Search This Blog


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Enjoying the Bounty

Bow is curious and interested in all things. He sometimes takes off my glasses and examines them very gently and then returns them to me. He has electronics, including his own computer, and he can use them. But he doesn't have to. If he chooses not to, that choice is respected.

Freedom of choice is the key. This is true of electronics as well as people. It's not what gadgets we have that determine whether we are happy, but our own ability to turn things on and off at will. It would be terrible to have a television set that you could not turn off or a roommate that you could not ask to leave when you needed to be alone. It's the lack of privacy and the absence of choice that characterize a true prison.

Sometimes I just wish I could put a dome over all ten acres of my land, so that Bow could enjoy it freely. Our life is pretty good. We don't need more. We just need a better way to take pleasure in what we already have.

The blackberries are starting to ripen, and the deer and the rabbits are raising their families here. I have been seeing a lot more wildlife on my property than I have in years past. Sometimes I tell myself that I am simply more observant than I was before, but that may not be the whole story. If there is more pressure on the wildlife elsewhere, they may be coming here seeking asylum.

Yesterday I picked blackberries and brought them to Bow in the outer pen to eat.

Usually, when I bring Bow blackberries, he picks them out of my hand one by one and pops them into his mouth.

But this time he was impatient, so instead he brought his mouth to the blackberries.

He put his lips over the bunch of blackberries in my hand and siphoned them gently into his mouth.

It took  very little time.

Before I knew it, the palm of my hand was empty, and Bow's mouth was full of blackberries.

And then Bow leaned back and relaxed and enjoyed a fistful of blackberries swirling around in his mouth all at once.

Someday, I'd like to see Bow free to wander out there among the blackberry bushes, picking the ripe fruit by hand or by mouth, whichever suits him best.

The other animals on my land are currently enjoying free run of the property. There were two rabbits in particular yesterday that I saw all over the place, romping around and hopping from place to place. They were inseparable.

Even when they knew they had been spotted, they stayed stock still and let me snap their picture.

In the evening, at twilight, after I returned from taking the garbage to the dump, a family of deer jumped over my internal road from the pasture to the lawn and from there into the woods. One of them was smaller than the others, and they actually stopped to let it catch up. But I was not able to get a picture, and just then some rabbits hopped in front of my car on the way from the lawn to the pasture. I had to slow down to let them pass. My property is becoming a high traffic area for wildlife.

As I approached the garage I saw those two inseparable rabbits again, and I got out of the car to film them. The dogs, who are not as free as the rabbits, were barking in protest.

I think that my land can appropriately be seen as a wildlife sanctuary, not because any legal action has been taken to label it as such, but because the wildlife see it that way. A sanctuary is a place where one seeks asylum by coming there of one's own free will, and where one is free to leave also, when one wants to. A sanctuary is not a place to which other people have decided you have to go and  from which you cannot escape once you get there. That would be more like a prison.

Children and  owned dogs have less freedom than rabbits. Dogs have to stay in their master's yard, which is the price of being cared for. Sometimes, strays do have more freedom. My eyes were opened to this when I lived in Taiwan. I admired the strays of Tamsui. The price of freedom, of course, is that no one is looking out for you. But the price of being "safe" is that you have no freedom. This is also the difference between a domesticated and a wild rabbit.

Are you domesticated? Or are you free? Which would you rather be? Every individual has a different answer. Each has a different path to tread. We can no more force someone to be free than we can hope to domesticate someone who does not wish to be.

Can Bow decide where he wants to be once he grows up? I would like to think that he will be able to make that decision. But whatever decision he makes, it should not be irrevocable. Human grown ups make mistakes, too. Sometimes they take a job that they do not like. Sometimes they enter a marriage that turns out to be not so viable over the long term. Sometimes they buy a house that they cannot afford. The good thing about being free is that you can quit your job, divorce your spouse, sell your house, and even move to a different country if the regime in your own country becomes too oppressive. Mistakes can be corrected. The rabbits and the deer, the turtles and the snakes are free to come here, but they are also free to go.  Doesn't a chimpanzee deserve the same freedom?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Keeping Things in Balance

Yesterday I finally surprised the rabbit by the blooming phlox. It must have been right there underfoot when I went to look at the flowers. I didn't see it flee, but I felt a big whoosh close by. Had that been a bird? No, too big for a bird. So I looked, and there it was in the underbrush between the flower beds.

