Zero’s Chances

Sometimes it grieves me that so few photos remain from my years in Liberia. The realities of West Africa at the time – inadequate film storage, poor processing, the nature of the film itself – have resulted in most photographs fading into darkness, leaving nothing but indistinct smiles and a memory. The traditional blacksmith who forged iron “country money” is gone, as are the piles of cocoa pods, the gaggle of “money buses” with their marvelous painted slogans (“God Bless the Woman that Born Me”, “The Wicked Will Fall”) and stacks of Russian waxed toilet paper in the Gbarnga store.

Still, there are treasures. In one photo, my father stands next to a village chief, both men solemn with the responsibilities of formal gift-exchange. In another, my mother follows my father along a narrow bush path, watching him as he tries to pretend he doesn’t see the line of bare-breasted women coming from the village to greet them.

And then there is Zero.  For years I assumed her photo had been lost or tossed until I opened a box filled with mementos – passport masks, Benin bronzes, a clutch of silver bracelets – and found her image tucked into a sheaf of letters.  The chimp (for she was a chimpanzee and not a monkey) was one of my good friends during my time in Liberia, and we came to know each other pretty well.

While still a young mother, Zero and her baby became targets for a hunter seeking meat. After the baby was killed, Zero ran for her life. Blinded in one eye and crippled by the shot, she soon was unable to go on and sheltered under a tangle of branches and vines.

It was her great good fortune to be discovered there not by hunters but by compassionate strangers who picked up the terrified, quivering animal and took her to the nearby hospital compound.  There, she began her recovery under the care of the maintenance man and his wife.

Under normal circumstances, she would have had zero chance of survival, so she was given the name Zero. As the weeks passed, she not only survived but thrived, basking in the attention and affection of an entire community.

As her wounds healed, she began to spend her days outdoors, secured with an extraordinarily long chain that provided plenty of leeway for frolicking in sunshine or shade. She also developed a certain laziness. People accustomed to her habits joked with one another that, if you were sufficiently stealthy, you might catch her in a nearby hammock with a paperback in one hand and a lemonade in the other.

Eventually, she was allowed to roam freely even while strangers were around. She made no attempt to escape, but stayed between her house and the community tennis court. The court was a pitiful thing with a red clay surface that required frequent wetting and rolling, but it had a net and a fence, enough to provide amusement and exercise for folks who needed both.

One day, an unlucky shot went high and over the fence.  Zero turned with the rest of us to watch the ball’s flight and then, gimping along like the wounded creature she was, she went after the ball. We watched with astonishment as she picked it up, brought it back to the court and handed it to one of the nurses watching the game.

It was the beginning of a long and illustrious career as “ball chimp”. From that day forward, every time someone entered the court, Zero hooted and hollered until she was allowed to come and watch with the rest of the crowd – and to fetch any balls that went over the fence. We fussed over her like crazy every time she did it, and she loved the attention.  The more approval she received, the more she wanted to help.

We’d known she was intelligent and observant, but after what came to be known as The Great Tennis-Ball Caper, people started watching her more closely. The family who’d taken her in had a baby – nearly a toddler – who liked to be in the yard. It wasn’t long before people realized that every time the baby started to move beyond Zero’s perimeter, the chimp would go after the child and gently bring her back. If the toddler resisted, Zero would throw a classic, noisy chimp-fit. Inevitably, someone would come out to see what was happening and corral the baby again.

It wasn’t long before everyone had the system figured out.  With Mom keeping an eye on things, chimp and baby spent long hours playing togther, and Zero added baby-sitting to her list of accomplishments.

Given her playfulness, her curiosity, her hunger to be in the spotlight and her eagerness to please, it was hard not to think of Zero as just one more of the mischievous, delightful children who surrounded us, begging for attention and approval. 

She was far more than a child, of course – at least in terms of innocence.  She had endured much in her life, including the death of her baby, the loss of her natural home and an end to any ability to come and go as she pleased. Given the circumstances, it might have been reasonable for her to follow the path of other chimps and grieve herself to death. Instead, she seemed to understand that the humans with whom she lived had given her a second chance at life, and she did her best to show her appreciation.

