Search This Blog

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!