This is a cropped version of the original  picture. My friend Jerilee helped me crop it.
The rabbit stood stock still for a good long while. It gave me enough time to both snap a picture and also shoot a very brief video.

Notice that after the rabbit hopped away, it did not go far. It was still there in sight, just a little deeper into the underbrush. I decided the wise course of action would be not to try to follow. I panned the camera so you could see just how close we were to the blooming phlox.

My house is surrounded by fields and woods, and lately we have been seeing lots and lots of rabbits. "There are too many of them," my daughter recently remarked, as several of them ran away on either side of our long driveway when we were going for a drive. "Someone should go hunting."

Someone probably will go hunting. It might be a coyote or better yet a fox.

In Case There's a Fox

I have never seen a fox on my property in all the years that I have lived here. But that does not mean that there isn't one. In fact, by making my land so hospitable to rabbits, I am inviting a fox to come live here. Why? Because foxes love rabbits. They are delicious!

Do I say this because I dislike rabbits? Not at all. One of my favorite books is Watership Down. I can very well imagine myself living the life of a rabbit. But then I can turn around and also imagine being a fox. I think the presence of the fox is as much a service to the rabbits as the presence of the rabbits is a service to the fox. We all need each other, and the circle of life depends on a delicate balance between predator and prey.

Without rabbits and other small prey, the foxes would starve, Without foxes and other predators, the rabbits would get fat and sick and overpopulate the land and die of starvation. They need each other, as all living things on this planet do.

Some people think they are very enlightened because one day when they are fully grown they suddenly  realize that the burger on their plate used to be a cow. But I think that someone who did not find this out until he was an adult must have led a very sheltered life. True enlightenment is the realization that the cow would never have existed at all, would never have been out in the field grazing and experiencing mother love or companionship or any other joyful  aspect of life, if not for the people who were raising it as food.

Balance is a difficult concept. It requires countervailing forces. It is based on conflict of interest. It means there will never be total peace, but a delicate balance of power prevents all out war from destroying everything.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Understanding the Denotation of Words

One of the steps in trying to have communication with another person who has a different bias is to go back to basics when we use words. By this, I mean using the words for their denotation and not their connotation.

Depending on who we are, and how we look at things, certain words can easily trigger negative or positive connotations based on our values, belief system and our personal situation. Take the word "cage". It has gotten a bad rap, so lots of people use the word "enclosure" and then everything is perfectly okay. I don't like this kind of game with words, and I think that it causes a lot of misunderstandings. A cage can be bad, if you are trying to get out, and it keeps you from things that you want. A cage can be good, if it protects you from danger: hence a diving cage, to keep divers safe from sharks. Even the whole question of who is on the inside or the outside of a cage or fence is largely determined by perspective. Do our borders keep aliens out or do they keep us in? It depends on the situation. It depends on where people want to go.

 If you are happy in your cage, then a cage is good. If you are sad, then it is bad. It's all in the mind of the beholder.

But when we start to call cages that we like "enclosures", and cages that we don't like "cages", then communicating with somebody else who has a different perspective becomes more difficult. Their values are built into the words, and they can't seem to step outside their bias.

Take the term "concentration camp".  It has a bad connotation for most of us, and rightfully so, but do you know what it really means? I'll tell you what it does not mean: "A bad place run by Nazis." Sometimes when I refer to a facility as a concentration camp, people accuse me of name-calling. But do you know what the literal meaning of a concentration camp is? It is a place where certain groups, to the exclusion of other groups, are concentrated in a given location. Usually, the groups that are singled out for being at that location are forbidden to be anyplace else.  They don't have the right to leave, and they also do not have the right to keep others out. The group affiliation in a concentration camp is usually determined by genetic criteria, ethnicity, place of origin or nationality.