In short, she was a creature filled with affection, gratitude and basic good humor, willing to accept the foibles of the humans with whom she would end her days. Remarkably, everyone who came to know her agreed there was more than simple instinct behind her actions.

Perhaps because she knew grief, she seemed able to detect grief in people. If there were tears, she would amble over and stroke a hand or an arm until the simple silliness of it all overcame the tears with laughter.  Suspecting anger, she would cover her head with her arms, shrieking and hopping around as though fending off punishment.  Chided for her own misbehavior, she would stand and stare, heaving great sighs as if to say, “And who are you, to tell me I’m not perfect?”

Stubborn, cantankerous, feisty and willing to pout to get her way, she wasn’t perfect. But neither were we, and her willingness to tolerate our imperfections helped us to tolerate hers.  In the end, nothing more was needed.  A little honesty here, a little good humor there, and the chimp and her friends got along just fine.

Every now and then, I wonder if a little tolerance, honesty and humor might work for people. I hear both friends and strangers say from time to time, “There’s zero chance of that happening.” But they didn’t know Zero.

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123 thoughts on “Zero’s Chances

    1. Judy,

      I loved my time in Liberia. There were very real challenges, and I occasionally wish I could go back as the person I am today. I’ve no question I could be more effective than I was. But I never was homesick while I was there, and when I left I swore I would go back.

      Eventually, I did return for a six weeks’ visit. A coup had occurred, and the country was changing. There were new lessons to be learned and new experiences to be had. Civil war was on the horizon, too. Once you’ve seen the signs of a society in the process of falling apart, you never forget it.


  1. Morning Linda:

    Great story Linda, specially in these times where fear and anger seem to have taken the world. I’m glad I started the day with a positive story like this. It’s hard to endure a whole day with only news popping out everywhere like demons.

    Your pictures are also marvelous. Sorry some of them were lost, but well preserved in your memory, me thinketh.

    Have a wonderful day,


    1. Omar,

      That’s one reason I chose to write about Zero now. There are enough people writing about Boston and terrorism and societal chaos. Not everyone can write about the joys of a chimpanzee baby-sitter!

      Now that the war has ended, life is settling a bit and people with ties to the country have gone back to help with its reconstruction. A side effect is that photos abound, and it’s even possible to find recordings of traditional music and dances on youtube.

      One project I like has been undertaken by people who are creating an archive of photos taken before the war. So much was lost – it’s almost like reconstructing a world. I’ll submit the few that I have, and enjoy looking at the rest.


  2. Delightful story. Human-animal bonds can teach us how to be better humans. Sometimes we do need to go out of our species to learn some lessons about compassion and sensitivity.

    1. Snoring Dog Studio,

      Of course you’re right. When Dixie Rose first came to live with me, I was a slow learner. She’s taught me a good bit about patience, not to mention the importance of not forcing myself on her! I can only imagine that your dogs have done the same.

      The great gift of animals is that we can’t just send them a text or an email. We have to be with them for a relationship to develop and communication to take place. There are rumors that’s true for people, too.


  3. What an interesting life you have led. To meet a chimp and get to know her as you did has to be memorable. So glad you found this photo that can remind you of her. Thank you for sharing the depth of her spirit and personality in caring, playfulness, being appreciative and intelligently assessing a situation. Oh my, what a memorable friend you made.

    I, too, lament I don’t have better pictures of some experiences. But these you found and have shared are wonderful — especially the ones of you and Zero, and your father with the fish.

    1. Georgette,

      When I was in Liberia, I didn’t really consider how remarkable my time with Zero was. Today, I suspect the reason was that everything seemed remarkable in one way or another.

      A truth I’ve come to appreciate over the years is that piles of photos aren’t always necessary. A single representative photo can begin a chain of associations, a sweep of memory. Looking at Zero, I remember as well the hospital, the people, the neighborhood – all the wonderful complexity of life there.

      Besides – the time may come when a thousand photos won’t do me any more good than they did my mom in her latter years. We’d sit and sift through her boxes of photographs and she’d say, “Why did I keep these? I don’t know a single one of these people!” ;-)


  4. When the student is ready, a teacher will appear? We must wait patiently for Zero, it appears.

    Such a touching memory and story. That 3rd from the last paragraph is so vivid. If only everyone would live according to that paragraph just below the picture, the world would be so much more livable.

