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Saturday, August 9, 2014

One Out of Many

A violet by a mossy stone,
    Half hidden from the eye,
Fair as a star, when only one 
   Is shining in the sky. 

The lines are from one of Wordsworth's Lucy poems, the only poems that he wrote which were any good, in my opinion. He wrote a lot of other poems with many, many big words in them -- hence the appropriateness of his name -- but the simple heartfelt poems with few words are the ones that I can remember.

Is less sometimes worth more? Do we value what we have better when its very scarcity is what makes it precious? Does a single star in the sky seem to shine brighter? Are people valued more highly when there are fewer of them? Does a large body of work necessarily make for a greater legacy than a single well-crafted poem? If you've only ever taken care of one chimpanzee, does that make your knowledge of chimpanzees less than that of someone who has met fifty of them?

We contacted the person who said they lost a cat to see if the one on our property was theirs, but they said they had had so many cats, they could not say for sure if this was one of them. We then concluded that this was not their cat.

Can you imagine having so many cats that you don't know which are yours and which aren't? To me, that is unfathomable.

focusing on a single flower  from the many in the field

But... it got me to thinking about  other situations when having a lot of something is not necessarily better than having just a little. For instance, some people consider themselves childcare specialists, and they have had hundreds and maybe thousands of children go through their hands, but does this make them any more competent to care for a specific child than its own mother, who may not even have any other children and who may never have more? Some chimpanzee experts are the same way, having gotten to know maybe thirty to fifty chimpanzees during the course of a career. But how well could they know them? How much alone time could they have spent with each?

The moon above the pasture last night

Some people have read thousands of books, and others keep reading the same book over and over again. Which people do you figure have whole passages memorized? Which are more likely to have understood what they read?

The Sword of Solomon, one of my father's favorite childhood books, from which he quoted from memory  as an adult

Variety may be the spice of life, but you cannot go deep if you have too much ground to cover. In a single lifetime, a chimpanzee is not likely to meet more than fifty other chimpanzees, and that's if he's in a large group. The smaller the group, the more intimate the relationships.

Can you really know anyone if you know too many people? Isn't the percentage of time you spend with anyone the true measure of their importance in your life?

Don't get me wrong. I want chimpanzees to multiply and prosper. It's just that they don't all need to be in the same place at the same time. And it's not the number of chimpanzees you have known. It's how much time you have spent with each. I've only known Bow for about twelve and a half years, but I know him really well.


  1. Out in the country I have heard about people having many cats for rodent deterrent purposes in their barns and gardens, so perhaps that is why she did not know how many she has. She might not really consider them pets per se, and they sort of just live there.

  2. Hi, Julia. You might be right. Perhaps it is like my rabbits and deer and turtles, whom I do not know individually.