Here are a few examples of concentration camps by this literal, denotative definition:

  • internment camps for enemy aliens run by the Japanese during WWII
  • internment camps for Americans of Japanese extraction run by the Americans during WWII
  • camps run by the Nazis in WWII in which many Jews and other "undesirables" were exterminated
  • detention centers for illegal aliens currently being opened in the United States
  • chimpanzee sanctuaries in the United States and elsewhere 

The idea behind a concentration camp, and hence its use of the word "concentration", is that individuals of a certain sort, as defined in a certain way, are problematic for those in charge, so they are concentrated in certain locations, and forbidden to be elsewhere. This does not necessarily imply that the individuals so concentrated are going to be treated "inhumanely" or that they are all going to be eventually executed. Many people came home from the Japanese internment camps. Most people made it out safely from the American internment camps of WWII. Right now, many people are assuming that the children in the detention centers are being given asylum, and not that they are going to be treated badly. Many sanctuaries for chimpanzees pride themselves on the humane treatment of the individuals that they house, and they believe they are being given an asylum from bad people who formerly kept them in "cages". The sanctuaries don't use "cages". They use "enclosures". Lots of people can't see past the labels.

Besides it being unfair and unjust to single out certain groups for this treatment, there are other concerns about all concentration camps, just based on the way they concentrate certain  groups in one place. One of the dangers of singling out specific groups for different treatment is that we don't always know what happens to them after they go in behind closed doors. In WWII, red cross representatives were able to make inspections of the various concentration camps. But we know from historical accounts that the things they were allowed to see were very different from what went on day by day. Another danger is that once a certain group is concentrated in a specific place -- even if it is for their "own protection" -- the regime may change, and when somebody else comes to power they may then be treated differently.

For this reason, I don't think it is wise to concentrate all chimpanzees in one of a few locations. It does not work that way in nature, where chimpanzees live in smaller groups of warring tribes, and where the decimation of one group leaves others to survive.

Even if all the people working at the current chimpanzee sanctuaries are nice people, this says nothing about what they are going to be like in the future with changed management. So while I am not immortal and someday Bow will need other people to look after him, I must try to find people younger than myself to take my place. What I do not want to do is to entrust Bow into a concentration camp with changing management and priorities that differ from mine. People my own age or older can guarantee nothing about what will happen to Bow after my death, anymore than I can. I need to train disciples, not give Bow up to my contemporaries, however well meaning.

If I did give him up, it would be back the the breeders, where he could live among his own family of origin. But the breeders are under attack, too, and they are no younger than I am. In fact, they are more senior. I would need to see who replaces them in their own organization and what the priorities of the younger generation are, before I could trust that our goals are sufficiently similar.

Bill Lemmon who ran the Lemmon Farm from which Washoe, Nim and Lucy emerged, was always willing to welcome back the chimpanzees that had been lent out for language experiments. He has a bad reputation and is described as a very scary guy, but in my opinion the worst thing that he ever did was that when he fell upon hard times, he sold out to medical experimenters. If people had been interested in sparing Nim his worst experiences, they should have helped Lemmon with his expenses on the farm. And this is why I react so strongly to the anti-breeder bias in current literature about ape language research. Without local breeders the researchers and the sanctuaries would both be out of luck. There simply would not be any chimpanzees in the United States at all. In fact, I suspect that this is the ultimate goal of the sanctuaries, no matter how humanely they are going about pursuing it. I don't share that goal.

Bow and I spend twelve hours a day in our cages -- or our enclosures -- together, As a result, I am aware of the conditions Bow lives under. If it is too hot or too cold, I know. We eat the same foods, so I know what he is eating, and I know if it's nutritious. We go in and out of the house often, and Bow gets to decide when. This means he has control over his environment. Most importantly of all, Bow gets to decide who is allowed into his space and who is kept out.

The dogs have the whole yard to roam in, but they usually stand right next to the pen, gazing at us longingly, as if the best possible place to be would be inside with us.

Bow has a sense of ownership and control, looking over my shoulder and inspecting everything I do. And I think that each of us prefers the cage we can control to a palatial institution where we are prisoners.

The real difference between a prison and a home is not how big of an enclosure it is, or even whether you can leave it safely, but whether you can decide for yourself who gets to come in.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Recognizing Our Bias

Everyone has a bias. It's impossible not to, just as each picture we take is viewed from a particular perspective and is colored in some way by our point of view.

Change the place where you are standing and the perspective shifts.

