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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Alone Time for Bow and Monarch Butterflies

If you have ever raised a teen-aged boy, then you know they need alone time. It is no different with Bow. There was a time when he was a tiny baby, clinging to me for dear life and upset if I walked away for a moment. But that time is not now. He is thirteen, going on fourteen, and sometimes he tells me in no uncertain terms that I need to leave.

Now when I say that he tells me in no uncertain terms, I do not mean that he is not polite. Sometimes he even makes it sound as if it is about me. He will spell out that I should go outside, and if I ask him why, he says "because it is good", and he makes it sound as if he is thinking about my well-being, and it all seems so sweet. But certain clues on my return let me know why he needed that alone time.

Do chimpanzee get embarrassed? Yes, if they have been raised with humans. And even though Bow has less privacy than a normal human teenager in the arrangement that we have here, he does contrive to do some things in private.

Bow looking at models in the fall issue of Bazaar

Have I been thinking about his social needs? Of course. Do I want him to have chimpanzee friends and a girl friend? Yes. But his chimpanzee friends can't be savages, either. Bow is civilized. He needs civilized friends. Friends who knock on his door, respect his privacy and do not just come barging in. He also needs to be shielded from "inspectors" who think they can come and look at him any time they like. He needs the right to privacy, the right to refuse admission and all the other rights that he has come to take for granted. And if he works, he needs the right to negotiate over pay, and the right to set limits as to what he will or will not do. The people who talk about chimpanzees being "legal persons" actually don't intend to give the chimpanzees in their "sanctuaries" any of these rights. It's a sham.

So, yes, I go on these long walks chasing butterflies for my own amusement, but also to give Bow a breather from having to constantly behave like a gentleman around his mother. And sometimes he tells me in words, which are spelled, but at other times he very gently takes me by the shoulder, turns me around and points to the door. He is so sweet in the way he firmly, but with all due respect, lets me know when my presence is not needed.

A Monarch Butterfly in the neighbors' pasture across the fence

Lately, in my long walks, it has come to my attention that there are, in fact,  Monarchs among us. I spot them in my pasture. I spot them in the neighbors' pasture. But they are always far away, and when they fly, they fly high, and I can never seem to get the same sorts of photos of them that I can of the Common Buckeye, the Pearl Crescent, the Red-spotted Purple or the Eastern Tailed-blue. Not to mention the Great Spangled Fritillary when the purple milkweed is blooming.

Yesterday afternoon, I spotted a lone Monarch in the neighbors' pasture across the fence, and as I was watching, it actually flew over the fence, almost straight at me, but in zigzags. over my head, right past my left eye, and through my orchard to my pasture. But I did not get one clear shot!

The Monarch in Flight Moving Closer
The best that I could do was see a very small portion of its wings as it flew right past my face.

Can you tell it's a Monarch from this snippet of its wings?
And even though it was my own pasture it disappeared into, I could not follow it there. Too much poison ivy!

The Monarch flying through my orchard
In the evening, when I went to feed the kitten in the barn, I saw a Monarch resting high in an oak tree at the edge of my woods.

A Monarch resting on an oak leaf
This is my chance, I thought. It is evening and the Monarch is resting, so I can come in for a better shot.

Monarch flitting away

But when the Monarch saw me, it just flitted away. I guess even butterflies need their privacy! They want to rest far from prying eyes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Turtle or the Kitten

The first living being I saw when I went out for my walk yesterday afternoon -- after being greeted by the kitten, of course -- was a three-toed box turtle on the grassy area in the middle of my internal road.

The turtle kept its head out, but it seemed a little traumatized, and it had white damaged areas on the top of its shell. The kitten pretended at first not to be interested at all, but it did walk by a couple of times.

"I am just minding my own business," the kitten seemed to be saying. "Do not pay any attention to me."

The turtle is alert and wary

The turtle looked alert, wary and concerned. The kitten affected ennui and rolled up in a ball on the road behind me.

The Kitten Pretending not to be Interested
However, every time I backed away from the turtle, the kitten went to examine it.

The Kitten Moves In

And when the turtle finally worked up the courage to walk away, the kitten followed it.

