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Monday, April 27, 2015

The Fruit Ripens Slowly

The other day, I was talking with my daughter in the living room, and she interrupted what I was saying to remark: "Look at the funny face Bow is making." But when I turned around to look, I didn't see Bow at all. "Where is he?" I asked.

I was on the couch with my back to the pens, and Sword was facing the inner pen. When we sit in the living room, Bow usually climbs up on the spars to keep up with us. There is a window opening onto the living room from the pen, and he can see and hear everything.

"He was up there just a moment ago," she told me, "making a funny face, But when you turned around, he disappeared."

We kept talking, and it happened again. He made a face at Sword, but when I turned to look he was nowhere to be seen. After about three repetitions, I went back inside to talk to Bow. I asked him what he wanted.  תני לי לדבר עם דודה חרב. "Let me talk to Lady [Aunt] Sword."

"I'm not his aunt!" from the living room she protested.

In Hebrew, the word for aunt is also used to designate grown women, especially when talking to children, the same way in English we might say "look at that lady". Bow has taken to referring to himself as an "uncle" whenever he wants to make it clear that he is not a baby, anymore.

"I don't think he meant it that way," I said to Sword. "I think he means that he knows you are practically grown up."

Reluctantly, she came and sat by him for a moment of silent communion on the other side of the pen door. This seemed to satisfy him. Bow does not like being ignored, but he does not necessarily ask for very much by way of intellectual interaction.

Bow making a friendly face in the outer pen
They are growing up so fast! She has only two more years of high school ahead of her before she starts her independent life. And he will also be an adult soon, in about five more years. And that's part of what it means when you take on the project of raising a child or a chimpanzee: that it takes time, and early on in the experiment, it seems they will never grow up and things are moving so slowly, but by imperceptible  tiny  leaps and bounds they do grow and change so that they seem to become something completely different from what they were at the start.

Bow looking thoughtful though amused

I used to miss the intermediate stages of the fruit on the trees ripening, too. I mean, I would notice the blossoms, and then a little later in the season, I would notice that the fruit was ripe. But exactly how this magic happened was beyond me. I was too busy to look at the trees every day.

an unripe cherry emerging from the blossom

Now I can see how the cherries emerge from the spent flowers.

Two cherries growing in opposite directions

I notice that while one tree is busy growing cherries, the other still sports some late blooming blossoms, because no two are on exactly the same schedule.

I can see the little fringe of flower left at the top of the pears as they ripen.

The pears seem to wear a flower crown

And I notice how the little fuzzy peaches emerge from the bloom.

Fuzzy peaches wear their spent flowers like a hula skirt

I even notice the mystery fruit on our mystery tree when it is looking more like an olive than the plum it will become.

Can you spot the mystery fruit in this picture?
There are seasons in life, and each brings with it its particular rewards. I plan to savor all of them! But you can't wait till the last moment to set out on an eighteen year trip. You have to allot the needed time for the journey. And sometimes we are more mindful, and other times we don't notice, yet the fruit ripens either way.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Calmer Pointing and Persistence

I have been persisting in giving Bow only my smallest finger to hold onto when he spells, and this is working well, although not necessarily from the perspective of actual proof. A side effect of his having only a very small part of me to hold onto is that Bow is gentler and more calm when he writes. Before, he had started to squeeze my hand a lot, when he was asking for something he really wanted and thought he might not get. Now Bow is calmer and seems more responsible in his pointing. It creates more of a clear differentiation between him and me, what he wants, and what I want.

Bow enjoying a salad that consists of peas in the pod, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and Texas toast croutons
He had gotten to the point, as a teenager, where he did not even want to say anything, anymore,  unless he was sure he would get what he wanted, so that asking and receiving became one and the same thing. He would spell "give me an X" and then for good measure he would spell  "Yes". As if by saying that, he would get me to say "yes." But now he has stopped doing that.

I don't know whether you have noticed in the videos, but both Bow and I are right handed, and when he spells on the glass, he takes my left hand in his right. Now that he only gets a very small part of that hand to work with, it is even more obvious that I cannot be the power behind the movement.

Bow enjoying a homemade brownie
I baked some brownies for the high school choir concert bake sale, and Bow watched me at work in the kitchen. But when he asked to sample the brownies, he was very gentle and not at all frantic or impatient.

Bow loves chocolate, but whenever he gets to eat anything with chocolate in it, he eats very slowly and savors it.

