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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Raising Your Voice

Despite the cold, Bow asks to go outside every day. He has a sweater and socks and clothes he could choose to wear, but he never does. He wants to go out as he is. And while he does not stay out for long, he does seem to accomplish a lot.

One of his favorite things to do is to express himself. First he looks around to see what he can see.

But then he does not wait very long to make his own contribution.

Bow's cries can be heard a long way away. Some people yodel. Bow just vocalizes. Then when he is done he can relax and enjoy the view.

And when Bow feels that he has accomplished all that can be accomplished, he takes that leap back inside, without ever touching the ground.

Does Bow go outside primarily to express himself? Is it because he can use his outdoor voice and it can carry well beyond the borders of our property? Is he sending a message to someone out there, or merely enjoying the sound of his own voice?

Many years ago, someone asked me whether I write in order to express myself or to communicate with others. At the time, I thought it an odd question. What would be the point of expressing myself, if I did not hope others would read and understand? What would be the point of communicating with others, if you were not allowed to express yourself in that communication?

But one of the things I have realized in the past thirteen years is that while communication and self-expression are related and often intertwined, they actually are separable. I am inclined to think that self-expression predates communication. I believe that reciprocity is overrated. Some messages go only one way. Sometimes you broadcast, but never receive. Like a baby's cry, which indicates a want, our most important ways of expressing ourselves go out, whether there is an appropriate audience or not. If the baby is lucky, his call will be heeded by a person who understands the want being expressed. Then self-expression will blossom into communication. But even so, every communication starts out as one-sided. In order to receive the self-expression of someone else, we have to stop speaking long enough to hear the other.

Bow always comes in from his outdoors sessions with a self-satisfied expression. He has said what he had to say. And whether or not his message was received, he feels much better.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bow's Green Shirt

As if all the gifts he received for his birthday were not enough, Bow got a green net shirt from Lawrence this Wednesday.

For some reason, Bow prefers to keep his head hidden within the shirt when he wears it.

It's not that Bow has never worn clothes. He did wear them for the first five years of his life. And it's not that the opening for the head in the shirt is too small. It's plenty big enough. But this is how Bow chooses to wear the shirt, and his preferences are entirely up to him.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Venturing Out

Yesterday was such a great day for Bow, that he did not even ask to go outside once, and he did not mind the snow at all. He had a party, guests and great food. There was no time to feel cooped up. Some of that carried over this morning, because there were still presents to open and play with.

There was the balloon that Laurie had given Bow.

There was his new berber carpet mat. It looked just like the carpet in the living room.

And then there was the brand new pair of socks I got him.

However, late in the afternoon, all this novelty began to wear off, and Bow asked to go outside. I said okay, but I did not really think he would go through with it, because there was still snow. Lots of snow.

Bow surprised me. Without once touching the ground, he went out.

He admired the view. He sampled the snow on the horizontal support.

He turned this way and that, but he never once set foot on the ground.

And when he decided it was time to come back inside, he did so with one quick bound, landing safely indoors.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Bow's Thirteenth Birthday

It snowed last night, and this morning the world was covered in a white blanket as Bow looked forward to his special day.

There was no possibility of going outside, and I also thought that any special deliveries scheduled for today might not be delivered. I seriously doubted that the small birthday party I had planned for him would take place, as many of the roads were impassable. But it was Bow's birthday, so we started the day with an early morning breakfast pear.

Bow took his time, savoring the birthday breakfast treat,

Bow napped a little during the late morning after breakfast, but he also saw me make many preparations, and he knew what to expect. Just before lunch, despite my unplowed driveway, a delivery arrived for "BOW KATZ": two boxes of luxury pears.

At this point, Bow was thinking the party should start, and all during lunch he kept looking out toward the front door, expecting guests. "What's he looking at?" my daughter asked, "He knows it's his birthday, and he's expecting all his friends to come by." "What friends?"

I told Bow that the party wasn't starting till two, but it was actually delayed until two thirty, because getting here was that hard. Our guests were Lawrence and his two daughters, Miriam and Laurie. Bow was very excited!

Bow was fully engrossed by the birthday song for a moment, but before it was over, he was already waiting for cake. After the cake, Bow was just a little overwhelmed by having so many people here at once. He was happy to see them, but he was overstimulated. Bow handles good things better when they are one at a time. So Sword invited Miriam and Laurie to her room, and Bow became much more calm with Lawrence as the only guest. After that, Bow decided on his own when to summon each of the girls separately so he could focus on each with greater clarity in a one on one encounter.

When Miriam appeared alone, Bow could appreciate her all the more.

Smelling people's socks is always a good way to get to know them better.

Laurie wanted to show Bow the feather Sword gave her, but Bow was not impressed. However, by now he was relaxed enough to take a rest on the floor even though there was still company. By the time the party was over, Bow was very relaxed.

This was such an eventful birthday, that Bow did not even find time to open most of his presents, and he did not ask to play with the balloon Laurie gave him. But that just means there will be plenty more to celebrate tomorrow!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Bow is about to turn thirteen this month. This is an important birthday. In prehistoric, Biblical and aboriginal cultures, when a boy turned thirteen, it meant he was ready to be a man. It's kind of true for chimpanzees, too.

One sign of Bow's maturity is his frequent displays. But another sign of maturity is that he can decide that he's displayed enough, and it is time to move on. When Bow is done with that, nothing that Leo contrives in order to re-ignite him is going to work. Bow has self-control.

After active exercise, many lazy hours are spent enjoying a nap in the sun. Bow is secure in the knowledge that his needs are provided for and that he is a valued member of the family.

Lately I have been reminiscing about how all this began.

Bow was a month old when he came to join our family. He was completely helpless at the time. In a few months, he learned to walk.

Early development in chimpanzees is much faster than in humans, and Bow has always been a natural gymnast.

Bow traveled with us to New Hampshire to attend a linguistics conference, and he has always been very affectionate, adventuresome, but careful not to fall into water.

When Bow moved into the pens, that is when he became most literate, and yet he never ceased to be part of the family. 

Because we depend in part on the sales of books, I encourage anyone who has a small child in the family and another child on the way to buy the story of how my daughter first met Bow. A new baby in the family -- human or not -- can be a big adjustment.

But did you know that you can help in other ways? If you follow the link to Amazon, you can vote down the negative "review" posted there by an animal rights activist. Commitment to a chimpanzee -- or to any other creature or person in your life -- means not abandoning them as they grow and develop and change through different stages. Not everyone is capable of that kind of commitment. Sometimes people who cannot commit try to make trouble for people who can.

Was that person's negative experience inevitable? What would be the most compassionate way to respond to those remarks? Sometimes I think I should write a book about potty training. How many people have failed to get through that one stage of development with their chimpanzee or their human child? How much unhappiness is still just a result of not being able to get over that one little hurdle? Would that poor reviewer have had a completely different experience with their own chimpanzee if only they had had a little guidance in that one area of life?

As it is, Bow is well trained, but he also has constant companionship. This means I have to be in the pens twelve hours a day to supervise, and he is never alone, because when I am not there, he has Lawrence. 

Sometimes people ask me how I can stand to be so cooped up. In fact, it was much harder at first, in 2007, when Bow first was confined,  than it is now, eight years later. I have grown used to our living arrangement, as has Bow, and we have found ways to accommodate each other's needs to not always be engaged in the same activity while spending our time together. Life in the pens is good.