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Friday, March 1, 2013

Playful Spirits

So here it is, March 2013. Bow is an eleven year old. I am getting on in age. We have been confined to the pens since Bow was five. At the time, it was a traumatic change from the lifestyle we had both been accustomed to, to go where we liked and do what we liked. One friend said to me: "You'll both go insane, locked up like this." But we are both fine, and it does not seem as if there is anything that will keep us from continuing this way for many years to come, if necessary.

I say, if necessary, because, of course, it's not the ideal way of living for either of us. Bow would be happier with companions of his own kind -- in addition to the family he grew up in. I would be happier if I had adult human companions, too. We are open to the possibility of being invited to join other chimpanzeee/human communities. But we have our standards, and we can last it out for a very long time.

One of the things that keeps me going is communication with the outer world through the internet, editing and writing and publishing books, and feeling connected to the human world in that way. My novel, Theodosia and the Pirates, is coming out this month. I can talk with people and even make occasional appearances via Skype. We are hoping to do the same for Bow, too. He, too, can make appearances without once leaving the pen. He, too, can make friends that he cannot touch, but can look at.

And yet, touch is very important. Isn't it? One of my animal rights activist critics keeps harping on that. "Did you know that touch is important to a chimpanzee's well being? Do you know they need to be touched every day?" This question presupposes some very odd things. Does this woman not know that humans need to be touched every day, too? Does she not know that the need for companionship among primates is universal? Why would she assume that Bow does not get touched? Of course, we are in tactile contact every day, many times a day.

Bow has a playful spirit. He invites contact and daily communion. He does unexpected things. He likes to tickle and chase, and he invites these forms of contact quite openly.

But what about all those other moments of the day, when we are not tickling and chasing? Doesn't Bow get bored? He has so few toys in the pen with him, and eating the same things day in, day out must get kind of  stale. Chimpanzees need "enrichment", make-work kind of keep-busy tasks created by their keepers, to prevent the painful monotony of their day from driving them insane, the experts suggest. You should bury raisins and dates in a block of ice and make Bow dig for them, one animal rights person told me.

Bow does not need artificial methods of entertainment. His diet is not monotonous. There are changes and surprises every day. Eating is a delightful adventure. Yesterday for a snack, he had petits fours.

Besides that, Bow has a creative streak that can use the same object in many different ways. He plays all day  long. His rug, which he got as a gift for Christmas, is sometimes a cape, at other times a ball, and when he grows tired of all its other uses, it becomes a mat to nap on.

Does Bow have other toys? Yes, and he can ask for them, when he wants them. But Bow's imagination and ingenuity turns the object he has with him into anything he wants it to be, and it's always his idea.

We are content. But the possibility of change and growth is always beckoning, and we are open and eager to embrace new adventures. True happiness does not come from having exactly what you want. It is in the dreams we dream along the way we find the meaning in our lives. The thing that sustains us is joy in the present and hope for the future.

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