That's pretty much all that is happening here right now. The Weigela  blossoms are spent. They shed their petals all over the lagoon.

Only a few stray late bloomers remain.

Most of the flowers are bare now and trying to form fruit.

Beside the lagoon, the black garden ants are still hard at work on the peonies, which have not opened yet.

In the woods, the cypress spurge is forming tiny orange flowers which are very hard to see. I think this is the first time I have noticed them at all.

By the side of the walking trail, the mustard flowers are practically radiant.

It requires much patience and persistence to get results. We are persisting. We are persisting beyond what anyone expected. Normally, by the time a chimpanzee is thirteen, he is considered too old to be useful for ape language research, and normally, researchers who do not get recognition for one experiment move on to something else.

 For years, I heard perseverance hailed as a virtue. Then I read the literature on autism, and they had "perseveration"  down as something bad.  Is it bad that we persist? Should we just give up? I don't see how we can, though, because how else would we communicate with each other?

If you would like to help Project Bow, please consider purchasing a card based on one of my photos
Redbud Against Blue Sky Mother's Day Card

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Yesterday there was a big flap over legal personhood for chimpanzees. In the morning a friend sent me this link:

At the time, the article had said that two chimpanzees had been granted legal personhood. By the end of the day, it turned out that they hadn't. Some people thought I would be happy for Bow to be granted legal personhood. Those people do not know me very well. Keep in mind, a corporation is a legal person, too. It's not what it sounds like.

Bow is intelligent, creative and has feelings. But in what way would legal personhood benefit him? Would it allow him to control his life better? To make choices for himself? No.

No chimpanzee has ever been asked in court what he would like to do with his life, and if legal personhood for chimpanzees were to become the law of the land in any state, chimpanzees would still have no say in what happens to them. Personhood is a legal fiction that some people use to manipulate the resources that belong to other people. Legal personhood would allow animal rights activists to appoint a guardian ad litem to purport to speak for a chimpanzee against the person who owns the chimpanzee. This is not too different from what currently happens with children who are taken from parents by the State and given to other people. It even happens in custody fights between the natural parents of a child, if the fight becomes too hateful.

I used to be a believer in children's liberation, when I was a child. Wouldn't it be great if children could make all the important decisions about themselves right from the start? I thought. When I studied law I learned that minors could in fact petition for their own emancipation, once they could prove that they were able to support themselves. I liked that idea, and as a lawyer, I always hoped that some fourteen year old would come to my office, ready to pay my full fee, so that I could help him win his freedom. But no child ever showed up asking for freedom. Instead, I had to deal with divorce cases.

Most of the time, nobody asked the children what they wanted. Social workers were sent out to evaluate the parents. "What is in the best interest of the child?" was the phrase they bandied about. But nobody asked the child.

One of my clients did want her child to speak to the judge and tell him which parent he preferred. I spoke to child first, to determine if this would be a good idea. The child asked me not to tell the mother, but he really did not want to make that decision himself. He loved both his parents, and he did not want to choose. I told my client it would not be helpful to put the child on the spot.

As adults with full legal rights, we are inundated with choices, sometimes too many choices. Not every adult human being is able to handle that much freedom. Some adults actually want others to decide for them, but we no longer have the legal institution of slavery to help such people. Instead, they vote to give more and more of everybody else's rights to government overseers who will protect us from ourselves.

 Most children do not want or need to be liberated too early. Most parents are better guardians for a child than complete strangers. The person who pays the bills and wipes away the tears and sets the limits  is the person who cares. Unfortunately, in modern custody fights there is also the child support issue -- and that sometimes skews the results and encourages litigation. Sometimes a non-custodial parent sues for custody just to avoid paying child support or in order to get the other parent to pay support to him.

In custody fights over chimpanzees -- make no mistake about it -- the "child support" is a big part of the battle. Whoever gets custody of the chimpanzees in the Federal system also gets the funding to pay for their support. Funding to pay for support includes jobs for the people who take care of chimpanzees on a day-to-day basis. Do you think that lobbying for the jobs of such people does not influence the outcome?

A real mother raises her child without pay.  A person who really cares about his chimpanzee is the person who also pays the bills. But when Federal funding comes into it, everything gets skewed.

