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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bow and Lawrence and Nonverbal Cues

Every Wednesday Lawrence comes in to sit with Bow so I can run some errands. Bow and Lawrence are very good friends. Bow eagerly waits for Lawrence to arrive. He knows that Lawrence is coming, and he looks forward to that. He even makes eager, impatient sounds of happiness when he sees Lawrence's car arrive in the driveway.

However, you would not know any of this if you saw how Bow behaves when Lawrence first comes in. Bow's hair stands on end. He makes himself look twice as big as he actually is. He makes threatening sounds and throws himself against the glass and the walls of the pens, in some cases even injuring himself through the violence of his own aggression.

Lawrence knows better than to go in while Bow is in the middle of such a display. If he did, he would stand a very good chance of being injured. But all Lawrence has to do is wait until the display peters out. Eventually, Bow settles down, and then he may even gesture to let Lawrence know it is safe to come in. Then, when Lawrence does come in, Bow greets him happily and starts to groom Lawrence.

This pattern repeats every single week, unless Lawrence has been here a day earlier. Bow does not feel the need to display if the two have just seen each other. But if a whole week has gone by, the display must take place. There is no way to get around it. We just have to go through it.

Some people tend to say things like: well, of course, he's a chimpanzee. What did you expect? But I don't think it's just a chimpanzee thing. The more I get to understand Bow's peculiar and inevitable behavior, the more I recognize that I have seen similar things in humans, but at the time, I did not understand what I was seeing.

For instance, when I was in law school, I was surprised during negotiations with another student, that he appeared to get very angry and hit his hand on the table so hard that he broke the wristband to his watch and may also have injured his hand. At the time, I thought this was a sign of the man's stupidity and lack of self-control. But I was woefully unaware of the power of non-verbal signals at the time, and I did not realize that disputes are often settled by non-verbal displays of strength and posturing and that you cannot reason your way out of what is essentially a power struggle.

In my real life experiences as a lawyer, I learned that I could not ignore non-verbal signals. People were communicating important things to each other without words -- and often the words they used belied the real messages they were sending. We ignore non-verbal signals at our peril.

Many repeated patterns of aggression and then submission appear in human relationships all around us. It does not necessarily have to be overtly violent, but it is there nonetheless. Naive do-gooders often try to teach people not to repeat those patterns over and over again, but the people who do really well in life are those who learn to go with the flow. Instead of preaching to others that they should break the pre-programmed pattern, they learn the pattern, and they find ways to come in without getting hurt.

By learning to live with a chimpanzee, and experiencing this first hand with him, I am able  to understand a lot of things now about human relationships that I was not able to see before. I have incorporated some of this understanding into my new book, Theodosia and the Pirates, which will be out next year.

Dominance displays and patterns of submission are a part of life. Instead of trying to reform everybody into behaving more like a robot and less like a primate, wouldn't it be better to understand and incorporate that understanding into our lives and our institutions?

When Lawrence came the day after Christmas, he brought with him a couple of belated presents for Bow: a sports shoe and a shirt. Bow was delighted with the gifts. Of course, he knows what we normally do with shoes and with shirts. He even briefly wore the shirt. But afterwards, he went back to enjoying his own natural pattern of behavior with shirts.

Literacy and education are all well and good. We each can benefit from those. But who we are, underneath the education and the clothing, is not going to change. This is one of the many things that I have learned from Bow.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Three Gifts: Christmas 2012

Bow got three gifts this year for Christmas.

Bow got to choose the order in which the gifts would be opened. The first gift he chose was in a gold bag.

 He could see what it was, as the bag was not sealed. He said he wanted the gift with the blanket. But it was not a blanket. It was a rug. Of course, what Bow loves best about rugs is unraveling them.

Here is a video of Bow playing with the rug:

The unraveling of the rug took some time, so it was not until much later that the second gift was opened.

The second gift was more fun to open than it was to play with. And the third gift was quite possibly the best gift of all: a fruit basket from Bow's uncle.

You can read more about Bow's enjoyment of his third gift on "The Feast Before Us."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Bow Helps with the Cleaning

Somebody asked me recently how I "control" Bow. The answer, of course, is that I don't control Bow. I can't make him do anything

Would it be different if he were human? I don't think so. Contrary to what many people believe, we can't control other humans, either. We can tell someone what to do or not to do, but they decide whether to pay any attention.

While Bow does not seem to be interested in constructive behavior, he has some talents and impulses that can be quite positive. For instance, sometimes he likes to clean!

Today we were expecting a guest, and I noticed that the glass needed cleaning. Normally, I don't like to do this while Bow is in the inner pen with me, because when he was younger, he tried to drink the cleaning fluid and eat the paper towels. But today, an amazing thing happened. I dropped one of the paper towels that was soaked in Windex, and Bow picked it up and started cleaning the floor.

When I saw this, I suggested to him that he might want to clean the glass, too. He did not immediately agree to do that, but eventually he decided that cleaning the glass would be fun. So he helped quite a bit with the glass cleaning.

