the deer and the doe from the day before on the computer screen.

If only we could get him access to the pasture, this would such an idyllic situation. But for the time being, he does know every inch of this land via video.

Right before lunch, Bow's good friend who delivers  here came by and brought Bow and me a special treat: an Arkansas black apple as a gift, one for each of us. As Bow had never seen this kind of apple before, he took the time to smell it before tasting.

Although the official name is an Arkansas black apple, this apple was Missouri grown. Bow's friend told him that the Arkansas black apple has to be kept a while after picking, to let its flavor mature.

It has an especially rich taste.

Bow took time to appreciate every bite.

That was one special apple! 

In the afternoon, Lawrence came by, and he and Bow enjoyed the sunnier part of the day sitting together in the outer pen. 

All in all, it was a great day for Bow.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Doe and her Young

I see deer almost every day, but quite often they catch me unaware. They appear in a flash, and there is barely time to glimpse them with my own eyes, much less take a picture. Yesterday, when I went for my afternoon walk in the pasture, I saw two deer in close succession near the southern boundary of my property. One turned east and bounded into the woods. The other turned west and disappeared in the thicket. And, no, I did not get a single picture. But I was glad to have seen them, and I told myself I should content myself with that.

But then, when I was returning home from my walk, a deer appeared in a spot between me and the barn, a place I needed to pass in order to go home. I waited for her to bound into the woods, as I expected she did not want a closer encounter, but she stood her ground and looked at me, almost defiantly. That's when I knew. Somebody else was in the thicket behind her. She was watching out for that somebody else. So I stood there for a while, and she stood there, too, and then I took a few steps forward.

And that's when the little one emerged.

The mother must have given the signal, for the escape into the woods was well timed.

That was a good mother, but it was also a well-disciplined, obedient child, I think. You can watch the entire sequence in the video below.

Deer are more intelligent than many think. They communicate with one another and coordinate their actions. I bet they know exactly who lives on this property. They probably even know about Bow.

They may never have seen him, just as I do not see most of the spiders that spin webs on my property. But just as I know there is a spider by the circumstantial evidence of the web it has spun, who on my property can fail to know that we have a chimp here, when they can plainly hear the vocalization.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Way of All Things

I asked Bow what he thought had happened to the cat. "הוא מת"  --"He died." I asked him why he thought the cat had died. "כל אחד מת" -- "Everybody dies." End of story. For Bow, it's an easy answer, and completely unproblematic.

"But he was so young, Bow!" No answer.

I personally do not know what happened. It could be that Nile found a new home. But let's face it, a lot of the animals I enjoy seeing on my property probably do meet violent ends, long before they ever arrive at old age. It's the way of all things.

I saw a Prairie Kingsnake hidden among the leaves the other day. That was a day after I spotted the black rat snake above my door.

I could not see its head clearly, and I was afraid it might be a venomous snake, like a copperhead, which it somewhat resembles from a distance. So I got a fallen tree branch in order to investigate from a safe distance.

From the shape of the head and the eyes, I could see that it was non-poisonous, and so I left it alone. By the presence of the snakes on my land who eat rodents, mice and voles and even small birds, sometimes, you can tell that there is a lot of dying that happens on my land, as much dying as living. Because in order to eat, one must also kill.

That's not true of everyone, of course. If you are a plant, like my beautiful wondrous red maple, now in the process of turning colors, then you do not kill. You are a producer and rely on the sun. But who wants to be a tree? And even if we wanted to, we could not all be trees.

The butterflies on my land make a living as pollinators. The flowers offer them a fee because they serve as artificial inseminators, which is really a very odd profession to be in. But when there are fewer flowers blooming, you often see the butterflies landing on dead leaves or grass.

Do they die because their time has come? Could their life be prolonged if summer never ended?

A few intrepid flowers are still blooming, refusing to give up the fight.

I continue to spot deer in my front yard. The last time it happened was yesterday, before dinner. 

I saw the little one first. It looked so weak and vulnerable and alone. But I only had to take one step forward, and I saw it was not alone at all.

I wished them well as they took off into the pasture.  But let's face it, I don't know the deer as individuals. I don't know how many have to die at the hands of coyotes and hunters, in order to keep the herd that remains in top health.

Someone suggested that to keep the good snakes close to the house, I should put out a bowl of milk. But I don't feed the wildlife. They feed on each other. And that is what keeps an ecosystem healthy. 

Bow, in his own impenetrable way, may already have learned this lesson from his perch on the rim of the bench, where he studies nature, while remaining a disinterested observer. 

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