    From now on will have two distinct pictures in mind – one of a chimp stroking a person’s arm sharing sadness and comforting – and a glimpse of Zero happening when someone says that phrase. Great way to start the day. Thanks

    1. phil,

      She was a good teacher, no question about that. And she certainly was memorable.

      I spent some time watching videos of angry chimps, just to see if I could find one acting like Zero did when she was seriously angry. I couldn’t. When Zero was frustrated or mad, she’d express it, but I never saw her attack, and never heard of an attack. Her “captivity” was of a different order than that of zoo chimps, and I think her responses differed accordingly. She made a lot of noise, but she was mostly noise.

      Although you didn’t use the word, your comment about affection, gratitude and good humor made me think about kindness. I had to run right over and get this for you. It’s a pretty nice listen for an evening!


    1. Ellen,

      I couldn’t find it just now, but there’s a terrific Liberian folk tale about a monkey and a turtle. I had an image in my mind of Zero and your pal, acting it out together.

      Thanks so much for the compliment – it’s a lot easier to tell a good story when you’ve got good material to work with!


  5. I don’t even know where to begin. This is one of those stories, the best of stories because it is true, that just reach out and grab me at the throat and remind me that we are all more connected than we think. It also reminds me of the power of animals to be more than that — to heal, to comfort, to delight, to survive and to thrive. Those of us who have rescued cats know that these animals are so darned grateful that they defy the aloof cat stereotype. And it makes biological sense that chimps and other animals of their species would be all the more likely to do so.

    I adore the photo of you with Zero. And your words about zero chance ring true. What a remarkable experience to add to your book of life. How blessed you both were to experience this community, this love and this example.

    1. jeanie,

      There’s no question the connections exist. When you mentioned cats, I thought of your photo of that Lizzie-like cat in the Paris cemetery. Even her image is compelling, and I’ve no doubt she would have something to say to anyone who passed by.

      One of the best stories of connection was written by Loren Eiseley, about a cat that appeared in his world at Christmas. It’s not long, and you can read it here . I always get a lump in my throat, of course. Well, except for the times that I cry when I read it. But it’s not sorrowful – not at all. It’s only so true, it’s beyond beautiful.

      Isn’t it amazing, how we carry these stories along with us until one day we come to tell them again? I think if we had more story-telling and less pronouncement-making, we’d be much better off.


      1. Lately, especially with the new diagnosis (which is even rarer than the one on the current blog post) I have come to wonder if I rescued Lizzie or if she is saving me. Especially these two weeks with the shingles, she is just a joyful little reminder of all that is good. Sending hugs.

        1. jeanie,

          Mom suffered with shingles. It was awful. Be sure everyone you’re close to gets the vaccine. Mom and I both did, and when she had a recurrence, it wasn’t nearly so bad. Despite being around her through the whole thing, I never was affected. It’s a terrible disease.

          Give Lizzie an extra pet for me, and tell her we’re all proud of her for the good job she’s doing!


  6. What a beautiful story, Linda, and how I wish I’d had Zero around to fetch my errant tennis balls when I was learning to play!
    This is just another example how the animal kingdom often comes closer to “humanity” and “divinity” than we humans do! Not only did Zero manage to heal from her physical and emotional wounds, she managed to heal others. To give back.
    By the way, did you ever hear what happened to her after you left the country? Please tell me she had a long and interesting life — I don’t think I could stand hearing she had to bear more grief!!

    1. Debbie,

      You would have been the talk of the neighborhood with Zero fetching your tennis balls, that’s for sure!

      I’m one of the world’s worst when it comes to anthropomorphizing – I’ll ascribe human characteristics to everything from my car to the lizards lounging around my front step. It’s silliness, for the most part. But there’s no question that animal have their own consciousness, and their own way of interacting with the funny, two-legged creatures they come in contact with.

      I know that Zero continued to live with her family for at least a time after I left. Beyond that, I don’t know. My own hope is that she completed her natural life span (40-45 years) before the civil war erupted. There would have been no way to protect her through that.


  7. We hear these stories about the chimp/human bond on Nat Geo or Nature, but here you are with a remarkable personal story of your own experience with a chimp. You never cease to amaze. I, too, would like to know what happened to Zero (unless it’s sad. Like Debbie, I’m not sure I would want to hear).

