From an Unguarded Midnight

May 09, 2017  •  1 Comment


Grand frére.


Big brother. That's what some of the caregivers call the chimps. It's a surprising term for a country gripped by Catholicism. The other week when we were in town (that is, away from the project), we overheard two technicians discussing us when they thought we weren't listening. 


"They work with the chimpanzees."


"I know."

"The chimpanzees. Our grandfathers."


"Don't you ever call them that. They're not my grandfathers."


Yet, a small something in the song changes for human beings who actually know chimpanzees. Even for religious human beings. There exists a sweet, sticky middle region where Science and Spirit come together. You're acquainted with it too, I'm sure. We have to feel our way around to reconcile our various beliefs with various facts, but that was never an issue. We will always feel our way around: after all, we are born wanderers, born wonderers. Our curiosity is perhaps our greatest asset. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


This is why sometimes the natural elements overcome us in the seductive, intimate way that they do. For instance, I heard the forest breathing last night. Not in a metaphorical way, and not in an orchestral way, where the insects and hyraxes and other small forest creatures participate in a magnificent, eco-systemic symphony. It was instead actually respiring: a deep inhalation, a soft and lengthy exhalation. I suppose when you're ill, as I was the night I heard the forest breathing, something in your wracked, vulnerable weakness (hunched over a dry-milk tin a quarter-filled with bile, reminded you're no more than a temporarily animated corpse mere inches from nothingness) allows you to surrender yourself to that beautiful, dizzying mystery. There is, after all, nothing to hold onto.


I was raised by the church as well as by science. I extricated myself from organized religion at fifteen or so, but have always held a deep love and respect for the Greatest Unnameable Mystery. But science swayed me too, and as I got older, I realized that Spirit and Science were two different forages for the same fruit.


The chimpanzee pictured in this blog post is named Tilly. She is a smart, sassy, curious creature who loves to use tools and generally surprise humans with her intelligence. She's the chimp in her group on which the project will test a new object, a new water-drinker for instance, to make sure it's chimp-proof. If you ask me, she's also a kind being, one who shared a full, uneaten avocado with me a few days ago, and who also tried to swat a tsetse fly off the leg of a colleague. Her sense of empathy is well-developed, and so is her sense of justice and compassion. I'm okay with her being my older sister (even if technically, I am older than she is).





Curt Peterson(non-registered)
This is a gentle peek at your love for what you do and with whom you work. It is powerful work you are doing, and your aim is so true. These ruminations are such a beautiful gift to us readers/viewers. Thank you!
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