Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sharing my Writing with Bow

A certain renowned ethologist has recently come up with a new book on the evolution of morality for a popular audience. Standing far, far away from the chimpanzees he studies, he observed them pick up his book, glance at it, and then throw it down. He even took a picture -- from a safe distance.

I also have just come up with a book for a general audience. The book is called Theodosia and the Pirates,  and though it is just fiction, it contains a lot of truth. Even some truth about morality, the evolution of morality, and how language and non-verbal communication actually work.

Much of what is in the book is what I have always believed. But there are certain contributions that Bow has made to my writing. For instance, the sequences surrounding Theodosia's pleasure cry come from my analysis of how involuntary vocalizations -- in Bow's case, those about food -- are for the benefit of others, not the individual crying out.

It is only after working with Bow that I have come to fully appreciate that intentional communication is full of lies, but unintentional non-verbal cues are the way nature provided for others to learn the truth despite the deceit of the speaker.

While all of the intellectual giants in the universities are lauding the ways in which the weak are protected in moral societies, my book deals with survival issues, and how it is that exposure to disease strengthens populations, while being sheltered from disease weakens.

I am not a Biblical moralist, but I do think that we can see the evolutionary reason why in the ten commandments there is a provision for honoring one's father and mother, but no provision for taking care of babies and the young.

Not only  has Bow helped me to understand many of these issues of emerging morality, I share my discoveries with him by  reading what I have written aloud.

Bow can be a harsh critic at times. But I do not shelter myself from his criticism. If he disagrees with a position I have taken, he can tell me to my face.

Watch his eyes as I read the book. Who do you think he favors as the better philosopher: Aristotle or Benjamin Franklin?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Our Plans for Orchard House

If the first day of spring seemed a little bit nippy, the second day was downright arctic.

March 21, 2013 started out normally enough, and by the time of Bow's afternoon snack, I was not aware of any snow. Bow was so nice to me that afternoon! He shared part of his snack with me.

But when Sword came home from school, it was already snowing, and  by dinner time, the snow was coming down strong. In the short video below, Bow was napping on a full belly from his snack of sweetened pecans, when I looked out the window at the snow.

When Bow realized it was supper time, he handed me the rug, and I went to get the meal ready.

The nuts left over from Bow's snack were part of his meal.

After Bow had gone to bed, I observed many of the sights around our property.

I went for a walk around the house and ended up sniffling a little in the snow.

You can see why I had the sniffles in the picture below.

Afterwards, I drove to Orchard House. This is what it looked like.


Orchard House was a house that I bought in order to house the interns who came to work with Bow. They were volunteers who worked for no salary, but they needed a place to stay. Many of the scenes in our Project Bow videos were shot at Orchard House. For instance the one with Carrie Stengel. Carrie was a Spring Intern with Project Bow, and you can see by the background that in those days, spring was really spring. But this year spring looked very different.

After the interns stopped coming, when I realized that introducing Bow to new people was not practical, for a time Orchard House remained vacant. We held a few birthday parties for Sword there, but on the whole it was a drain on the finances. Recently, I rented Orchard House out. That was a nice arrangement, but the tenants moved out unexpectedly, and again we have an empty house on our hands.

I will probably have to sell Orchard House. But until it sells, I have a plan of turning it into an internet cafe. It will be open during those hours in the evening when Bow is asleep. There will be free internet access, and I will be serving snacks like ice cream, coffee and hot chocolate. It will give me and my daughter a chance to socialize outside the presence of Bow, who sometimes tries to veto our choice of friends. But hopefully it will also add to our income, or at the very least help defray the cost of keeping a second house.

When I took pictures that night, on the second day of spring, of the swing at Orchard House, a strange optical illusion appeared in some of them.

Was it a ghostly apparition or an alien come to visit? Probably not.

By the time I drove home, the light was fading. But if our plans for an internet cafe go through as planned, we will be making that drive quite often. Hopefully not in the snow, though. Spring is bound to come eventually!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The First Day of Spring

Yesterday was the first day of spring. It snowed a little in the morning, but that did not last long.

