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Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Weather and the Creatures

Bow this morning in the outer pen
We have fine fall weather right now. It's cool, but not too cold. Bow goes outside in the morning and works up a display, and then when he is read, he goes back inside.

When Bow goes back into the inner pen, the dogs in the yard look wistful, as if they wished he would stay longer.

Leo wishes that Bow and I would stay outside and play
I am grateful to have made it safely home from my long trip, and so glad I am not absolutely required to get in my car and drive for hundreds of miles even in a downpour and zero visibility. Some people commute every day to work, and then they find themselves in the same situation that I had to face in Little Rock, Arkansas on my way to Galveston this past week. They have to keep going even though it is not quite safe. For me, it was a rare occasion.

There were thunderstorms even before I set out on the trip, some even quite disruptive. In the wee hours of October 7, a week  before my talk, there was a loud crash of thunder that sounded very close to the house. My iPhone gave a weird warning sign in the darkness, to let me know there was a flash flood watch till 10 am that morning. In the darkened inner pen, Bow became incensed and displayed loudly against the weather gods. That day, we had not internet service, as the modem had been damaged by the storm,

And the snakes came out of their hiding places, aware of the flood danger. 

This was a nice, healthy black rat snake that greeted me by my front door.

That same day, I also saw a different kind of snake.

This snake was much smaller than the rat snake, and it looked a little like a copperhead, but it wasn't.

It was actually a baby prairie Kingsnake. Here are some tips that I picked up from a later websearch about the differences in appearance between a copperhead and a prairie Kingsnake: 1) the Kingsnake  has round marking on its back, while the copperhead's markings are hourglass shaped 2) The Kingsnake has round pupils, while those of the copperhead are vertical and slitted, like cat eyes.

I did not bother the baby Kingsnake and it did not bother me.

By the time I got back from my trip, the weather was clear, but much colder. Checking my mailbox for the first time since my return, I found that a large bee was taking shelter there. I retrieved the newspaper in the mailbox, but just then a car came by on the road, and I quickly shut the mailbox and got out of the way. Then I returned to the mailbox, after the car had passed.

I coaxed the bee out with the newspaper, and eventually got it to buzz away. 

Yesterday I saw a lone butterfly in the crisp fall air and followed it around for a while. 

Where do all these insects go when the weather turns cold? Do they just die? Do they fly off to warmer climes? Do they take shelter in abandoned mailboxes and in man-made beehives and sleep away the winter?

The buttefly I was following yesterday

It is good to be home safe and snug when the weather turns bad.  We are very lucky that way, Bow and I.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Because It's Not Good

Bow sometimes has an oblique way of referencing things, as if they almost have nothing to do with him and he is remarking on them in passing.

I was away for three days to give a talk before the Laffite Society in Galveston. Before I left Bow spelled "שמעתי שאת עוזבת". "I heard that you are leaving."

"Bow, I told you I was leaving."

He agreed,  : "כן" "Yes."

I had explained it all to him before, where and why I was going and that Lawrence would be taking care of him in my absence. He had not said anything at all about it until the afternoon of the day I left.

I returned last night. This morning, I was looking at pictures from the trip that I had posted on Facebook. This seemed to upset Bow, though he did not say anything about it. So I offered to let him look at the pictures and explained what was in each one. "This big house is the hotel where I stayed. These are some of my friends, here is a picture of me talking to people about my book."

Bow was much more interested in the picture of the people in the restaurant than in anything else. He looked at that particular picture for a long time, staring at it closely.

Later, he tried to scroll through the pictures, but  at first he was doing it wrong.

In no time at all, however, he became an accomplished scroller, at which point he wanted to practice his new found skill over and over again.

After he was done looking at the pictures he took me to the glass and spelled: "תנסי לא לנסוע" Roughly translated that means "Try not to travel."

"Why?" I asked him.

He answered: "כי זה רע"  "Because it's bad."

He did not at any time refer to his own feelings on the matter. It was just a general statement disapproving of travel.

Monday, October 6, 2014

In Bow's Eyes

Have you ever gazed deeply into someone's eyes? It's usually not allowed. There are privacy concerns and intimacy taboos and so when we look at another person, we usually make the glance quite cursory, even with people we know very well.

Bow is also a very private person. He doesn't talk to just anyone, and he takes time to get to know people. It takes a very long time to convert someone from a stranger to a friend. It takes a commitment to get really close.

But here is your chance. Look deep into Bow's eyes. He allowed me to film him close up. It's okay. It's not invasive.


Now that you've looked, it does not mean that you know him, nor does it mean -- certainly not! -- that he knows you. But it gives you an idea of what it might be like if you did know him well.

Knowing someone, just like seeing someone, is not reciprocal. You can see someone and yet he cannot see you. You can know people, but they cannot know you. Sometimes people are fooled into thinking that if they see, then they are also seen, and vice versa. That's a mistake. Reciprocity is an illusion.

The problem in today's world isn't just that we don't get to know chimpanzees well, and that even those who call themselves experts on chimpanzees will rarely spend all their time with a single individual. The biggest problem of all is that the more experience someone has, the less he tends to know. The more people we know, the less we know anyone.

You may meet hundreds of people every day. But how many can look you in the eye? Have you ever been close enough to anyone to gaze as deeply as I can into Bow's eyes?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Getting Colder

Yesterday it got so cold that we started heating in the pens again. Outside, in the real world, though, there is no heating, and life still goes on. In the woods, it is some of the tiniest trees that are turning color first, while the bigger ones are still green and leafy.

Out in the pasture, one of our volunteer persimmon trees is completely bare of leaves, though the orange-colored fruit is hanging on, like bright Halloween decorations.

 There is nothing spookier than a bare tree that gives fruit.