So I picked up the kitten by the scruff of its neck, as a mother cat would, and I let the turtle continue with its progress. But the turtle only tried to hide in the longer grass under the oak trees in the tear drop turn, and I realized it would not really go where it wanted to go until I was out of sight. And yet I could not go back in the house and leave the kitten out there, because there was no reason to suppose it would leave the turtle alone.

The Kitten in Storage

So again, as I had done once before, I deposited the kitten in the little storage shed, and after that I realized I could go for a long walk in the pasture without being followed by the kitten, while the turtle could do it its own thing.

I checked on the turtle on more time. It was still in the same spot, and then on my way to the pasture, I saw a Common Buckeye.

Even though I had seen a common buckeye up close before, this was the first time I was struck with how the markings on the back of its wings make a face, if you just look at it the right way.

Can you see the image of the face on the wings of the Buckeye?
You have to be facing it from just the right angle before it looks like a face. The big circles are like eyes, the medium-sized circles in the center are like nostrils, and the smaller circles on the sides are like ear holes. I don't know what animal the buckeye is pretending to be, but I have read that the circles are meant to confuse predators. So though butterflies predate vertebrates on the evolutionary scale, they must have evolved later to mimic their faces, so as to frighten other vertebrates away. And the intelligence that drives the design on the back of the butterfly is not that of the butterfly itself -- it's ours! Not necessarily humans, but any animal capable of making out that face drawing on the back of the wings, is the true author of the design. Now there is a twist on the theory of intelligent design: that later developed animals shape designs on the back of less evolved animals. It's our ability to recognize the gestalt that made it useful to the butterfly!

The butterfly does not need to think the design looks like a face. But if predators do and are scared, the design will be replicated. And then multiple copies will be available, just as in the case of a best selling book.

As a writer, this idea is very discouraging to me, since it means that it's not the story I wrote that is important, but only what readers are able to understand from the story I wrote. It is not my intelligence that limits the effect of my efforts: it is the intelligence of readers.

Later in my walk I came across a much plainer butterfly. It seemed to be trying to look like a dead leaf.  I think it might be called a Clover Looper. Looking like a leaf is a good strategy right now, as fall is almost upon us.

It's thistle season again, and though many of the flowers are still closed, a few have already opened for business and are attended by very busy bees.

My property is like a park, a nature preserve of sorts.

I go for a walk here the way some city dwellers go to the park. And I get to decide what exotics will share this paradise with me, even if they are not native to the area and do pose a threat to the wildlife.

Letting the Kitten out of Storage

After I got back from my walk, I let the kitten back out of storage. The turtle was long gone by then. Some people say cats belong indoors all day. Some people say humans should not own animals. No matter what you do, there is going to be somebody to criticize it. But I did not ask for this cat. I found a kitten in a stroller in my barn, and I did not want it to die, so I fed it. This does not mean I am a cat lover, but I am not a cat hater, either. I am trying to find some kind of balance between what is right for the kitten and what is best for me and all the rest of the animals on my property.

Bow happily engages Leo
When I returned to the pens, Bow asked to go outside, and immediately went to engage Leo in play. He looked happy.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bow Sends Me Out

Early in the morning after breakfast, Bow is  sleepy.

Later as he wakens, he will ask to go outside. There Bow gets to strut his stuff.

He flexes his muscles and is king of all he surveys.

Meanwhile, I looks at the dayflowers while they are still open.

I have been spending a lot more time in the backyard, lately, because that is the only part of my outdoor property where the kitten cannot go.

The backyard is guarded by ferocious dogs -- Leo and Brownie -- and no cat may enter there. But late in the afternoon, Bow expects me to go for a walk, and if I do not go of my own accord, he tells me to go in no uncertain terms. He likes his alone time.

There are many more opportunities to meet butterflies in the front yard than in the back.

There are crescent pearls on sunflowers, silver-spotted skippers on wildflowers in the pasture.

Bumblebees share the blossoms with the skippers.

But just as I am most immersed in nature, I suddenly here that familiar meowing.

 And I see that the kitten is right there at my heels.

I would probably never even venture out of the house, anymore, if it were not that Bow needs his alone time.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"Just Don't Talk to the Cat"

I have found that if I do a little mowing in the backyard every day, it does not have to become an overwhelming chore.