    1. Martha,

      As I mentioned to Debbie, I know she found a home with a new family once her “first family” left. Beyond that, it’s hard to say. Under normal circumstances, I would have expected her to die of old age about a decade ago. Captivity extends the life span for chimps, but I’m sure her handicaps and environment would have negated those positives.

      The good news is that she was living up-country and not in a town. If she still was alive when the war came to Bong County, it’s possible she might have escaped into the bush. On the other hand, after years of being part of a human family, she might not have coped any better than the people who fled. There’s just no way to know.

      So, I remember her as she was. She had at least a couple of extra decades of life, with people who really cared for her. That’s as good as it gets.


  8. Linda,
    What a sweet story. I’m glad that you found a photo of her. There’s a lot to learn from her story. She not only survived, but she adapted and even found a way to be useful. Useful is good. The older I get, the more I understand the value in being useful. Everyone needs to be useful. I guess Zero understood this, too. I bet a lot of moms would like a babysitter like her.

    1. Bella Rum,

      You mean “useful” like – Kevin The Great? When I saw you’d mentioned him this morning, I laughed aloud. I can’t wait to get over to your place and see what the latest chapter is!

      Seriously, you’re right about the importance of feeling useful and needed. That was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn with Mom. Especially in her last decade of life, she wanted to be a part of things, wanted to “help”. I’d come home from work eager to get dinner on the table in the least amount of time, and she’d volunteer to make the salad. Yes, I could do in five minutes what took her a half-hour (or more), and sometimes I did. But the sense of being useful was far more important than what ended up in the salad bowl, so I tried to practice patience.

      I’ll say this – Zero was as attentive as any baby-sitter I ever had. I could pull the wool right over the eyes of a couple of them, but I never would have had a chance with that chimp.


  9. Hook, line and sinker: You got me.

    I do have a few pictures from my time in Liberia. We were told not to bring cameras, maps and any form of camouflage into the country so I tore the map page out of my copy of “Journey Without Maps”, left the camera in Mann, Cote d’Ivoire and rarely wore the Khaki pants we had thought would be perfect.

    Eventually I smuggled the camera in but the only pictures I took were in our compound. Some of the nurses took the camera with them one day and had to do some “fast talking” to keep it through a checkpoint. I gave the camera to my driver and said I would process the film but never got any film nor the camera back.

    On our way to work one of the Checkpoints was called the “Zoo” and there were Game fences and concrete elephant tusks by the Gate.
    Zero animals however – they had fed the SBU for a short time I suppose.
    I spent some time reading Curt’s blog referenced from the photo of Gbarnga. I don’t need to fret about whether to tell my stories now.

    1. Ken,

      Between us, we had experiences of Liberia in all three contexts: pre-conflict (or pre-military conflict, at any rate), post-coup and post-civil war. During my first stint, there weren’t any checkpoints except at border crossings. When I went back, I still never experienced a checkpoint, but there were those experiences of being pulled out of a taxi and made to hand over my camera and passport. I always got them back, although a few rolls of film were pulled out and exposed. That cuts down on the vacation snapshots, too.

      There was a zoo at Tubman Farm up near Totota. I never saw it, but as I recall it was a pygmy hippo from that farm that was the original pygmy hippo in this country. I don’t remember any concrete tusks there – but I think you said you were working closer to the coast..

      I didn’t realize until recently that Gaddafi was involved with the formation of the SBU as well as Taylor. A friend who spent time in North Africa was pondering the Boston bombings and suggested that some of the same techniques, i.e. use of younger and younger kids as terrorists, may be in the works. I do wonder how life is going to unfold for those armies of conscripted/kidnapped kids in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Their “baby-sitters” weren’t so caring as Zero.

      More and more stories and photos are showing up on the web now. You’ve got to get over to Liberia 77 and see what a pair of Canadian brothers is up to. I found this paragraph particularly chilling: “We met a whole generation of Liberians who had grown up in a time of conflict, knowing nothing but violence and destruction. Those who had happy, healthy family photographs were marked for death by rebel soldiers. To save their lives, people burned their own photos, even threw their cameras away.”

      Now, they’re putting their history back together.