If somebody asked me: how did you make Bow clean the glass? I would have to say: I didn't. It was just something he wanted to do.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Many Uses of a Drum

This week, we had a visitor at our house, Jill Dabney, who played and sang two of the songs from The Debt Collector. She came by on Wednesday, which is the day I have off to do things not involving Bow, and Lawrence reported to me that the whole time when Jill was recording the songs, Bow was listening intently to the music she was making.

On Thursday, I started work on getting the songs edited and uploaded, so Bow got a chance to hear them again. On Friday, as I was listening to one of the songs, Bow asked me to be allowed to play music. (תני לי לנגן). I went to look for a keyboard for him to use, but neither of our portable keyboards worked, so I asked him whether he might like to make music with his drum, instead.

Granted, drum music isn't all that melodic, but Bow agreed. So I brought in one of the drums he received as a present from his uncle years ago.

There is a reason that Bow doesn't have all his toys in with him all the time. Most toys require tight supervision, because once he destroys them, it's possible to create all kinds of havoc with the parts.

While he understands perfectly well what a drum is for, and he can he even demonstrate that he knows how to play the drum quite well -- he has an excellent sense of rhythm -- Bow is never content to use a toy or a tool only for the purpose intended. He gets very excited when he has an object to play with, and he explores every possible use, consuming, taking apart and re-purposing as he goes along.

By the time he was done with the drum, he had liberated the metal rods that were a part of its outer structure and set about finding novel uses for them.

Here is a video of the progression of Bow's activities using the drum and its remains.

How many different uses that Bow makes of the drum can you spot?  My interns used to try to convince me that this creative behavior by Bow with every single toy was not destructive: he was constructing new objects from the remains of the old ones. Much as I appreciate Bow's creativity, I beg to disagree. Bow consumes things. He enjoys the various stages of taking something apart, and he is clever at devising new uses. But he never puts two things together to make a new one, so his actions are not constructive. The goal of his activity is always to take apart.

For this reason, Bow gets to play with one toy at a time, and always under tight supervision. While his destructiveness is usually playful, imaginative and harmless, there is always the potential for Trouble with a capital T in all his music making!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Literacy and Book Reading Distinguished

I think people are very confused about literacy these days. They assume that literacy is the ability to read, and once you learn how to read, you can read anything and understand anything, so that literacy can open the entire store of human knowledge to any given person. As romantic as that may sound, and as much as I would like to believe that it's true, there is an element of magical thinking in that.

Literacy at its simplest is the ability to decode and encode writing so that symbols on the page or on the screen can be associated with pronounced words in a particular language. Being able to read can precede being able to have a conversation. It can even come before the meanings of some of the words one can read are understood. Little children can do this. Chimpanzees can do this. It is no big deal, and it does not imply a giant leap of intelligence.

I've had people ask me: "Since you say that Bow is literate, does he read books?" My honest answer has always been that I don't think he does. He has been exposed to books since infancy, and he likes to have them read to him, and he also likes to handle them, but so far, I have not seen any evidence that he reads books. He may read a few words here and there, but he does not sit down and sequentially read a book from cover to cover, taking it in the way the author intended.

Bow knows what books are. He has seen me use them in the canonical way, but it's not something he wants to do. So what does he actually do, when given a book to read? Here is a video clip that answers that question.

Notice that Bow holds the book right side up, not upside down. He is interested in getting to know the different parts of the book,and  he flips through finding small snippets that are of interest to him, whether pictorial or textual, but his attention span does not allow him to stop for too long on any given thing.

Admittedly, this is a book that is of interest to me because of the subject matter. Bow is not interested in the ideas and personages involved, but I have in the past given him books about other chimpanzees to read, and he treated them about the same way. He would sit for hours -- or at least twenty minute intervals with breaks -- to have me read to him about Nim, but he did not sit for hours reading about Nim himself.

To be honest, I don't read every book sequentially, either. When it's a book that I use for research purposes, I go through the index just like Bow, and I pick up particular passages that have something to do with my own purposes.

Many humans have trouble sitting down and reading a book cover to cover. Bow is not alone in this. If you would like to learn about the problems of other readers, I recommend this blog:

Literacy isn't everything. There are many other components to reading a book besides being able to decode a sequence of letters and make out which word it spells. It isn't magic. And Bow's achievements in literacy do not in any way imply that his intelligence is abnormally high. That claim was never made.

What I am hoping for, someday, is to find a way to prove what Bow really can do. It's not all that remarkable, once you realize what it is, but it would be nice to be able to share this knowledge with others. And maybe if people realized how modest an achievement literacy is for the average human, they might come to be less closed to the idea that a chimpanzee can do it, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hanging out with Grandma

Bow and my mother have a pleasant, easy going relationship. When he was very small, she sometimes babysat both my children, and she visits us regularly, about twice a year. When she is not here, Bow hears her voice on the phone, and sometimes he sees her on Skype. Because she has not been a stranger all these years, it does not take Bow long to accept her after he has not seen her for a while.

These days, all their interactions take place through the glass, but it is still a very close relationship between grandmother and grandson.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Waiting for Grandma

My mother arrived late last night, and she told me she might be sleeping in, so I should not wake her for breakfast. I could ring the bell to announce that it was time, but we should not wait for her, and we should proceed without her if she did not come to the pens, because if she doesn't respond it must be because she is asleep.