Stand further away and a bigger picture emerges, though the details are less clear.

Perspective shifting is something writers are familiar with. Psychologists will tell you that autistics have trouble doing this. But everyone has a bias, even psychologists. And real perspective shifting is something that requires a degree of detachment that few of us are capable of. Even among primatologists and others who work with chimpanzees, there are built in biases that taint almost every experiment.

Here are some books that I have read about the lives of chimpanzees who have lived among humans. Every book tells a story, and every story is told from a particular bias. In the case of Nim Chimpsky, I have read the same story from more than one bias. In the case of Washoe, I have only ever read the story from one perspective.  But Washoe, Lucy and Nim were contemporaries, and their stories were interlinked. Today, we tend to hear about all of them from a single point of view: that of people who see ape language experimentation as a damaging practice that is naturally bad for chimpanzees. Whether the scientist is Herbert Terrace or the Gardners, the story is actually told from the point of view of the assistants who worked for them, played with and took care of their chimps, and those who stayed with the abandoned youngster once the experiment was over or who rescued him or her from the mouth of hell when nobody else cared.

Don't get me wrong: I do think what was done to Washoe, Nim, and Lucy was bad. It was bad to abandon them. It was bad to enculturate them and then just walk away. But I don't think teaching them our language was bad. I don't think exposing them to our culture or sharing our lives with them is bad. But when you read the cautionary tales about their lives told from the point of view of Roger Fouts or Bob Ingersoll, that's all you get. It might as well be the story of Oliver Twist, with the animal language experimenter as Fagin, and Bill Lemmon as Sykes.

In case you think I am mistaken in thinking there is this bias, read this review:

Betrayed by Science: The Story of Nim Chimpsky.

There are several different, but somewhat related, questions to consider in ape language experimentation:

  • Is there any knowledge to be gained from exposing other apes to our language and culture?
  • Is it humane to rear apes among humans?
  • Do chimpanzees have a language ability comparable to that of humans?
  • How could we go about proving their ability without introducing our bias into the experiment?
  • How should the care of chimpanzees in capativity be financed?
  • Is there something about how the care of chimpanzees is financed that biases the result of experiments?

In reading the book by Elizabeth Hess or watching the related Project Nim movie there seems to be only one answer that comes to mind: NO! No, there is no knowledge to be gained, no, it is not humane, no chimpanzees do not have comparable language ability. There is only one way to finance chimpanzee captivity: through government money and tax free donations given to reputable sanctuaries. No, the government money and its conditions do not bias experiments.

 So how does this single perspective on the issue come about? Chiefly it is because scientists who depend on government grants lose their voice after the grants are taken away. Herbert Terrace believed his research with Nim was valid, and that he had disproven the theories of Noam Chomsky, up until the moment when he gave up on getting more funding for his project, at which point he suddenly recanted and changed his tune. The Gardners who worked with Washoe were convinced that they had proven she could sign meaningfully, but they gave up custody of her and sent her off with Roger Fouts, who eventually had to find a way to rescue her. So we hear the stories told from the humanitarian perspective of people who were not language experimenters, but who ended up picking up the pieces when the actual scientists dropped the ball. From their point of view, the experiments were nonsense, but the damage to the chimpanzees was palpable,  tragic and causeless. People like Fouts, after having the privilege of interacting with chimpanzees for years at public expense then blame the system and exhort us never to try to teach another ape language ever again.

Recently one of these humanitarian intervenors got in touch with me. We had been in correspondence about a year ago, but he surfaced again after my last blog post. I think it was the last blog post that reminded him about Bow, not because I wrote about Bow, but because I raised my voice in defense of a live-and-let-live policy toward other privately owned chimpanzees. He says he would like to help me and Bow, which is nice, but I wanted to make sure we had our perspectives clear and that his bias would not blind him. I mentioned the bias in the Project Nim movie, and he replied that he didn't think there was any bias in the Project Nim movie. When someone says there's no bias, what he's really saying is that the perspective from which the movie is shot is exactly his own.

I am trying to figure out now how best to explain this to him. Because even though this guy is much more neurotyical than I am, he's really bad at perspective shifting. He is good with chimpanzees.They like him. He has always felt kindly toward them and was able to enjoy an uninhibited  playful relationship with chimps, and so he thinks that the other, more intellectual way of relating to them is probably nonsense.

