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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Cultivated Rose among Wild Roses

Every year, around Valentine's Day or sometimes on Mother's Day, we get some potted miniature roses. When they start doing poorly indoors in their pot, we plant them outside. I don't actually have any gardening skills, so everything that I plant is overrun with the wild variety. That's how this miniature red rose found itself surrounded by wild roses.

I didn't plant the wild roses. They came here on their own and they are taking over wherever no resistance is offered.

The bloom of the cultivated rose is bigger and more elaborate and artful.

It is a more obviously attractive flower.

 But the wild roses are stronger and more plentiful and they attract more insects.

Even in our untended pasture, the wild roses are taking over.

But for the time being in our little flower garden, the cultivated roses and the wild are living side by side.
Some people think that it has to be either or -- wild or cultivated. But I think we should have both. It's nice to have a cherry tree that gives big fruit. But somehow no little cherry trees sprout from its dropped seeds.

On the other hand, our wild fields are full of blackberry bushes that got there by themselves. Nobody planted them, and nobody watered them, but there are more than enough blackberries in the pasture every year when they ripen to feed entire families.

It's good to plant things and grow them by the sweat of your brow, but how much sweeter it is when things grow by themselves and spread and multiply and need no help from us.

I very much support the idea that the cultivated and the wild varieties can live side by side.  People think that chimpanzees are wild, so they cannot live among us. But there are ways to make it work. I not only spend a lot of time with Bow interacting with him, I also get a lot done that is not specifically to do with Bow while we are together. Productivity need not suffer due to proximity.

Bow enjoys relationships with many different people, but we cannot all go in at the same time.When I am in the pens with Bow, we enjoy a close relationship that includes grooming

But Bow also is on very good terms with Lawrence.

Sometimes, it is not safe for someone to go in with Bow, but they still maintain playful relationships. Leo likes to play chase with Bow, even though he does not get to go into  the pen.

The cultivated and the wild varieties can grow and thrive together. It's not always either/or. Sometimes it can be both.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Flowers and the Bees

We live surrounded by nature on all sides, and it is spring, and everything is blooming.

It seems every day that there is some new kind of  flower blooming that wasn't the day before.

The latest to bloom are the peonies.

Under these circumstances, perhaps it is not surprising that there are bees as well. But bees in the fields and the flower beds are one thing, and bees in the pens are something else.

 Yesterday, we were visited by three separate bees in succession who decided to invade the sanctum of the inner pens. I had to remove them by capturing and releasing each in turn.

Here is some footage of the capture of the first bee:

And here is how I released it outside.

Even though Bow and I don't get to go away for holidays anymore, our lives are full of these small adventures. There is always somebody new coming to visit us, even if it is only a snake or a bee. And while we can't always welcome them with open arms, we do try to escort them safely home.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Enjoying the Little Moments

Day by day, there is enough going on here to keep Bow engaged and interested in things that happen all around us. If there is no actual snake to show up, there are always Leo's zany antics to keep us all amused. Leo is still very much a puppy, though fully grown now. His imagination sometimes creates drama where there is none. For instance, he barks at phantom occupants of an empty garbage bin.

There was nothing in that bin --  I checked! That was on Tuesday. Other things that happened on Tuesday: Bow went into the outer pen, but refused to step on the wet concrete. He has infinite patience and a gymnast's agility -- plus the absolute determination not to get his feet wet.

Eventually, he got on the swing and used it as a platform from which to vocalize.

These are fun things to do, whether or not you have companions of your own kind to keep you company. But in any case, Bow is not alone. I am there with him twelve hours a day, every day, except on my day off, which is usually Wednesday. That's when Lawrence comes in. 

Bow enjoys Lawrence's company immensely, but Lawrence does not get to go in with Bow until Bow decides it is all right. Bow sometimes spends as long as fifteen minutes displaying at him, before he calms down and allows Lawrence to go in. Their day together then proceeds along leisurely lines, sometimes playing and wrestling, sometimes grooming, and often just sitting around together as two buddies will, watching the world go by.

Meanwhile, I am off running important errands, such as purchasing bananas at the local grocery store. Yesterday, I bought twice as many of the green bananas there as I usually do, because last week I didn't buy many. Last week I had my day off on a Tuesday, on account of the talk at the Dent County Historical Society, and the new shipment of bananas always comes on a Wednesday. So even though I dropped by the store on my day off, all that was left were overripe bananas with brown spots.

When the lady at the counter saw how many bananas I was getting yesterday, she asked: "Is Bow having company over?" At first, I thought she meant Lawrence, and I was going to say yes. But then I realized she meant another chimpanzee. She thought I might be getting extra bananas for a guest chimp.  I had to admit that alas, no, although it would have been great for Bow to have a guest of his own kind, I was just making up for the week before.

We are surrounded by a beautiful natural setting. The pens are big enough to accommodate two. But though he is not yet acquainted with any other chimpanzees, Bow is not alone. And day by day, life is good.

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Theodosia and the Pirates by Aya Katz

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by Aya Katz

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Monday, May 20, 2013

My Hopes for Bow

Day by day, Bow is a pretty happy fellow. He's safe in his family relationships. He has people who are consistently there for him, and he enjoys good food. Here is Bow eating an avocado at lunch yesterday.