I have a little hand bell that I ring to let people in the rest of the house know that a meal is ready in the pens. This morning when I rang the bell and my mother did not come, I told Bow that we would just proceed without her, because she needed to sleep.

But Bow was not happy. He didn't sit in his eating spot. He did not take my hand to spell out what food he wanted to eat. He just kept sitting by the door and waiting for grandma for the longest time. To him, it did not seem right to start without her.

When eventually he did agree to eat, he looked a little sad.

But later grandma did join us, long after we had finished our meal, and she had a special present just for Bow. It was some bite sized sausages. "Look Bow, I brought you a gift."

Bow took my hand to spell what he wanted to eat now that grandma was up. But he didn't call them sausages. He just said he wanted  the  "gift." .(מתנה)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Different Points of View: The Grammar of Happiness

This morning, I found that there is a beautiful new documentary about the language of the Piraha people and the linguistic research of Daniel Everett available to view free of charge at the Smithsonian site:

I was very interested in watching this video, and I thought Bow might like to see it, too. I am very careful these days what I show Bow, because violent scenes upset him, but I didn't think that there could be anything in this video even remotely resembling violence, and I did think there would be beautiful scenery that Bow might enjoy just as much as I do.

So I brought the laptop into the pen with Bow to watch the documentary together, and I was also filming. When Bow began mild displays every time he saw new people, I was not worried about that. He usually is pretty well behaved around the laptop. And then there was a scene which, from my point of view, was quite interesting, because some Piraha men were speaking to each other in their own language by whistling. To me, this was about language.

But Bow became very upset. He started displaying and vocalizing and threw himself at the laptop. I yelled at him to stop, and actually he did stop pretty fast. The computer was not damaged. Just a little scratched. Once the laptop was closed and the disturbing video was no longer on the screen, Bow was quite sensible and handed me the laptop without any further ado.

But I was a little shaken. Why had Bow reacted that way to a video about the Piraha language? Was there something upsetting to him about their quiet whistling? Only later when I viewed the documentary again did I read the subtitles and see what the men were talking about: they were planning to shoot a monkey with their bows and arrows.

To me, this had been a documentary about language. To Bow, it was a show about humans killing monkeys. It was a very violent video! And he was duly upset.

You see, it's all in the point of view.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't Be a Stranger

People sometimes ask me what it takes to maintain a good relationship with Bow. I think the old adage "don't be a stranger" is the key. People say this to each other, and what they mean is: "Don't forget to drop by. Don't stay away so long that by the time you come back again we won't recognize you, or will feel funny around you."

Human society right now is very confused about this issue. We tell our children not to talk to strangers, and yet we expect them to interact with strangers every day. People send their children to preschools where the caretakers are expected to be interchangeable. They go to schools where if the teacher is sick, on leave or in state mandated programs for self-improvement, another person that the children have never seen before in their lives can step in at a moment's notice and expect to get the same level of obedience and trust as the previous teacher. So we tell them not to talk to strangers, but require them to talk to strangers all the time. It's just one of many, many double messages that we send.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to an event at my daughter's school. I sat on the bleachers among a sea of strangers, and we watched one of those rituals that help to weave communities together: a basketball tournament. A hoop queen crowning. Families and children packed like sardines together, and nobody minding that strangers were touching them on all sides.

Nobody made a display to say "I am stronger than you are, so watch out," because that display was ritualized in the form of basketball. And nobody went around saying "I am the alpha female," because that competition was also ritualized.

Meanwhile, in order to leave early to attend this event, I had to have Lawrence come on Thursday to sit with Bow, even though he had just been here on Wednesday. And guess what? Even though on Wednesday, just like every other Wednesday, Bow made a powerful display of his might that lasted a full five minutes before Lawrence was allowed to go in, when Lawrence came on Thursday Bow just shrugged, as if to say: "Yeah, go ahead. Come in."

There was no challenge. There was no rattling of the doors, and Bow's hair did not stand on end. Lawrence could go in, because he hadn't been a stranger. If you came over yesterday, you can come today, too. No problem. Stay away for a whole week, and you are a stranger and have to earn your stripes.

I came home wearing my "cool mom" outfit, and Bow was not impressed. I'm no stranger, so it really doesn't matter what I wear. I'm okay.

That is the secret. There's nothing more to it than that. But  in a society where time is money, few people can afford not to be strangers, even to their own children.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Just Some Thoughts

Bow is not always all that talkative. People sometimes want to know what  he thinks about things he has heard about, but Bow doesn't always share his thoughts with me. Or maybe he doesn't think about everything that I think about.

Someone asked  recently what Bow thought about the election and whether he had a favorite candidate. While I have been pretty vocal about my opinions, Bow has not said anything about his own. He did not express a preference. He didn't share an opinion. Instead, when I became too engrossed in politics, he always directed my thoughts to more practical matters, such as when it was time for a snack, and when I should maybe turn off the computer and put him to bed.