Every chimpanzee, like every human being, has many different types of needs: physical, emotional, social, intellectual and even spiritual. What typifies the scientific mentality is to relate most directly to the mind of the chimp, while ignoring his physical needs. That's largely what Herbert Terrace did, leaving the day to day care of Nim to assistants. It is also what the Gardners did. It is said that they were more like grandparents to Washoe than actual parents. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, unless it blinds the scientists to the other needs of the chimps besides intellectual stimulation.

What typifies the caretakers is that they were largely big-hearted, nurturing individuals who were less interested in the research than in a physical, playful relationship with their charge. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, unless it blinds one to the other needs of the chimp besides the social, emotional and physical.

One of the lessons I think everyone should learn from the Nim Chimpsky story is that you do not abandon a child that you have adopted, even if he is just a chimpanzee. Another lesson is that once somebody has learned something, like language or culture, you cannot expect him to just unlearn those things and be happy under "more natural conditions." Nim was not scarred for life by the absence of chimp companions. He was shocked by being abandoned by every human he had come to trust. He was sold down the river, because everybody  he depended on needed government funding to keep their projects going.

 But these are not the lessons that the book or movie emphasize. Instead, most people somehow go away with the idea that every chimp is better off in a sanctuary "among his own kind."  That  is the bias of Project Nim.

So I am hearing a lot from this individual about how great the facilities at certain sanctuaries are, but not about wanting to place homeless chimps with me and Bow. It just all seems very one sided.

In thinking of things that this individual might do to help me and Bow, I brought up the possibility of recruiting other chimps to talk to Bow via Skype or Facetime or some other electronic device. I mentioned that I had wanted to do this also with privately owned chimps, but most of their owners don't give the adolescent or adults among their chimps access to electronics. He replied that this is because chimpanzees largely don't respond to that kind of stimulus and don't interact with others long distance.

Bow loves electronics. When I got my new iPhone, he immediately wanted to change the camera perspective so he could see himself when taking a picture.

He has spoken to his grandmother  and others on Skype.

The difficulty with these long distance conversations is that Bow feels the need to display at the start, as he would indeed when meeting someone after a long period of not seeing them or in reacting to a new person who might be an intruder. With other chimpanzees as well, I expect it will take some accustomation before any communication beyond "I am bigger and stronger than you" will take place. So what we need is a regular, continuing and committed long distance relationship with another chimpanzee.

What can we learn from this? Lot of things! Among others, we can learn how chimpanzees communicate, how chimpanzees relay information to one another long distance, and whether there is any abstract code for the transmission of information that does not depend on showing another chimp where something is hidden.

What would Bow gain from this? A long distance friend of his own kind, without risking leaving home, losing his loved ones, or engaging in a physical confrontation with another chimp.

But this only makes sense if you believe there is more to a chimpanzee than just a very powerful, very affectionate animal. Those who tend to see the playful animal that resides in every chimp tend to discount the mind that is also there and is capable of abstract thinking. Those who see the mind sometimes forget the social and emotional needs.  We tend to see in others a little bit of ourselves. This stereotyping happens to children as well as chimpanzees.  Nurturers see physical and emotional needs. Teachers see intellectual potential. Scientists want to test how much there is of each.

Everybody's got a bias. The first step in trying to communicate with someone else is to acknowledge what our bias is. Sometimes that takes an intellectual effort from someone whose normal mode of operation is to go by gut feeling alone.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why We Avoid Canned Drama

Personally, I love drama. By that, I mean plays and other highly dramatic narrative art forms. I write what are essentially dramatic novels. I think a plot is essential to a novel, a play or a movie. Plots are built on conflict. When people say they avoid drama, I am skeptical. However, because Bow is so sensitive to even the slightest conflict, I have been avoiding watching dramas in front of him.

Bow, yesterday afternoon, relaxed and conflict free

If Bow sees two people in arm to arm combat, it makes him want to get in on the action. If he sees a car chase, it makes him very nervous. When we used to drive places together, if a truck got too close to us on the road, he would get very upset. We need to be the biggest car on the road, and others we do not know should stay far, far away.