Think about what happened to Sally Boysen's chimpanzees. Think about what Kanzi and the other bonobos are facing. It is all about money -- public money. Even medical research on chimpanzees is funded by public money. If you want to cut down on that, de-fund the Feds. Take away their research money. Take away their right to own chimpanzees at public expense. But leave private owners alone.

In Ohio, the State government recently confiscated a lion from a home where he was well cared for. When the lion got sick under their care, the state officials "euthanized" him. When  the owner asked to have the body back, the state dissolved the lion in acid, so that no evidence of what they had done to him could remain. The law that allowed this to happen was lobbied for by animal rights activists.

Animal rights activists do not care about the rights of animals. They don't care... period. They have an agenda that has much more to do with ending property rights than in helping animals. My property rights are the only thing that stands between them and Bow.

The orchard is looking good after the grass was mowed. The first cherry tree is done flowering and is working on producing fruit.

The pear trees are starting to grow pears.

The peach trees are miraculously trying to turn yesterday's blossoms into peaches we can eat.

Bow continues to use my little finger to hold onto as he points at letters. He has a mind of his own, but he also changes his mind a lot. "I want to go outside" can be followed immediately by "I want my blanket" -- meaning that he wants to stay in. Sometimes he asks for a banana, but he does not really want the banana. Can you imagine asking him in a court of law where he wants to live? And forcing him to live with that decision for the rest of his life?

Bow relies on me to protect him from stormy weather, and at the end of the day, when the sun goes down, he feels safe.

The legal fiction of personhood could never help someone like Bow. It would only be a tool in the hands of activists with an agenda.

If  you would like to help support Project Bow, please consider buying some of my nature photocards

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

And Then The Mowers Came

It has been very cool lately. At lunch yesterday I was wearing a jacket. I decided to give Bow only my pinkie to spell with.

Bow was discouraged at first, and he took a break from his spelling to gaze despondently at the windy landscape through the the front door. But then he took up the task and asked for an apple.

Things went more smoothly when Bow requested his meat dish, which was actually the main course for lunch. He finished the entire meal, and then the mowers came.

Bow gets very excited whenever he sees the mowers. He watched them for a while through the front door window.

When he had tired of watching them from the inside, he took my pinkie and spelled בואי אתי החוצה  -- "Come outside with me!"

This is very different from what he usually says when he wants to go outside. Usually he just writes "Let me go outside." But apparently this time he wanted my company.

While the mowers mowed, Brownie took some time to dig a nice big hole in the back yard.

Bow was pretty complacent at this point, and I was able to leave him for a moment out there and pick my daughter up from school, as the bus did not run locally yesterday for some reason. By the time I got back, Bow was ready to come in, and the grass was already mowed.

In the evening, we had a beautiful sunset. If you look closely at the front lawn in the picture above, you can see that it is freshly mown. The wildflowers that sprang up there are gone, but their memories live on.

A violet that once was

Monday, April 20, 2015

Telling True from False

After it rained yesterday, I noticed that some of the tiny real flowers at the center of the dogwood blossom had started to open.

All these years of living here, and this is the first time I have seen the true flowers blooming. Up till now I had been focused on the showy white false petals that are really just bracts -- not seeing the flowers for the leaves.

Bow and I went outside and I looked very carefully at the tiny flowers at the center of the bloom. Some were open, and some were still shut. Many of the blossoms had a single little green flower at the center open, while all the other flower heads were still in expectancy. The clapping that you hear at the beginning of the video is Bow, in the outer pen, trying to draw my attention.

Bow is so expressive with his hands. In the video embedded above you can clearly see him beckoning for me to come and open the door, because he wants to go back inside.

Yesterday morning I struggled with Bow for over an hour, holding off breakfast, trying to get him to spell by himself. We are both very stubborn. But I wasn't going to starve him, and our life is very much dependent on civilized routines, like pouring cereal into a bowl and eating it with a spoon, and clearing away at the end of a meal,  so eventually I gave him a very limp hand to use, and he spelled with my hand in his. But the fit was very, very loose. This morning, I would not give him a whole hand at all. I would only offer a finger.

At first Bow was not happy with this, and he tried to gently pry my hand open.

 But when that did not work, he started spelling with my balled up hand in his.

This is not good enough to prove anything to the skeptical. But it's a way to loosen the dependency on my hand. I think if you look closely, though, you can  see that my hand is not the driving force behind Bow's choices.