Bow is a pragmatist. He becomes upset sometimes if he feels that something going on in the here and now is not okay. But he does not worry too much about things that have happened far away.

Recently, we heard that Panbanisha has died. It was shocking news to me, for though I do not know her well, I did meet her, and she was someone I sometimes thought of, in the sense that I expected one day soon to see her again. Bow has never met her, but he grew up watching videos of her and Kanzi. He even once said that he wanted Panbanisha to be his girlfriend.

But that was long ago, and when I told him she had died, he didn't say anything. Later somebody asked me: "What did Bow have to say about that?"

I decided to ask him directly today. "You know that Panbanisha died?"

He spelled "yes."

"What do you think about that?"

He took my hand and spelled: למה זה קרה

Translation: "Why did it happen?"

I had to admit that I did not know why it happened. After that, Bow had nothing more to say about it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Windows on the World

This morning, Bow could see through the window in our front door that there was new activity and new faces across the road. So he sent me to investigate.

Some people think we have some kind of camera attached to our house that allows us to be aware of what is going on outside. But no, it's just a front window, and a chimpanzee who hears and sees everything and notices anything unusual that happens.

So off I went with Bow's blessing, to see what I could see. And here is what I saw:

I took a still shot, and I shot some footage and then I took it all back to show Bow.

He looked into my camera and looked at the photo and watched the video. Then I processed the footage and uploaded to Youtube.

After that I decided I would get some footage of Bow looking at the video I shot, so I took the laptop into the pen with Bow to show him the same footage, only much bigger. I wanted everyone to see how this technology gives Bow another window on the world. But guess what? By then he had seen that footage so many times already, that he wasn't interested, anymore. Instead, he got interested in how to use the laptop.

Bow has his own touchscreen computer. A touchscreen should be much easier for him to use, but he never takes interest in the touchscreen, anymore. I keep asking Lawrence: "Did Bow want to use his touchscreen today?" every Wednesday, hoping to hear that Bow has made some progress with his English keyboard. But Bow never asks for his touchscreen and refuses it when it is offered. And he never asks me to use it, either.

Until today, he's been content to watch the videos I select for him to watch on my laptop. But for some reason, today, he found the laptop more interesting than the video.

If only we could somehow harness this fleeting interest!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Life Imitates Art: Bow and Lancelot

Bow is an adolescent male. Not everything he is thinking about is something we are allowed to discuss freely under the Google TOS. Not everything he spells out is fit to print. People sometimes get the impression that Bow is too precious to be real. Believe me, he is not. There's just only so much that I can share. If you are raising an adolescent boy, you probably know what I mean.

All that aside, he can be verbal about things that people assume cannot be articulated. Yesterday, for instance, I was trying to get into the mood to write some more in a swashbuckling type of story that I am working on. I went through my  favorites on  YouTube looking for a song that might express the feelings of my hero. I came across Franco Nero performing "C'est Moi" in Camelot. I put the song on and listened and I was about ready to start writing when Bow started making some sounds of displeasure on his side of the glass.

"What is it?" I asked, going in to check on him.

He took my hand and spelled in Hebrew:       תני לי להרוג אותו
That being translated means: "Let me kill him."

I figured he must mean Lancelot, as there was nobody else he could be referring to. "But why?"

Bow spelled: הוא לא כל כך חזק
"He's not that strong."

Apparently Bow's pride was offended by Lancelot's boast. I couldn't let Bow kill him, but I decided to risk the laptop and let Bow watch the performance close up. Bow responded by displaying his own prowess, but I had to cut out most of that, because it would be "inappropriate." However, I think that you can see by  watching what remains of this video clip that Bow was interested in what Lance had to say, and that he had appropriate gestures and responses in various spots.

Boys will be boys. Displaying, boasting and preening are part of the male repertoire. Someday, perhaps, we will all live in a society that allows us to admit this without losing face or getting in trouble.

In the meanwhile, look at Bow's face at the end of the video. Look at that quiet, knowing smile.  I think he understands the satire.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Stranger Outside May be a Cow

This morning there was a commotion among the dogs, and Bow got up on his highest perch that allows him to see best what is going on in the front yard. He seemed concerned that there might be a stranger on our property.

Bow does not like to have strangers anywhere nearby, and it even bothers him if there are people just outside the property line whom he sees as a possible threat to our territorial integrity.

I told Bow I would go out and see what it was. Here is what I saw.

There were cows in the neighboring field, and they were a little closer to our property line than they usually get. That's all.

Fortunately, when I went back in, I was able to show Bow the footage I had shot, and he was satisfied that the cows posed no real threat to our security. All is right with the world!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Absence of Drama

Bow and I had a very quiet weekend. We had a task to accomplish, and we have accomplished it. We needed to go over the proof of the book Transatlantic Lives. The proof came back to us from the author, marked through in many, many places. We looked it over, and eventually I corrected it. It took three days of intensive work.

Today, after correcting the entire interior, I made a book trailer for Transatlantic Lives. And then when I was done, Bow asked me to spend some time with him. Sometimes he just likes to sit next to me, both of us quiet and still and nothing much happening. Sometimes, he asks to go out, and again nothing much happens. Our lives are marked by a conspicuous lack of drama.