Lawrence came by as usual, because it was Wednesday. But because he had seen him as recently as Monday, Bow did not display at him. Instead, he was calm and happy to see Lawrence, and Lawrence was able to go in with him immediately.

While this is not in the nature of a great scientific discovery about chimpanzees, and it ought to be well known to anyone who has ever worked with a chimpanzee, it is still worth repeating: to do well with Bow, you need consistent and frequent contact. The absence of a day is not a big problem, but if you are away for a week, you are already a bit of a stranger. That's why people who used to have good relationships with a chimpanzee but went away for a prolonged period of time cannot come back and expect to be greeted with open arms. I believe a lot of tragedies could be averted if everyone were aware of this fact.

The human attitude toward time, distance and strangers has changed a lot since prehistoric times. But we would all do well to realize that long absences do change relationships and that absence does not, in most cases, make the heart grow fonder.

In the afternoon,  Sword and her friend came over to study French and then go to their music lesson together, and Bow got to have a nice chat with Sword's friend. He was calm, well-behaved and happy as he greeted her.

Wednesdays are my days off so that I can accompany Sword and her friend to their lesson. It is always a treat for me to visit the Dabney Farm, which I honestly feel is a magical place. Yesterday, as we drove up, we saw Trixie, the milk cow, grazing peacefully in the front yard.

I stopped to take some pictures. There was an American flag on the front balcony, and in the yard the cow was grazing. It was such a pretty sight.

When we all came in the front door, Jill Dabney, the music teacher, greeted us with this question: "Did you see our lawn mower?" At first, I was confused, for I had seen a cow, but not a lawn mower. Then I realized that she meant Trixie. As the girls started their vocal warm up exercises, I went up front to get a closer look at the lawn mower.

Wouldn't it be great to have a lawn mower who not only cuts your grass down short, but also converts what she has eaten into milk?

Later during the music lesson, Jill noticed that Trixie had come up to the door. Jill went out and asked her: "Have you had enough? Do you want to go back?" And the cow mooed an assent.

"We have an arrangement," Jill explained to me. "Trixie is free to walk around and graze all she wants, and when she is done she goes back and feeds the calf."

But the animals are not the only  magic I observed at the Dabney Farm yesterday. Even their flag seems to furl and unfurl in response to the music!

When I came home to relieve Lawrence, Bow was happy and content, and I was thoroughly refreshed.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Different Routine

Since Lawrence had missed two Wednesdays in the recent past, and since Theodosia and the Pirates has just come out and I have to prepare for a book signing on April 2, Lawrence and I decided to make up the lost Wednesdays, starting with this Monday.

Bow was happy and surprised to see Lawrence Monday morning, although he displayed at him as usual. But this change in routine got Bow confused later on in the day. If Lawrence was here, he thought, then it must be a Wednesday. So that means that Sword's friend would be coming over after school -- something that only happens on Wednesdays. When Sword came home from school and the friend was not with her, Bow got very upset. Sword's friend always stops by to say hi to Bow and tells him about her day.

"Bow, it's not Wednesday," Lawrence explained. "That girl only comes on Wednesdays. Today is not Wednesday. So she won't come today. But she will come on Wednesday, as usual."

Bow immediately calmed down. But Lawrence wanted to make sure he understood. So he asked: "Did you understand what I said, Bow?"

Bow spelled: "Yes. The girl is not coming today."

After that, everything was fine, and Lawrence and Bow did their usual things.

Yesterday, a Tuesday, was just an ordinary day. Nobody dropped by. But that is okay, because Bow can amuse himself for hours with his rug.

Bow has devised many ingenious games that he plays with his rug. He never runs out of ideas.

And today is Wednesday, so Lawrence will be here again, and Bow has much to look forward to!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bow Helps Proof "Theodosia and the Pirates"

I am getting ready to publish a new book. The artwork is ready and the cover is set, but I am still doing some last minute proofing of the interior. As always, Bow is eager to help.

When he sees me holding a pen and marking errors, Bow wants to join in. I only let him mark the title and "Other Books by Aya Katz" pages with his corrections, though, because I don't always agree with him about what needs to be corrected. He's a bit pickier than me and finds fault with things that I think might be all right.