However, I am not unaware that some things still have to be taken care of in order for Bow's life to be fully, completely whole: he needs a place in a social group and he needs a mate or mates. He no longer asks specifically for a girlfriend, and he seems pretty happy with his lot, but I am not oblivious to the issue.

Every once in a while, someone from a sanctuary contacts me, ostensibly because they are concerned about Bow's well-being. At first, when this used to happen, I was hopeful that maybe they would be willing to send  someone of his own kind to keep company with Bow, whether temporarily or permanently. But with time I learned to understand the social reality: they are not calling to give me a chimp. They want to take one away from me.

American sanctuaries for chimpanzees do not allow them to breed. Their purpose is to warehouse what they consider to be a "surplus' chimpanzee population until such time as the last of them dies out, of old age. That they do this in the name of humane treatment is disturbing. That they think of themselves as conservationists is absurd.

My attitude to this question is very different from that of my predecessors in ape language research. Typically, the researchers were people who looked at their research subjects as disposable after the experiment was over. Herbert Terrace had little compunction about returning Nim to the Lemmon Farm, and neither did the Gardners with Washoe. These were ape language researchers who relied heavily on others to raise the chimpanzee in their experiment and did not take on a parental role to their charge.

Typically, the people who really cared about the chimpanzee in question, Roger Fouts with Washoe or Robert Ingersoll with Nim, were not as into the language research. They simply enjoyed the company of chimpanzees, had good rapport with them, and were chosen to work with the chimpanzee for that reason. Later, when they saw how much damage was done to Nim and Washoe by their abandonment, these people were converted from researchers to conservationists. They began to argue that nobody should work with chimpanzees on language again, because it is inhumane.

What was done to Washoe and Nim was inhumane, but not because of the language part. It was wrong to take a child -- any child -- and to adopt and then discard, as if they were only so much equipment once the experiment was over.

My relationship to Bow and to the research is different. Of course, I want my research published. It is a very big breakthrough. But I also care personally about Bow. I am not abandoning him just because he is not a source of funding for me. At the same time, I do see that he needs more than what he currently has. And what I want for him is not only right for him as an individual -- but also is what is the best possible hope for all chimpanzee kind.

When we read about Nim and Washoe, in the books written from the perspective of the Jane Goodall Foundation -- and let's face it, all the recent books have that bias -- we are taught to look down on the researcher, to root for his conservationist lowly assistant, and to despise and loathe as if he were a demon the breeder who made the experiment possible in the first place. We read about the horrors of the Lemmon Farm, and we conveniently forget that if not for the Lemmon Farm,  Nim would never have even existed and Washoe would not have had a place to go. Nim was not stolen from Africa. He was made in America. Washoe, though African born, was given an opportunity to become a mother on the Lemmon Farm. That the Lemmon Farm was a less than ideal place is unfortunate. But this should not cause us to vilify all breeders.

By all means, let us support true conservationist efforts in Africa, to the extent that they allow chimpanzees to live free. But this does not require us to forget American chimpanzees and their right to full lives and to a future in this country, living among humans. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Just Another Snake

The long winter is finally over. And we have gone straight to summer. On May 14. when I gave my talk at the Dent County Historical Society, the temperature outside was around ninety. Yesterday, at Orchard House I spotted flowers in full bloom that should have waited a while to get there.

And today in the pen, snake season officially began. It was really just such a small snake that Bow was not even concerned about it.

I went outside into the back yard to look at the snake from the other direction, and as I came up, Bow was trying to touch it. I asked him not to.

I went to get some tongs and a container to put the snake in, so that I could transport it further away from the house, where neither Bow nor the dogs would bother it. But when I started to move the snake, the dogs wanted to take it away from me, and I had to tell them "no!" several times, before I had the snake tucked safely away in the container.

I took the snake out into the field and released it. It may come back later, but in the meantime it can hunt rodents unmolested by our dogs.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Pomegranate Tree

We have a bedtime routine, Bow and I. When it is time for Bow to go to sleep, I take all the folding furniture out of my side of the pen, tidy things up, turn out the lights, and then hand Bow his blanket. Bow lies down on his blanket and then I sing him a song. The song is called עץ הרימון -- "The Pomegranate Tree." I am not a good singer, but Bow tolerates my singing, and he relaxes on his blanket and listens. Sometimes I think that he is listening for his name, which appears in these lyrics:

  שב אל הקשת שב החץ
שב הרימון אל ראש העץ
Returned to the Bow returned is the arrow,
Returned is the pomegranate to the top of the tree.

Because of recent changes in the weather, I have been experiencing some allergies, which make my voice hoarse. Today, as I was singing to Bow, my voice broke and I started to cough. Bow, who had been relaxing on his blanket, immediately got up, gave me a big kiss on my cheek, and then patted me on the back, as if clearing my airway. Then he went right back to lie down on the blanket, and I finished singing the song.

Bow is so supportive!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Spring in Action

We have been having a very unusual spring. On the one hand, everything is blooming.

On the other hand, today is the fourth of May, and this morning it snowed.

Admittedly, it was not much snow, and it did not stick to the ground, but still it was very cold, and when it melted it left a lot of water on the floor of the outer pens. Bow decided he wanted to go out anyway. But on no account was he going to get his feet wet.

When it comes to wet concrete Bow is very cautious, watching his step. But he does not allow the bad weather to keep him from enjoying the day.