In a novel or a short story, a lack of drama is a serious flaw. Drama is not just something that we look for in plays. Any story requires drama to hold our attention. Epic poems, ballads, and novels all require drama.

 Drama does not merely consist of a list of events that happen in a given sequence. There has to be tension. There needs to be suspense. There are plot points and cliff-hangers and climaxes  and denouements. If we don't have those things, then it's not dramatic.

 One of the peculiar qualities of Transatlantic Lives is that even though the book tells about extremely dramatic historical events and how they impacted the lives of two individuals, the telling of it minimizes the drama, to the point where you almost feel that you are experiencing moments frozen in time, crystallized and preserved in all their stunning detail, but with the drama sucked out.

In this day and age, drama may not be what everyone is looking for, both in their reading material and in the lives that they lead. Many avoid drama, thinking that the word refers to people behaving badly or drawing undue attention to themselves. In common parlance, drama has come to mean melodrama or false hysterics.

I don't mind, at this point in my life, that not every day involves a dramatic turning point. But I sometimes wonder whether Bow might not be missing out on the usual dramas that take place in a chimpanzee social group: males fighting over dominance, coalitions forming, couples forming and going off to mate. These are all good things to have happen in your social group, and I'll readily admit that nothing even resembling that is going on around here.

Some people think that Bow belongs with his own kind and that keeping him from these kinds of interactions is a form of abuse or neglect, because every chimpanzee longs for the drama of natural social group, so that he can practice his social skills and feel that every day is a meaningful, significant plot point in his short, but highly dramatic life.

Yes, in the wild life is much shorter, and much more exciting. And I do feel guilty sometimes that Bow has been deprived of that. If I could, I would provide him with a mate. If I could, I would give him other males to play -- and fight -- with.

But recent criticism of Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has made me realize that the people who want Bow to be sent off to a sanctuary are not actually planning on letting Bow enjoy mating and striving for dominance in a social group.

Sue has been accused of "abusing" the bonobos under her charge because:

   1) She allowed them to be together, and in some cases this involved two or more of the males getting injured in a fight over dominance.

  2) She allowed them to be together, and this has led to copulation and pregnancy.

And now these people are saying that the bonobos should be taken away from Sue and sent to a sanctuary where nothing like that can ever happen.

If depriving a chimpanzee or bonobo of the companionship of his own kind is abusive, and if allowing them to have that companionship is also abusive, then I can't imagine what would not be abusive.

At the moment, Bow and I are pretty content with our undramatic lives. He's not yet eleven, and though he longs for a mate, he would probably not be allowed to mate by other males in his group, if he lived in a social group. In fact, he would probably get beat up a lot, to keep him from mating.

But if the time comes when it's possible to provide Bow with companions of his own kind, I am willing to put up with the drama, for the sake of the fulfillment that would come with it.

What the critics want, however, is very unclear. It's almost as if they are hoping for a utopia where all the fulfillment of striving for happiness comes with none of the drama. I think it's a pipe dream.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's Cold Out

The big thing Bow and I have been thinking about lately is a news item about Sue Savage-Rumbaugh.  We watched a video together in which Sue talked about the situation.

Bow took me to the glass this morning and spelled: "Sue is good." Then he asked to go outside.

It has been getting colder, so I was not sure he really would want to be outside right now, but when I opened the glass door and the mesh door that separated the airlock from the outdoors, Bow gladly went outside and stood there, his hair standing on end, probably from the cold this time. I realized I'd forgotten to get my camera, and I wanted to get a shot of him standing there like that, so I went back inside for a moment to get the camera. When I came back, he jumped right back into the airlock and would not come back out for anything. It was too cold out!

He lay on the concrete and rubbed the bottoms of his feet to warm them up. I tried to persuade him to come out for just a moment, and showed him that my feet were bare, too. But he was not moved. He did not find anything I said to be at all persuasive, and in fact he was kind of bored, which explains the big yawn.

We went right back inside after that!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Everybody needs companionship and a little tactile attention.  When Bow goes out into the backyard in the outer pens, he likes to watch Brownie and Leo at play. They don't just play separately. They interact with each other and even engage in affectionate nuzzling.

Teyman, on the other hand, cannot be in the back yard with Brownie and Leo, because she insists on attacking Leo. So Teyman and I go on our solitary walks around the property.
We watch cows grazing.
Teyman gets petted along the way, so she also does not feel too isolated or forgotten.
Around three-thirty, if Bow wants a snack, he can ask for one. Usually it is an apple, and the redder the better.
After the snack, sometimes Bow grows sleepy. Sometimes he naps. Sometimes, after the nap, he likes to be groomed.

Everybody enjoys a little tactile attention. Bow is no different.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sights and Sounds on an Ordinary Saturday Morning

Lately there have been a couple of incidents with snakes, which I reported on this blog. There have been so many posts about snakes that it might seem to the casual reader that all we ever do around here is interact with snakes.

That's not really true. We have many, many quiet moments when nothing of any great importance seems to be happening. Sometimes Bow gets bored. But most of the time he finds plenty to do, to watch and to listen to.