      1. I made it through page 18 of Liberia 77’s picture collection.
        For the first week or so I lived in one of the expat houses in the Phebe compound while setting up accommodation at CUC for our team. We took over the University Museum for our warehouse. I did not have much time to check for photos – what I wish to recall is a tall (about 7′) drum.
        You and Curt know how difficult it is to write clearly about these experiences.
        I had two “good ideas” while there:
        1) “Game Boy” for guns – turn in your AK and we give you “tetris”
        2) Arm the Mothers – even an hardened SBU might think twice if a village sprouted a group of mature women who were Packing.

        1. Now, how funny is that? Do you remember which house it was? Was it one of the small ones that backed up to the hospital? Serendipity’s one thing, but if you lived in the same house I did in Liberia, that would be just beyond words. Of course, even if it wasn’t the same house, it’s still pretty cool.

          The best (read: most exotic and slightly unnerving) drumming I heard in Liberia was during a time when I was up in ZorZor. The girls’ bush school was in session, and we’d hear the drumming at night after the generators stopped. Today? The traditional music goes on, but there are new trends, too. I just love some of the videos of post-war Liberia, like this one.

          As for those pistol-packin’ mamas – have you seen “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”? The Liberian women did their part, and they did it without guns. The entire film used to be on youtube, but it looks like it’s been pulled and only clips exist. There are enough to get a sense of it – they’re posted in series. But the trailer gives a fair idea of what they pulled off.

          1. I just lost another lengthy comment about Serendipity.
            If I recall the houses we took over at Phebe were some few hundred yards from the Hospital and fairly recently built.
            Mind you I was jet lagged when I got there and culture shocked for six months and came home to “reverse” culture shock.
            I’m just happy that our paths crossed there and here.
            Some nights the crescendo from the local church would wake us about a quarter of a mile away. I was not tempted to go and see what was going on.
            “Pray the Devil back to Hell” is a much better idea than mine!

  10. Beautiful story Linda. Zero is ever so lucky she didn’t end up in chop.

    I know it’s different, but it makes me think about Do Your Part, the dog who befriended me in Liberia and became such a part of my life.

    As for photos, I was lucky. I sent mine home for development. Still, I have far too few. On an active day now, when I am traveling somewhere that appeals to me, I will take as many photos in a day as I did in two years… more, actually.

    1. Curt,

      I’ve just had a wonderful read through your Liberia posts. It’s like a visit to the old neighborhood. My houseboy, Phillip Lincoln, attended Gboveh. He was a good student and a great guy. There was that little incident when he tried to tenderize tree snails in the washing machine, but…

      I was at Phebe, working in public health, especially the mobile maternal child health clinics. I was in-country after you, but I think our pilot, Gene LeVan, would have been around when you were there. I did some teaching in Gbarnga myself, at the School of Theology. They needed someone to take over a couple of pastoral care classes and supervise students in a clinical setting. My degree was in medical social work, and that was close enough. As you know, creativity in staffing often was a hallmark of life there.

      If you haven’t come across Liberia77, referenced above in my comment to Ken, it’s a gold mine of images. You may want to contribute to it yourself.

      Digital photography has changed so much – as has digital everything. I just was reading about current developments at GST, and see they’re getting e-readers to help make up for the lack of books. (Students have been copying material by hand, so everyone can have a copy. Scribes. Amazing.) There was a note that electricity still is an issue in Gbarnga, but I suppose if nothing else they can make a run down the road to Phebe or Cuttington to recharge the batteries – provided those institutions remain viable and their generators run. Funding problems abound, for the usual reasons.

      I’m so happy you stopped by, and I’m delighted to find your blog. Now I’ve got a hunger for some palm butter!


      1. What a great reply, Linda. I’ll check out Liberia 77. As for Phoebe, the young man who worked for us Sam Quellie/Kollie or Kylkon Mawkwi would eventually become a doctor and worked at Phoebe 2010-2012. Presently he is back in the US.

    1. klrs09,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Like some of the other commenters, you’re right to say that animals can exhibit human traits. My pet squirrel had one thing in common with my current kitty. When angry with me, he’d try stomping his feet first, and then turn his back. Dixie just turns her back. If I walk around to look her in the eye, she turns her back to me again.

      What creatures!