In life, lots of what we see is only a show, to protect something else that we can't see. People say one thing and mean something else. They point you one way, when the real answer is in the opposite direction. There are flashy, showy petals that are really not petals at all. But sometimes if you look a little closer, you will discover where the real flower is hiding, right there in front of you where it has been all along in full view.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Status Quo

Outside it is raining this morning.

In the pens, we are having a bit of a battle of wills.

Bow keeps gesturing to me that he wants me to give him my hand, and I keep telling him that he can spell by himself.  I want things to change, and he wants everything to remain exactly the same.

When you are in a state of equilibrium, sometimes you don't notice when a major status changing crisis is right around the corner. Things seem the same day after day.

The wildflowers in the woods are blossoming, and in the unmown lawn what look like tiny, miniature irises are springing up.

Soon the mowers will come, and this flower will be no more, and the entire state of equilibrium that it was counting on to grow will be gone. Things may seem like a steady state, but there are cycles that come and go.

When something cataclysmic is about to happen to us, we don't always know. It may seem to come out of nowhere, but there are usually signs.

The ants have been on patrol for three days and counting on the peony by the lagoon.

They have not harmed the flower head, but they clearly have some objective in mind, something not known to me.

Bow is not angry with me, and I am not angry with him. We just each want something different. To try to cajole me, he picks up tiny specks of dust and hair from the corners of his pen and throws them into the potty. See, he seems to be saying, I am keeping it tidy. I am good. But still I will not give him my hand to use as a pointer. So he takes it and grooms it, instead,

Then he takes my hand and leads me to the letters on the glass. "But I want you to spell by yourself, Bow!" I slip out from his grasp. "Write 'give' by yourself," I tell him. In Hebrew, when Bow is speaking to me, it is just a three letter word תני. He spells it many times each day, when he is requesting things. But always he uses my hand as a pointer.

 I try to bargain with him, just as he earlier tried to bargain with me. "If you spell 'give' by yourself, I will let you use my hand for the rest of the sentence." But he is not swayed.

He keeps offering me his hand, but when I ask him to spell by himself, he turns away.

We can go on like this for hours. Nobody gets angry, but the status quo will not change.

It's a delicate equilibrium, but eventually something has got to give.

Just on the edge of the woods, where the lawn meets the trees, the delicate clover flowers sway in the breeze. Their life seems the same every day, but one day the mowers will come.

Just inside the woods, where it is no longer lawn, the cypress spurge is blooming. They say it is an invasive, and it grows in transition areas, that are neither fully wooded nor fully open. The balance of woods and fields on my land is changing. While it may seem that everything is always the same with me and Bow, that is also a delicate balance. Someday the status quo may change, and we might have our next big breakthrough.

You never know when a delicate flower is about to push up from the ground and bloom, not because you planted it yourself, but just because the seeds were there.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Caught in Midair

What is the most typical pose for a bee on the Weigela?

Is it dead center in the middle of the flower with its wings spread out?

Is it more typical for them to be up in the air and about to land on a blossom?

Or is it with its rear end toward the camera and its head inside the flower?

Or is this a more typical view?

Whichever way we look at the bee, it presents a different side to us.

Or do they hang around like this?

Or is it more often found in midair, in a holding pattern, waiting for a landing?

The days of the Weigela blossoms are numbered, but while they yet bloom, the bees  hovering around them abound. And not just bees. A wasp or two has been sighted.

They look much like bees, but their silhouette is not as plump.

Meanwhile, by the lagoon, the black ants are not even waiting for the peony blossoms to bloom.

And the backyard the tiny flower heads in the center of the dogwood blossom look about ready to open.

At the end of the day, bumble bees still buzz around the overripe redbud blossoms.

The smaller bees have all moved on the Weigela blossoms, but there are bumble bees that persist by the redbud, even as the sun is about to go down and the sky turns a rich blue.

Only after the sun finally set did the bumble bees disappear from the redbud.

Before I put Bow to bed tonight, I had washed his blanket, and it came out of the dryer very warm.  "Look Bow, your blanket is clean and warm, and it smells good." He sniffed the blanket appreciatively, laid it down on the floor carefully, lay over it, spread his other blanket over his lap, and gestured to me that he was happy, so he wanted to groom my hand.

There's a lot that happens every day, but most of it is not important, except in a momentary sort of significance,  like a bee hovering over a blossom before it can land,