It is autumn, and the days are pleasant. Bow asks to go outside often. When he is out there, he has a vantage point from which to observe nature and his immediate surroundings. There are many interesting sights and sounds. A chicken announces that it has laid an egg, and everyone is impressed. A bird cackles overhead. A dog whines to get our attention. And then there is Bow, looking on and occasionally adding his two cents worth to the conversation.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Brownie Kills a Snake

Today, a little before lunch, we heard the dogs barking in the back yard. I asked Bow if it would be all right for me to go see what was happening, and he agreed. By the time I got out there, Brownie had caught the snake and was holding it in his mouth, shaking it, dropping it, and then picking it up again and repeating the process. When I first arrived on the scene the snake was alive, but injured. By the time Brownie allowed me to take it from him, it was dead.

Bow had watched all this through the windows of the inner pen. If you listen carefully, you can even hear him vocalize.

Once the snake was dead, I took a photo of it, took it in to show to Bow, and then disposed of it by throwing it out in the field close to our house.

Then I went back in the pen with Bow and showed him the footage I had shot. After seeing the snake killed again in the video, Bow went into a short display. When I reminded him the snake was already dead, he calmed down at once.

I realized afterward that the picture I had shot of the dead snake was not very clear, so after lunch I retrieved it momentarily from the field to try to get better pictures. There were already ants all over it by then. I used a towel as a background for the shot, because it made the markings stand out better.

What kind of snake do you think this is? Here is an article about snakes at the Missouri Department of Conservation site:

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Artichoke

Some foods, they say, are an acquired taste. People have to be socialized into liking them, because these foods do not just jump out at our senses and introduce themselves to us as food. If somebody doesn't tell us, we won't even realize that they are edible. And when we try them, our taste buds feel underwhelmed. But in time, in the right social setting, we may become accustomed to them, and we may even grow to like them.

Artichoke has often been classified as an acquired taste. Last night, I made the experiment of introducing Bow to artichoke.

While Bow did not at first know how to approach the artichoke and had to be coached on how to eat it, he seemed to like the taste of it right away. In time, he found his own way to eat an artichoke.

However, as is often the case with him, Bow did not agree to leave the best for last. Once he figured out that the heart was better than the leaves, he went straight for the heart. And having had his fill, he ate no more.

So while the taste for artichoke was successfully acquired in a single tasting, I don't think Bow will be dining on artichoke again anytime, soon. Artichoke eating at my house is an exercise in deferred gratification. We start with the outermost leaves and work our way up to the heart. If  you can't handle deferred gratification, no artichoke for you!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Snake I Caught

"There's a snake in my room!" Sword announced this afternoon.
When something like this happens, I leave the pens right away, without even asking leave of Bow.
Sure enough there really was a snake in her room. I went to the kitchen to get some paraphernalia to catch it with, and it was still there when I got back.  I managed to pin it down with a spatula, but then it escaped head first into a hole in the wall, with the rest of it trailing after. I had to pull it out by the tail, but when it was all the way out of the hole, I prevented it from turning back on me by pinning it down with the spatula and getting it sandwiched in some kitchenware.

 Then I took it outside to the field to let it go. But it was very reluctant to go anywhere for a long time. I think I must have traumatized it.

Afterwards, I returned to the pen. "I want a snake," Bow spelled.
"I let him go," I replied.
"Don't let him go," he spelled.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bow Reads the Paper

Sometimes we try to impress our kids. We want them to be proud of us, but any attempt to show off usually backfires. They are not impressed with your job, your achievements, and you can forget about blowing them away by having your picture in the paper. They value you only for what you do as a parent.

Bow is no exception to this general rule. Today, an article about Inverted-A Press by Durga Walker appeared on the front page of the Licking News. The article was very good, and a picture of me appeared just above the fold. I thought Bow would like to see it, but no sooner had I handed him the paper than he flipped to another page. It happened so fast, that I didn't get a single shot of him actually looking at the front page.

He seemed to find all the other articles that were not about Inverted-A Press to be much more interesting. Even the classifieds drew his attention.

To keep things in perspective, though, I have to say that he hardly spent any time at all on the picture of someone else he knows and likes who was in the paper, too, in a political ad. Bow likes real life interactions with people. He does not want to read about friends and family in the paper. And his opinion of our worth is not at all swayed by seeing a picture of us in the paper.

However, he does enjoy having a paper to read!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Reply to the Thunder

It has been raining a lot lately. It can go on this way for several days, then a little sunshine, then more rain again. Bow does not like the rainy days. The rain depresses him. The sky stays dark long after the sun would  normally be out, and there's no use going outside, because he hates to get wet.

As much as he does not like the rain, Bow has become resigned to it. Often he just sits and mopes. When he hears thunder in the distance, he does not always become agitated or feel the need to display at it. However, he does feel that at least a short reply to the thunder is in order. After all, we can't let the thunder get the last word!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Breakfast Before Dawn

The days are getting shorter now. The autumnal equinox is behind us. Last night was the Harvest Moon.  In Taiwan they are celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival. In Israel they are celebrating Sukkoth. But here in the Ozarks, it's just another day.