You would think that in this kind of weather, both the butterflies and the flowers would all be gone by now. But no, yesterday I saw a lone Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on a thistle flower. Next to it was a stand of persimmon trees that had not yet lost their leaves.

Some people age rapidly, others take their time. There is always the last flower of the season -- the last butterfly.

Bow does not let the weather keep him from going outside, though he asks to come in more frequently now.

He gets his exercise in the outer pen, then examines himself to see that nothing has gotten injured while he is frenzied and carried away.

Then when he is ready, he comes in and asks for his blanket, which is by now frayed at the edges and has a hole in it.  But not to worry, he'll soon be getting a new blanket for Christmas. This one has lasted much longer than its predecessors.

Bow is becoming more mature and more responsible. He is a chimpanzee of good character, and he's in this for the long run, like the last butterfly of the season.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Getting Stranded

When I was little I read Island of the Blue Dolphins.  I thought it was sad. I thought it was sad when the heroine was stranded, but it seemed equally sad when she was rescued. Today, I read about a baboon who is stranded alone on an island.

The baboon has been isolated there for three years. He can see and hear his family calling for him on the other side of the river, but when he was given a chance to cross back in a boat loaded with bananas, he chose not to. Meanwhile, the entire location, on both sides of the river, stands to become flooded due to a local dam.

Is it natural to become isolated from your own kind? The local authorities are not interfering, because they believe nature must take its course in the case of this baboon. But what exactly is nature? And is man a thing apart, or is man also just a part of nature?

Bow and I are not nearly as isolated as that baboon. We have family and friends who sometimes come to see us. We have each other, and we talk on the phone and on Skype with still others. Would it be better to have more social contact? Sure. But in the meanwhile, we are counting our blessings. Life is good.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rainy Day Weather

It wasn't rainy in the morning, but the sky grew progressively darker. By the time I went for my after lunch walk, it was beginning to look stormy.

The hawks tried to finish up last minute hunting.

The sky over our ribbon of private road became a very dark shade of greyish blue.

Bow was not happy. He hated it when the rain started to come down  and the thunder sounded. But, surprisingly, after a brief display at the weather gods, he asked to play with the iPhone. As long as he was making faces at the screen and taking selfies, the weather did not phase him.

After a while, Bow got very sleepy. It was dark in the pen, and he had his fill of sticking his tongue out at the camera, so he lay down on his blanket, with one foot on my leg, and started to fall asleep. Every once in a while the sound of distant thunder made him open his eyes, but he was not too worried.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Friendship and Coexistence

Bow and I recently saw two little videos that I think will add something positive to my discussion here about the relationship of other animals to man and of the interdependence of all living things to each other, including predators and their prey. While I did not make these films myself and do not know the background of the people who did, I think the videos speak for themselves. Bow liked watching them, and I hope that you enjoy them as well.

The first video I came across quite by accident in my Facebook feed. Since it involved a dolphin, and I had just  written about the dolphin movie, I was unusually open to watching it, despite the fact that I am often jaded when it comes to "cute animal videos." Bow found it quite engaging, too.

To watch the video click here

While I cannot vouch for the authenticity of the video, unless it is severely edited, the dolpin does not seem to be coerced or bribed in any way. Nobody is standing over it with a stick, nor is anybody giving it a fish for returning the ball. The little boy and the dolphin are just having fun. This is taking place, I assume, in Russia or some Russian speaking location, and the caption says "Просто играют друг с другом", "  or "just playing friend with friend."

Bow watched the video once, then asked to see it again, and for the third repetition, he figured out where he should press. Sometimes he got excited, but much of the time he sat still and watched, sometimes vocalizing his involvement, and sometimes sticking out his tongue at the boy and the dolphin, which is what he does when he likes someone.

Are dolphins wild animals? Can they be violent? Well, yes, to the same extent that we are also wild animals and can get violent when it serves our best interests. But this dolphin does not see this particular child as a threat, and he seems to enjoy playing with him. They are friends.

That is such a simple concept, that if there were no animal rights activists in the world, there would be no point in belaboring it. But there you have it. There's your answer to the wild animal propaganda.

The second film is somewhat more sobering, because it deals with predation, and how life comes from killing. Bow watched it only once, and he did find it enjoyable, but he did not ask to see it again. 

The video is called "How Wolves Change Rivers" and it is a very glossy, high production piece with a message. It may very well be propaganda of some sort. I am not sure who is putting it out or for what reason, but they use the word "sustainability" which sounds very politically correct.

However, the uptake, for anyone who thinks about it, is that predators make life better for everyone, including the prey. I have long believed that, and it's not that different from what my father wrote in his article about the greater good.

Greater than Ourselves by Amnon Katz

My experience with trying to share this article has been mixed. A lot of people of the altruistic persuasion respond favorably to some of the set phrases, such as "greater than the individual." But when I explained to them that this is an argument in favor of laissez faire, they got mad at me. One woman even blocked me on a social networking site. She thought my father's article was great, but that my take on it was not.

Vegetarianism does not pay, if everybody practices it. It is fine as a limited way of life, and I have nothing against those who choose it for themselves for personal reasons. But those who want everybody to be vegetarian, including wolves and cats, have no idea what they are wishing on the world. Herbivores need carnivores to keep themselves healthy and to make sure that their population is not too great and that they don't overgraze. Even soil erosion can be laid at the feet of rampant vegetarianism. The Middle East is now largely a desert because of the unchecked practice of agriculture, which started there and spread elsewhere more slowly.

Even in economic terms, there are reasons for the trophic pyramid, with few at the top and many at the bottom. Eliminate the one percent, and life becomes much harder for the other 99%. Did the makers of that little nature film realize what they were saying? I doubt it. But there it is.

Bow seems to understand. Do you?