  11. What a great story! When I was in Zambia after I had a couple of rolls of film developed there (unsatisfactorily) I ended up sending all my film home to my parents, where they developed two sets & sent one back to me. That way my mom had an album of my pictures too & didn’t miss me QUITE as badly.

    1. The Bug,

      Some people did try that “mail it back to the States” routine, but there weren’t any guarantees that items would make it safely in either direction. Mail was usually fine, but parcels often disappeared. It’s amazing now to remember those days of communicating by Ham radio, phone patches and personal courier. The thought of a satellite phone would have seemed like science fiction to us.

      It was the most wonderful thing in the world that my folks came for a visit while I was there. Now I suddenly am wondering – whatever happened to their photos? Did they even take any? I don’t remember at all. Maybe I was the designated photographer. At least after their visit they could envision the things I talked about in my letters.


  12. A moving, heartfelt story. If only our fellow two-leggeds would treat each other with as much tenderness and compassion as your friend, Zero. (and I won’t say there’s Zero chance of that)…

    1. Monica,

      Sometimes we do. In fact, I suspect there’s far more tenderness and compassion in the world than most of us imagine. Likewise: respect, empathy and good humor. It’s one reason I so enjoy living and working among “ordinary” people, as opposed to the glitterati. There’s nothing at all wrong with cynicism, sarcasm and snark, but a steady diet of it all leaves me ready for some emotional comfort food.


    1. Richard,

      And just because we can talk doesn’t mean we’re smart!

      People who use the phrases “bird brain” and “dumb animal” often haven’t spent much time around birds or animals. ;-)


    1. Ian,

      I guess if I’m going to tell more stories about Liberia, I’m just going to have to improve my writing skills enough to allow you to see it all without photos!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. When I visited the friend in rehab I told you about, one of her nurses was from Liberia. He and his family were lucky enough to get out before the war. They walked to Ghana first, and then a few came to the States. Saying we’ve been lucky doesn’t begin to describe it.


  13. I have loved both of the last two stories you’ve written, Linda, but both have made me teary eyed. Poignant, recognizing the best qualities of a human and a chimp, you’ve told their stories well. I love your writing style.

    1. Lynda,

      Just think of the stories you’ll have to tell, once your “lady” has begun to record the history of your new home and you’ve learned all the secrets it has to share! I suspect there are some poignant chapters there, too, and tales of people who had their own good qualities.

      I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed these stories. You would have enjoyed Zero, too. I wonder how she’d do with babysitting your critters?


      1. I look forward to hearing them, and I hope she feels free to share any and all!

        As for Zero, I suspect that she would’ve lost it with Georgie. He attacks me daily now. :( The question I keep asking myself about him is this: “When is a pet no longer a pet?”

        1. My aunt had to get rid of a kitty that turned truly bad. She hated it, but it wasn’t wise for her to live with a beast that seemed suddenly determined to shred her like a scratching post. I had a rooster in Liberia named Mr. McBawk (spelling variable) that kept one of the hospital surgeons up with his 4 a.m. crowing. Ray bought him from me for $20 and he landed on the dinner table.

          1. I keep tellin’ him, “Georgie, you bite me again and I’m gonna put you in the smoker and BITE YOU BACK!” I think the deed will have to be done before we actually move, because he and Frellnick do NOT get along at all. It is hard. He was such a cute little gosling…

  14. I see that other people have already said “What a great story,” but those are the words that popped into my head when I read your post so I’ll say them too.

    I know what you mean about photographs in the tropics: some of the slides that I took in Honduras are in poor shape because of the heat and humidity they endured during the two years I was down there. But the black and white negatives that I developed in a tank in our kitchen sink, and the prints made from them, are still in good shape after more than four decades.

    I’m happy for you for having rediscovered your Zero picture. It’s obvious from your story that it means a lot to you.

    1. Steve,

      It’s great that you had the knowledge and skills (and the supplies) to do your own developing. At least my memories still are sharp and fresh, and even the dimmest photo can evoke wonderful memories.

      One of the great gifts of the internet is that more and more people are scanning their photos and putting them online. In the case of Liberia, it’s being done not merely for the satisfactions of sharing or preserving, but as a way to rebuild the history of a country badly damaged by war.