You would think that we would get up when the sun does. That is the natural thing to do. But in a world full of alarm clocks, and with school buses that children have to catch, we get into a certain pattern, and it's hard to break it, even on the weekend. So it is that this morning it was very dark when we had breakfast, Bow and I.

Last night, I took a picture of the harvest moon shining above our house.  Most years I would not have noticed it, or having noticed it, I might not have placed it, thinking "My, the moon is bright tonight," but not quite remembering why.
But since my book, Our Lady of Kaifeng, has just come out, and I have been writing little articles to promote it, I could not remain unaware of the significance of that moon shining over my house.

For Bow, however, this is just another day when we have breakfast before dawn. The grapes are delicious, and all is right with the world.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Little Bit of Nostalgia: Pictures from Years Gone By

My friend Victoria commented on the last post asking about Teyman. This got me looking for a photo of Teyman from the good old days, when Bow was a baby, and Teyman was in good health, roaming the woods and hunting rabbits.

Of course, once I get digging through the old files, I get distracted by a lot of things I hadn't thought of before. So, to feed everybody's curiosity about how things were when I first started Project Bow, I thought I'd share some snapshots from 2002.

 Here in the photo below, we see Teyman, the mighty huntress, emerging from the woods with her prey -- or what's left of it!

Teyman was at this time less than a year old, but she was quite the warrior and bread winner.

Teyman much preferred to hunt for her own food than to eat industrially prepared dog food, and because she left her dog food untouched so often, I didn't have to buy much of it to feed her. On the other hand, she had to be de-wormed often.

In comparison to Teyman, Sword and Bow, during that same period, looked child-like and innocent. Sword at the time was not yet three, and Bow was an infant in arms.

Today, when Sword is a teen and Bow is a headstrong ten year old, but Teyman is an elderly dog in need of special attention,  it seems hard to believe that not so long ago, everything was so different for all of us!

 Can you recognize Bow? I think he still has the same face!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Strange Weather, Strange Thoughts

The weather has been odd lately. Following a drought that killed one of our peach trees, it has been raining recently almost every day, and the grass, which had been dry and wilted, grew green and tall and had to be mowed several times in the past couple of weeks.

At night, sometimes there are thunderstorms. Bow has been waking up in the middle of the night and vocalizing. Once, I asked him why he woke us all at 5:00 am. He told me he had had a bad dream. He was worried.

On days after a bad night, Bow tends to  nap a lot.

Today, he asked to go out to the outer pen after lunch, and there he assumed a motionless position, presumably napping. I took this opportunity to walk Teyman, and during our walk I saw birds of prey circling over our house. This seemed like a bad omen, but as I got closer, I saw they were really hunting for rodents above our pasture.

When I went back in and to the outer pen to check on Bow, he was still kind of dozing. Even after he woke up, he assumed the same position for a long time. When you have been vocalizing and thumping around during the night, you tend to get sleepy and philosophical during the day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Coloring Outside the Lines

Yesterday Sword had a dental appointment, so Lawrence came in even though it was not a Wednesday. The dentist's office is  closed on Wednesdays, so we had no choice but to accept the Monday appointment.

I have been desperately trying to de-clutter the house and I found an old workbook for practicing upper case letters which had been used by Sword when she was in  preschool. It was one of many items we were planning to get rid of. Since some of the pages were blank, I suggested to Lawrence that Bow might like to try his hand at tracing the letters. It is a colorful, attractive booklet with lots of pictures, and Bow likes that sort of thing.

Here is a video of what happened when Lawrence offered this activity to Bow.

In the past, Bow has been rather successful at writing letters freehand. But he does not like to take instruction, or to do as he is told. He has no interest in pirates, and he loves pictures of food. So on the page for writing and recognizing the P, he went straight for the picture of the hamburger instead. The instructions in the booklet were to trace the P, and then later write a P under the picture of something beginning with a P. If you'll notice, Bow does seem to have written an H under the picture of the hamburger. Well, at least there is something that looks rather like an H there.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In the Presence of Snakes

"What do you want Bow?" Bow interrupts me many, many times a day. Sometimes it's obvious what he wants, and at other times what he spells out is surprising.
אני רוצה להרוג נחש
"I want to kill a snake."

He didn't say "there's a snake out there." He just said that he wanted to kill a snake, as if this were a perfectly ordinary desire, and that if I were a good mother I would go and find a snake somewhere, so he could kill it. But Leo was barking outside, and it occurred to me that what he really meant was that there was a snake in the back yard. So I went outside to look. But there was no snake.

This was on Tuesday, August 21. I went back inside, telling Bow there was no snake. He examined my legs. It was a hot day, I was wearing bicycle shorts, and I had a thin scratch from where Leo, who is still quite young, though no longer a puppy, had jumped on me. Bow started to groom my scratch, but Leo began barking insistently. We went outside to the outer pen to see what was going on. Leo was barking next to the trampoline at a remnant of roofing on the ground. I went outside again, and Leo led me to the spot, but still there was no snake.