Leo is very invested in my mowing

I can take lots of little breaks to smell the flowers.

The Asian dayflowers bloom early each day and then wilt

Leo and Brownie and Bow are all there to participate, each in his own way.

Bow watches me as  I mow from inside the outer pen
Sometimes I will take a break on the trampoline, and can view everything that is happening in the yard from a nice vantage point.

Of course,  I am not as high up as, say, a kitten on the roof, but that is okay.

Even though I have only mowed about half the yard today, I can take time off when lunch comes around. Later Bow suggests that I go out for a walk in the front yard. I ask him why, and he says because it is good. But he adds: "רק אל תדברי עם החתול". "Just don't talk to the cat."

I don't talk to the kitten, but there is no way I can keep it from talking to me, as it meows at me from the roof as I go out the front door for my walk.

In the pasture there are many new flowers I have not seen before.

Because the path through the pasture passes right by the barn, I have been avoiding it, thinking this would get the kitten to following me.

But now that I know that the kitten does not spend any time in the barn at all, and that it is on the roof all the time, I feel better about venturing into this unspoiled wilderness without an exotic carnivore at my heals.

I can observe the  bumblebee on the blossom without fear of disturbance from a feline follower.

"This blossom is occupied," said the beetle to the bumblebee.
On my way back down the path after completing a circuit of the pasture, I encounter a couple of turtles. They are going single file, one after the other.

Could it be mating season? Is this a male pursuing a female? (My turtle expert, Pam Keyes later confirms this.)

Just then I hear a meowing in the background.

The kitten suddenly appears and moves in to investigate.

Just let me check what it smells like!
This is a bit disturbing. What would a kitten do with a turtle, if left to its own devices? It backs away from the turtles when I am watching, but I do not trust it alone with them.

Eventually, as the kitten will not go far so long as  the turtles are still there and I am still there, and I am concerned about what might happen if I leave first, I pick up the kitten by the scruff of its neck  -- which it allows, as I am like a mother cat when I do this -- and I lock it momentarily in a storage building where we keep discarded toys.When I return moments later to check on the turtles, they are nowhere in sight. They move fast when you are not looking! So I go back and let the kitten out of storage. It follows me all the way home, and once I am inside it probably goes back up on the roof.

I meant to do as Bow asked and not talk to the cat, but  that is more easily said than done.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Kitten on the Roof

Every day, my daughter and I take turns, sometimes one of us and sometimes the other, feeding the kitten in the barn. We feed it in the barn, because that's where we want it to live. But the kitten has other ideas. The kitten has discovered our house, it knows that we live there, and if we do not allow it to live in the house, it has decided to live on the house.

It all began a couple of days ago, right before the last round of rainstorms. It was fairly hot and sunny, and I was merrily taking pictures of butterflies and hummingbird moths. 

The hummingbird moth would not sit still, and the yellow butterfly led me on a merry chase.

And as I was chasing the butterfly, I thought I heard a faint meowing in the background. I could not tell where it was coming from. My daughter came home from school and found me in the front yard filming the yellow butterfly, and when she went to feed the kitten in the barn that day, the kitten was nowhere in sight. She had to go looking for the kitten and made it follow her to the barn where the cat dishes are.  That evening we drove to the post office, and when we returned, I saw the kitten curled up on the roof, under the eaves of the extension on the house.

That night it rained. I was sure that the kitten could not possibly have stayed up there all night. Surely, it would have had sense enough to come down and take shelter in he barn. But yesterday afternoon, when I went out momentarily, the cat meowed at my very plaintively. Could the cat have stayed there all night long? Might it be unable to get down on its own?

  I was almost ready to go back inside to get the ladder, when I saw that it was slithering down the small maple tree to the ground.

So, clearly, not a helpless little kitten at all. I stopped worrying about it at once, and when I went to feed it in the barn after dinner, I did not worry that the kitten did not appear for its supper. I went for a nice stroll down the path to the twin pines, and still there was no sign of the kitten.  Reporting on this to my daughter on my return to the house, I heard this: "The kitten doesn't know where the food is. You have to show her that the food is in the barn." And my daughter went out to find the kitten and lead it to the barn,

We feed the kitten in the same spot at the same time every day. You expect me to believe that the kitten doesn't know where the food is? It was probably on the roof that whole time, with a bird's-eye view of  me walking to the barn with the cat food in my hand.