I like to keep Bow as happy and relaxed as I can and to avoid getting him keyed up over nothing. But every once in a while I try to watch  something with him on my computer screen. It turns out that even what we might consider very subtle human drama gets his hackles up.

Take this scene from an episode of Enlightened: Two old ladies meet by chance in a grocery store. Each of them is shopping for food, but they recognize each other and stop to chat. They have not seen each other in a long time. First they talk about their looks. "You haven't changed a bit. You look so young." There follows an exchange where every compliment contains some kind of barbed put down. Then they start talking about their grandchildren. How many of them there are and how cute and talented and smart. One of the women has just been to see her grandchildren and shares pictures on her iphone. The other woman is estranged from the daughter who has children, and living with the one who has none, so she feels bad. After which they talk about their children, and about their children's spouses and careers. One woman is gushing with how great her children's accomplishments are, while the other feels bad because her divorced daughter is now living with her and is not doing well in any aspect of life. And then the subject turns to their own husbands. And that's when all emotional hell breaks loose, because it turns out that one of their husbands betrayed the other at work, leading the man to commit suicide years and years ago.

Because they are human and women and civilized and temperate, at no point do these two women raise their voices in anger, or pound on their chests or do anything that would seem like an overt act of aggression. But do you think Bow is fooled? He starts to watch this scene with me calmly, but as it continues, he becomes progressively more and more upset, until he can't stand it anymore and starts hurling himself against the glass. I hurriedly click it off and order is restored. But you can see why I would not even try to show him a movie about an ape revolt against humans.

That said, I totally support the right of another ape mother or father or owner or trainer to choose differently. I would never condemn someone because they chose to do something for or with their dependents that I would not choose to do with or for mine. I am not at all like Barbara J. King.

The reason CGI apes were used in that movie, rather than real apes, is that animal rights advocates like PETA and the Humane Society and all those other animal rights groups make a stink every time a real chimpanzee actor, such as Chance Rosaire, appears in a movie with a real human actor, such as Leonardo DiCaprio.

Now, Bow is not an actor. He wasn't trained to be one, and he seldom does anything unless he wants to. But I can definitely see that other chimpanzees have a different life story, and that forbidding them to earn their own living is not helping them to find a place in life. So, I think it is sad that we have to use fake chimps when we could have used real ones and contributed to their livelihood.

But on the other hand, I don't think we have to boycott those films that portray chimpanzees without using chimp actors. My motto is live and let live. And the people at Myrtle Beach Safari seem to feel the same way. They saw an opportunity to educate the public about chimpanzees and took two of their chimps to the movies with them.

Let's make no mistake: the photo op helps Myrtle Beach Safari to raise funds to keep its chimpanzees and the other animals who live there. They have to interact with the public, because the public means funding. People like Barbara J. King want for there to be only one source of funding for chimpanzees: the government. We know what the government has done in the past to chimpanzees. I find nothing humane about that.

The young chimps who were taken to see the movie posed no danger to the public, and they probably did understand the plot of the movie. I remember that when Bow at a similar age saw Jesus Christ Superstar he was able to follow that plot with no problem.

Pre-adolescent chimpanzees are tolerant that way, but I think it is probably not a coincidence that any older chimps at Myrtle Beach Safari stayed home. The desire to actually do something about upsetting situations does seem to grow with the supply of testosterone available.

Unlike many older women I know, I do not think we would have a better world if men had less testosterone and wise old crones ruled the world.  People can do more damage with underhanded comments that destroy another person's reputation than with out-and-out violence. That's why I think that the practice of dueling which was prevalent in 19th century and is described in my Theodosia and the Pirates novels spared us from a lot of ugliness. The possibility of a duel to the death really does cut down on snarky comments.

That said, I want to keep Bow safe from harm. So he is not going to the movies, and he won't be watching any planet of the apes movies any time soon. But I would fight to the death to defend another chimpanzee parent's right to make the opposite choice.

Monday, July 14, 2014

As the Grass is Mowed

During the spring, summer and early fall, the grass, in those portions of my property that I keep civilized, has to be mowed every two weeks at the very least. I mow the back yard with a reel mower, but I have the rest mowed by others. I save a lot of money by keeping the pasture mostly natural, with only a narrow path to walk on.