Here is a video where you can see much of this take place:

That was on Tuesday. Yesterday was Wednesday, and Lawrence spent the day with Bow. At the end of the day he reported seeing a black rat snake near the outer pen, almost within reach. Bow had tried to catch it. "I was surprised he wasn't afraid of it," Lawrence mused. "I wonder what he would have done with it if he had got it."

"I think he would have killed it," I said. "He told me yesterday he wanted to kill a snake."

"Yeah," Lawrence agreed. "Probably he would have killed it."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Registering a Complaint Against the Weather

Bow is not shy about sharing his feelings. If he does not like something, he will let you know. This afternoon it rained and hailed and thundered, and Bow was not pleased. He does not let this kind of opportunity to register a protest against nature pass him by. After protesting for a while, he usually calms down and becomes more philosophical.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Bow Behind the Camera

The disadvantage to using the webcam built into the computer to film Bow is that he likes to look at himself and makes funny faces and doesn't really behave naturally when being filmed. The disadvantage of putting a camera on a tripod and filming Bow, if the camera is in the same pen as Bow, is that Bow gets very interested in manipulating the camera. He would rather take the picture than be in it. Although, frankly, I think what he would really like is to do both.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Disciplinary Issues versus Self-Expression

This week Lawrence will be away on Wednesday, so he came on Monday instead. That was yesterday. Lawrence kept the computer on and available to Bow through the grid throughout the day, but the transcript is mostly blanks, with one possible contribution by Bow for the whole day: the single letter "E".

I can't force Bow to type. Neither can Lawrence. We have to wait for him to want to.

Some people are not convinced. They notice that Bow is potty trained, and there are rules for his behavior with people,  and there are rules about not wasting food, so they don't understand why I can't make him write in a way that demonstrates consistently that he is literate, if indeed he is literate.

"Obviously, the potty training was important to you," one person said to me once, "so you worked hard at it. If getting him to cooperate on testing were equally important to you, you might have gotten him trained to do that."

There is a certain amount of truth to this. If my goal were to have him type preset responses to preset questions perhaps I would have achieved that goal, as many others have working with non-humans and developmentally delayed humans. That was never my goal. My goal was for him to have language, and I believe the goal has been achieved.

My policy in raising Bow was similar to the way I was raised in early childhood. Nobody forced me to talk.  That came naturally. Nobody made me answer questions they already knew the answers to. I wasn't punished or rewarded for my linguistic achievements. Language is its own reward.

On the other hand, I was disciplined, but discipline was about what not to do: don't pee on the floor, don't walk and eat, don't make a mess and expect someone else to clean it up. I mean, I did make messes and other people did clean them up, but as soon as it was practically possible for me to minimize the amount of work others had to do to clean up after me, I was expected to cooperate in this regard, and there were consequences if I didn't.

Non-negotiable demands that I make on Bow are disciplinary. Don't bite people. Don't pee on the floor. Don't waste food. I enforce these rules because they make our living together possible. Bow isn't independent yet, and it makes sense that to the extent that he can, he help to make it easier for those who take care of his needs to do so with the greatest of ease.

Every once in a while, Bow tries to get around one of the rules. This morning, he left about three half eaten grapes on his plate and asked for cereal. I said: "Bow, finish the grapes."

He wouldn't, and, of course. I couldn't make him, so I just refused to serve him the cereal until he did eat them. I also explained the reason for the rule: "You've ruined those grapes for anyone else. No one is going to want to eat them. That's wasteful."

Did he understand? It doesn't really matter. He saw that I was not going to serve the cereal until he finished the grapes, so eventually he did finish them. And he got the cereal. And then he asked for a peach, and he got the peach. So everything turned out okay, and Bow did not starve, and yet the rule about not wasting food stood.

But how could I insist that he type something, if I didn't actually tell him what to type? And if I told I told him what to type, in what way would that be language? Wouldn't it be more like a dictation class?

Of course, he was spelling out words the whole time he was asking for food, but not on the computer. Why don't I just take down the letters from the glass and make the computer the only way to communicate? In my case, I have a good excuse: we would lose Hebrew. But what about Lawrence? Why don't we take the English letters off the glass and just leave Bow with the computer for talking? I asked Lawrence about that once, and he thought it was a bad idea.

Why? Because Lawrence comes once a week and has to wait for Bow to let him into his good graces. Because the current communication system works so well, and there is going to be a lot of frustration and anger on Bow's part if we deny him the security of holding our hands. But most of all, because we hope that Bow will want to use the computer in the same way that he wants to spell with us, so that he will use it as a mode of self-expression and not as a system of tasks and rewards.

This afternoon, Bow asked to go outside. I agreed, and I opened the door for him, but he changed his mind and would not go out. When I asked him why, he replied:

סתם חם שם

That means "It's just hot there." But it was an odd sounding phrase because all three words rhymed. A moment after spelling this, Bow added:


"Rhyme." He was making a comment on the linguistic form of his earlier utterance.

This is the kind of thing that distinguishes rote training from spontaneous language use. I want Bow to do it on the computer, too. I just don't think I can force him.