That reminds me of a student at Rice who was enrolled in my class, but hardly ever attended. One day, during the class period, he went to the linguistics office to ask where I was, because he wanted to discuss his grade with me. The secretary told him that I was just then in class, since this was the regular period for when the class that he was enrolled in met every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He was totally surprised to learn this. There is stupid, and then there is feigned stupid. The kitten knows.

A few days ago, Bow shared with me one of his random thoughts. החתול רשע. "The cat is evil." I asked him why he thought the cat was evil. (It was before the kitten was seen on the roof.) He replied: אל תשאלי. "Don't ask."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"You Know What I Mean"

Sometimes Bow wants to communicate one thing, but he says something else. For instance, he wants to go outside, but he will spell out "Give me a blanket." Or he knows that it's almost time for dinner, and he is impatient to be served, and he spells out "Give me a blanket." Or he is just upset over something, and does not have the words to express it, and he spells out "Give me a blanket."'

Bow with his old Blanket Last September
In every such case, I take Bow at his word, and I give him a blanket. Sometimes this upsets him, and he attacks the blanket in frustration, biting it. However, at this point, his attacks on the blanket are very gentle, because he knows that he is not getting a new blanket till Christmas, and the winter months are fast approaching. Bow can be moody, but he is not stupid.

Bow with his Current Blanket

I was speaking to another primatologist the other day, and she said: "We have this rule: if they can express what they want clearly by any means, then we respond to that."

I didn't know what to answer. That sounds so kind and liberal and caring.  Has she ever tried raising a bilingual teenager in a monolingual country? I wondered. But I could not say that. So I just said:  "Well, that was not the rule in my parents' house when I was growing up."

She smiled. "So you are just following the pattern you were raised with?"

Yeah. It works. The other way may work, too, for purposes of communication, but it undermines language. Because, let's face it, we don't use language because that is the only way to communicate. We use it because it is a very sharp tool, and unless you use it to communicate, it will not stay sharp. It's use it or lose it. I know, because I've been there, and I am still there. I am a language warrior.

Ping and the Snirkelly People

When I was six years old, I was placed in a classroom where only English was spoken, and I was a monolingual Hebrew speaker. Because I had no choice, I picked the language up very fast. But if I had had a choice, the process would have been much less efficient. Learning a new language is not about the desires of the language learner. Holding onto an old language is the same.

I remained fluent in Hebrew, because my parents spoke to me only in Hebrew. I acquired perfect American English, because my classmates and teachers spoke to me only in English. Nobody would give an inch, so I was the one who was forced to give way. Language is not about communication. It is first and foremost about power.

The more you accommodate the language learner, the less effective the process.

I did see, a year after I learned English, an example of parents who took a different course with their children. In order to help them adapt, the parents spoke only in English to the children at home. This actually delayed complete acquisition of an American accent and fluent English grammar, but within about a year of the implementation of this policy the children were no longer willing and/or able to speak Hebrew anymore.
In our household, communication was not king. Language was king. If you meant one thing and said something else, it was the thing you said that was responded to. If said in the wrong language, it was not acknowledged at all. And that's the only way to hold onto a specific language, when there is another, alternative way to communicate which is equally as effective.

If nonverbal cues are good enough to communicate everything, why use language at all? It was only during my college years that I encountered people who said one thing, when they clearly meant something completely different. It was not even a question of lying or deception. It was more like an extreme case of mixed signals. A person was talking fluently and grammatically about one subject, while all his nonverbal cues were pointing to the fact that he was thinking about and asking for something completely different. It was not that I could not read the nonverbal cues,  I just thought anyone who behaved that way must be insane.

Bow is not insane. He knows what he wants. And I know what he wants. And he knows that I know that he knows. But all the same, language is about power, and I cannot give in.

"You know what I mean," does not work in my house. And that's also why my daughter can still speak Hebrew when nobody else in this county does. It takes will power!