Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Chimp Philosopher
Brief fiction by Ms.

 By late 1650
Milton, the man, was a proponent of 'momism'or 'animist materialism’
the notion that a single material substance
which is "animate, self-active, and free
composes everything in the universe
from stones and trees and bodies, to
minds, souls, angels, and God.
Perhaps, this is what my Milton was thinking, without the words, when he valued a seemingly worthless object like that discarded milk carton, which, for him, simply was the enigma of the energy of edges.  He became a philosopher of inanimate things, which he animated with his own energy, and held as dear as we hold cash.  He thought about them,  studying the shape of that carton, for example, from every angle, in all its aspect.  
Obsessively, he ran his fingers over and over the lines of it, but concluded nothing his humans would understand.  If he did, he couldn't communicate it.  The object was, in some respect, beyond my comprehension, but was beautiful in his eyes.  He turned it and turned it, rediscovering its properties as the shape changed.  He sometimes placed it slightly out of reach, then turned his back to it to gaze at it over his shoulder. There was no doubt; he treated that empty carton as a revered friend, and often fed it from his own meals. 
It wasn't long before the beloved object became quite stinky.  I could not just discard it, having once done so when I thought he might not notice, only to witness the grief and panic he exhibited searching for it.  I offered a substitute carton of the same shape, but it was rejected.

I consulted the friend in Louisiana who knew him best.  Cherry Ladd had done a great deal of work with the chimp sanctuary, and had became a permanent consultant for them in 1996.  She was both qualified and particularly instinctive when it came to chimp behavior.  She suggested introducing a different object in the hope that, as babies can be distracted by surprise, or novelty, he might form a new attachment with a different representation.  She thought it time to provide Milton with a stuffed beast, or a doll, to call his own.  A live companion would have been ideal, but my own limited time and resources kept that solution out of reach. 

The choice between a human or other animal image was up to me.  I pondered, examining my motives.  A human attachment, I knew, could not be permanent.  "Adult chimps can weigh between 88 and 140 pounds; males can measure up to 5 ft 3 inches and females to 4 ft 3 inches. Infants are weaned when they are about three years old, but usually maintain a close relationship with their mother for several more years; they reach puberty at the age of eight to ten, and their lifespan in captivity is about fifty years."  Milton was a temporary guest, and I had to keep a careful watch on the goals that would be best for him, because I was falling in love. 

I had agreed to the three-to-four year window for his rehabilitation, but his destiny was another story.  To thrive, he would have to be weaned from me, and be acclimated to sanctuary life with others of his kind, where caretakers serve the needs of the community at a greater distance.  Since this chimp was a charmer of the first order, it was no small task to keep our intimacy in its proper perspective.

I knew I was looking for something at least his size, and, of course thought of a simian friend.  I began searching toy stores, but saw nothing I liked much, that stood out, that would be that just-right companion object I somehow knew I would know if I saw it. Most new stuffed toys just didn't seem arresting, or sturdy enough to match what I perceived Milton's needs to be. Also, I was having second thoughts about a companion too reminiscent of the mother he had lost.

I trolled catalogs for days, to no avail.  Then, as a last ditch effort, I visited a local Good Will where a stuffed lion about the size of a two-year-old child (Miltons size) almost, however insufficiently, might have filled the bill.  It was affordable, maybe a touch too majestic (not friendly enough), and would not be easily washable.  I left it on the shelf after long consideration, and continued my search several miles down the road at the Sally-Army Seconds store. 

A major part of my job was going to be, already was, teaching Milton to understand my language, while learning to understand his communications.  I had just read, "There are approximately 6,000 different languages currently in use, including sign languages, and many thousands more that are considered extinct," during one of my diversions to the basics, and it popped into my mind, as I turned on to the highway.  Why not 6001 to include chimp code, I thought; we could do flash card sessions every morning and evening.

I got a parking space right in front of the store, and had already spotted something large and green through the plate glass window.  Once inside, I grabbed one from the pile and gave it a hearty full-body hug.  It felt substantial, cuddly, and comforting.  the seams were double stitched, and the skin was a 100% cotton plush, with all cotton and new materials for stuffing.  Of course, the giant mouth was suitably full of pearly plush teeth, but the corners of the jaw were turned up slightly, so that even with jaws wide, it seemed to be smiling.  A crocodile is certainly not most humans’ idea of a good companion, but a chimp doesn't have our preset notions, at least not one who had never seen the wild.  His mother gave birth in captivity, and passed away the following week.  No reptilian fears had been taught dear Milton, so I envisioned a happy jungle playmate as I paid the unbelievably reasonable $20, and was told that Mr., or Ms.'Crocie' had been thoroughly washed and dried before being displayed. The faint whiff of fabric softener confirmed the truth of that assurance.

Any lingering fear I had about the fierceness of the image was instantly dispelled when I presented Milton with the gift.  He looked at it, then at me.  I said. "Yours," in that same tone I used when bringing him his food.  He walked immediately to its side, and sat down, touching, at first tentatively, then more boldly, till before ten minutes passed, they were fast friends, wrestling partners, and an hour later, bed mates, curled together near the radiator on Miltons baby mattress.

Much the worse for wear, 'Crocie' stayed behind when Milton moved on, at the age of four, to join his new live friends at the sanctuary for the next episode of his life.   I was, though forewarned, in mourning for many months, during which time 'Crocie' held court on my bed, serving as an extra pillow to prop myself up on while reading before sleep.  He stayed at his post until the next critter wandered unexpectedly into my life at the onset of a snowstorm.  Mamie, as I called her, brought a litter of kittens in her swollen tabby belly, giving birth to them within a week on a plush green crocodile in the corner by the radiator.  But that's another story.


Related Post titled:  "Origins - Thoughts - Language - Rights" 

The chimp photograph is the image that sits on the shelf above my computer, serving as muse and companion for my work of ruminating, researching, remembering & storytelling.

1 comment:

deanna7trees said...

the carton that Milton became attached to is so similar to a story my allergy nurse told me Monday about the blanket I made for her baby when he was born about 18 months ago. it must be so comforting to be so attached to something like that. I loved the story. hadn't seen it in your previous post.