I'm not sure exactly what Bow was getting at with the markings he made above, but it could be that he wants me to write more books for children and fewer novels.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Beautiful Spring Weather

After a very snowy start, March has suddenly turned spring-like. Two days after the snow thawed, the daffodils came out.

My daughter is visiting her grandmother, so she missed the flowers. Bow, who did not get to see Lawrence this week, either, was sad to see Sword go. "I have just mommy," he told me.

When the weather is fine, Bow gets to go outside. It's nice not to be stuck indoors all the time. This morning,  Bow went out, and he got very enthusiastic about letting everyone out there hear his greeting.

It's almost spring. Can anybody doubt it?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Celebrate: Good News and No News

In the world of bad legislation, no news is good news. We are unlikely to see headlines that say "Bad Bill Defeated Once and For All." Instead, bills that don't get passed die quiet deaths. They don't make it out of committee. They don't get placed on any calendar. Nobody ever votes on them.

Bow and I were on pins and needles for a while there, but all our friends in the field have confirmed it: nothing happened with Missouri HB284. And in the world of bad legislation, nothing is golden.

"Hearing not scheduled" and "Bill currently not on a House calendar" is the best that we can hope for. We are content.

But think of all the energy and hard work that had to go into making this "nothing" happen! I would like to thank the people who testified before the committee, and all those who wrote and sent emails and faxes and who called to help defeat HB284. And I want to thank those who remain ever vigilant, lest this same legislation get tacked onto some other bill.

There is something broken with our system when people have to work so hard to keep a bad law from being enacted. It should be easier to repeal a law than it is to enact one. But in the current political world, we are always on the defensive. Ordinary citizens minding their own business don't have time to fight back. We can barely hold our ground.

But anyway, today we celebrate. And what are we celebrating? That thankfully, so far, nothing bad has happened! Let the celebrations begin! And thanks everybody!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Phone Calls to the Government: HB284 and Bow

Today, I could be doing any number of productive things. But instead, I have a list of twenty-one phone numbers that I am supposed to call. Last year SB666 was defeated. This year, it has been resurrected as HB284. Today, around 1:00 pm, the Committee on local government will meet to vote on the bill. They will listen to the testimony of people who have something to say on this subject. But I can't go. I don't have a chimp sitter. Instead, Bow gets to listen to me make twenty-one phone calls pleading for our lives.

It sounds exciting, but it really isn't. Most of the time I talk to machines, and I repeat the same things, and for Bow, having to witness this is very boring.

If you would like to read the bill and decide for yourself, you can find it here:


If you don't have the patience to read through all that, here is a summary as it pertains to non-human primates: they would be subject to licensing, owners would have to pay a licensing fee to an agency that would oversee their housing and care, and a host of other requirements, including newly promulgated regulations not subject to a legislative vote that would be foisted on us whenever the powers that be saw fit.

It would be similar to having to get a license to keep your child, pay a fee each year to continue to keep your child, open your home to inspections, have to remodel every time they tell you to, all under severe penalties -- the worst of which would be losing your child.

So who is behind this legislation? Is it the people of Missouri? No. It's an outside sponsor -- HSUS -- that has been funneling foreign funds into many states in order to bring about an agenda that would make it very difficult for any human to have a meaningful relationship with another animal.

We have to be polite and articulate when we talk to the representatives in charge of our destiny. We have to sound reasonable. But there are some things that should not even be open to vote on. What private people do in their own homes is one of them.

So when I call the representatives, I don't just ask them to put a stop to this particular bill. I ask them to make sure that no one ever brings up another bill like this ever again. The specifics of the bill are not the issue. It's the principle that matters.

Here are the numbers to call if you would like to help:

Committee: Local Government
Chair: Gatschenberger, Chuck - (Rep-108)
Vice Chair: Schieber, Ronald-(Rep-14)
Date: Monday, March 04, 2013
Time: 1:00 PM
Location: House Hearing Room 5

Legislative Assistant: Yolanda Murphy
Phone: 573-751-3572



Phone: 573-751-0232

Phone: 573-751-2238



Phone: 573-751-9628








Anne Vogel
Phone: 573-751-2565

Phone: 573-751-9766




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.