Bow is not thrilled with the mowing. When I am in the back yard with the reel mower, this does not make much noise, and he is tolerant. Also, I pause every once a while in my mowing to notice a ladybug or an unusual plant.

The other day I spotted purple clover growing in the tall grass by the generator.

The rabbits on our property like it when the grass gets a little taller, and you can see more of them out during those periods.

When there are two of them together, they take turns running from me. While one is running, the other stands still and watches. They don't go very far, either. I expected the bigger one to run straight into the woods as soon as I went after her, but she was actually found hiding just the other side of the closest tree.

Bow can be remarkably calm and quiet for long periods of time, even if we have a spider suspended in the air of the outer pen. But when the mowers come and make lots of noise, he feels compelled to puff himself up and display.

When the mowers are weed eating on the other side of the fence, Bow watches them warily, his hair standing on end.

But he also knows when they are leaving, and he watches them drive away  with an almost wistful expression.

It's as if he were thinking: "You had to make all that noise, but you couldn't find time to play with me?"

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sometimes We're Happy

Some people watch the videos of Bow displaying, and they say weird things about how he seems depressed. Sometimes they even preface their comments with "you don't have to be a primatologist to see that..." Well, I don't know about being a primatologist, but you at least have to have seen some other chimpanzees displaying before you make that judgment. It's a normal behavior for chimps, whether in the wild or in captivity. They don't do it because they are angry or sad or depressed. They do it because there's an urge to do it, and chimps are very uninhibited. When they have an itch, they scratch. When they feel a need, they find some way to meet that need. They are not embarrassed to show how much they enjoy food. They are not embarrassed to show how big and strong they think they are, either.

Which is not to say that Bow is never depressed. Sometimes he gets depressed. Sometimes I do. Now, by this I don't mean clinical depression, but a momentary sadness. Neither of us are getting exactly what we want all the time. Most humans -- and most chimpanzees -- don't. Our desires are frustrated. Our hopes are crushed.  Sometimes we get upset, and sometimes we express that, but then the feeling passes, and we move on to a different kind of mood, a different emotion, and we have a whole set of behaviors to express each one.

Yesterday, on my walk, I noticed that the phlox was in bloom again. This reminded me of my children's book, In Case There's A Fox. "When Sword goes for walks, in the fields full of phlox, she is always concerned that she might meet a fox."

There was no fox, but I did see the first ripe blackberry of the season.

I picked the blackberry and proceeded on my way to the road, where I noticed some calves in the neighbors' pasture.

One of them got spooked, as he felt I was getting too close. So I went turned back, and on the way to the house I picked another, smaller blackberry.

I washed the blackberries by the rock garden outside.

Then I went back into the pen and gave the blackberries to Bow.

Of course, those two blackberries were just symbolic. It's a way to share every aspect of my walk with him. I also showed him the videos. For lunch, among other treats, we had fried bananas.

Is Bow super happy every moment of the day? No, but I don't know anybody who is.

We change our feelings many times a day, just as we change our posture. Right before dinner time, I noticed Bow doing something unusual. Something I had never seen before. He was walking around in circles, with one finger on his face.

I was getting ready to prepare dinner, so I was not inside with Bow, but I decided to go in and investigate. I was worried that something might be wrong. Bow kept going around with the finger on the side of his face, close to the nose. I asked him why, and he did not answer, but he let me remove the finger from his face. There was nothing wrong with the finger -- or the face. He seemed to be doing it just for fun, because he could. Afterwards, he decided to groom my big toe.

I have seen Bow playing blind man's bluff by himself before, covering up his eyes and walking all around the pen. The finger on the face seems to be a variation on that. It's called playing.

After dinner, and after everything was cleared away, Bow was very playful with me, wanting me to chase and tickle him, before he lay down to sleep, on top of one blanket and covering himself to the waist with the other. After that, I sang him our song, and he grunted happily as I wished him a good night.

We all have moods. We all get sad sometimes, because of the things we cannot have at the moment that we might like to have. Bow is no different. But all in all he is emotionally resilient, and his life is pretty happy. Could it be better? You bet! And it's in the hope that it will get better that we carry on each day.