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Saturday, October 25, 2014


Do you get to define your identity or do other people? At what point do you stop correcting them when they call you a monkey but you're really a chimpanzee or a Jew when you're just someone from Israel?

In our quiet isolated environment, we have no identity problems. As far as the eye can see, all is calm and peaceful.

But come into contact with other people, and their assumptions can sometimes grate. No sooner does someone from school find out that my daughter lives with a chimpanzee, then the word "monkey" shows up in the conversation. She used to correct them and say: "No, he's a chimpanzee." But then she got tired of it, and she told me one day that she had stopped correcting them. "That's what they think. They don't know the difference, so I'm not going to bother, anymore."

She also used to ask me why everyone thought she was a Jew, just because we came from Israel. I am almost afraid that one day she will stop correcting them about that, too, because when the vast majority of people think something, then it must be true. It's consensus reality.

"Does your monkey throw poop?" is another common question. Even the ones who know the difference between a chimpanzee and a monkey ask that. When they are told "no," they don't quite believe it.  "The chimps in the zoo throw poop," they observe.

Is it really a good idea for the sake of chimpanzee conservation to put them in cages in the zoo and then have people they don't know come and gape at them? Is that really so much more humane than allowing people to get to know chimpanzees personally in a friendly setting? How they behave depends on how you treat them. "Chimpanzees are a wild animal" is a stereotype that is reinforced by being enforced. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yes, it's true that Bow is a chimpanzee, and some behaviors come built in. Throwing poop. however, is not one of them. He will display at strangers. He will display for sport. But he is also very friendly and very kind, and he likes to sit quietly with someone he knows and look at pictures and take selfies.

Bow insisted that he wanted us to take selfies yesterday
How do you combat stereotypes when other people seem to have a vested interest in keeping them going? Identity politics is such a dirty area of human interaction.  If your ethnic background gives you an advantage in a certain area of human endeavor -- such as gymnastics for a chimpanzee -- then you are precluded from competing with others who don't have that advantage. If someone employs you to use your inborn skill, then somebody else is bound to cry "exploitation", which is what happens when a chimpanzee is hired to play a chimpanzee in a movie or to perform as an acrobat in the circus. They would rather have a human play a chimpanzee or do the acrobatics. It would be awful if a human were deprived of a job that a chimpanzee can do so much better!

But at the same time, they also don't want anyone to see the basic similarities. Humans and chimpanzees can't live together,  they say, and then they proceed to make laws to make sure that we don't.

Is it the public's fault that they don't know the difference between a monkey and a chimpanzee? Is it their fault that they have never interacted personally with one, so they harbor many prejudices? Or is it the fault of the animal rights propaganda machine? Who really profits from the stereotype?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

In the Swing of Fall

Fall is in full swing now, and Bow is swinging, too.

The air is crisp. The leaves are turning, and even the grass is starting to change its hue.

The big red maple is slowly starting to turn color.

And mushrooms are springing up from the lawn.

Bow is energized by the fall weather, and he asks to go out frequently.

The swing, which he often ignores in the summer, has suddenly come into full use again.

Leo has only to tease Bow a little bit, and Bow starts thinking about getting up on that swing.

Once on, he not only swings.

He also displays.

Bow can see his reflection in the glass of the doors that lead to the inner pens.

As he vocalizes and blows raspberries to impress Leo, he will occasionally steal a glance at his own reflection, to see how truly impressive he is.

Then when it's all over, Bow will switch to the bench, where he can relax, his  excess energy spent.

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.