      Zero meant a lot to an amazing number of people. I suspect a few Liberians couldn’t understand why she hadn’t landed in a stew pot, but she survived even that threat.

      I’m glad you enjoyed her story. I’ll have to think about some of my other mementos. There may be other stories worth telling.


    1. It certainly does, montucky. On the other hand, if an animal’s behavior and obvious feelings can remind us of our better nature, that’s all to the good. As a species, it seems we need all the help we can get!


  15. Linda this has me streaming with tears. It’s been an emotional week and your story of loving kindness has just set me off! But in a good way…I’ve been holding it together since Wednesday when Herald was slaughtered and the abbatoir is as about as far away from kindness you can imagine. I’ve needed a good cry ever since…thanks.

    And the photos are poignant too, the one of your dad and the one of you presumably, with Zero? The way you’ve worked the images with the text is so good.

    It’s true we humans should try for tolerance honesty and humour. It’s easy to have these with people we like, the challenge is to extend them to people we don’t! Cultivating compassion is what the Buddhists call it…I’m working on it :)

    1. thinkingcowgirl,

      Oh, I’m so sorry. After your post about the discovery of the Johne’s disease of course I knew the day was coming, but it was a bit of a shock to hear you say the deed is done. I’ve a few tears myself. Herald was such a handsome fellow – I hate that it had to end this way.

      Now, we’ll just hope that the calves are fine. They can be his legacy to your farm – fat, and healthy, and of course as humorous and loving as Zero ever thought to be.

      Yes, indeed. That’s me, with Zero. When I look at the photo now I wonder how in the world I could have just accepted having a chimp as a friend as just a part of life. But I did.

      It’s such a shame my dad died so young – well, relatively so. In his 60s. He had an adventurous spirit, deep curiosity and loved to travel. We could have left Mom home with her knitting and done every sort of marvelous thing. She would have been happy, and so would we. Ah, well. The years we had were good.

      You’re right that it is easily to be tolerant, pleasant and so on with those we like and enjoy. As my grandmother reminded us so often, just because we disagree with someone doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable!

      Every now and then I wonder – could “this” be on youtube? I wondered that about a cow song. Oh me of little faith. Maybe this one will bring you a smile!


  16. Once again I’m feeling that any response to your writing is entirely inadequate. So many thoughts and so little time, so there’s this:

    I’m still smiling at the image of Zero lounging with a paperback and lemonade.

    Thank you for yet another beautiful and emotionally instructive reminiscence.

    1. Hippie Cahier,

      There’s only one thing missing from that image of a lounging Zero – the music. Here’s one of my favs from my time there. Even though it was Liberia, music from Ghana was a Very Big Deal. I’m not sure it would do for one of your workouts, but it did very well for sitting around with a Fanta in the shade of a palm or an evening of dancing in Monrovia.

      Here’s another one called “The Kusum Beat”. When I got back to the States and was living in Berkeley, we used to go over to Oakland to hear Tower of Power. I’ve never figured out who was doing the borrowing – maybe it was reciprocal – but the relationship is clear.

      And I’m glad you enjoyed the tale as much as I enjoyed the telling.


    1. Lisa,

      Amazing, really, how many similarities there are between your world and the world I shared with Zero. Even some of the patterns you’ve used on the floors are much like the block printed fabrics we used.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post – it’s a rich and amazing world in which we live!


  17. I feel humbled by Zero’s story – and reminded that reaching out and being with a fellow creature in joy, sorrow, laughter, sharing of many kinds, is at the core of those things in life which sustain us all, human and animal, most deeply. Thank you so much for bringing your Liberian experiences so vividly to life for us.

    1. Anne,

      Selfishness, self-absorption or sharing – that really is one of the basic life choices, isn’t it? My grandmother used to say, ” A shared joy is a double joy, a shared sorrow is half a sorrow”. I’ve seen that described as a Swedish proverb and she was Swedish, but whatever the source, it’s perfectly true.

      And isn’t it a delight to share our stories?


  18. Linda,
    Let me add my voice to those who sing your praises as a storyteller and weaver of tales. You indeed paint a vibrant picture with words, and bring to life Zero and everything you write about. I was especially interested in your interpretation of Zero’s capacity to cope with personal sorrow by becoming so empathetic and useful. Many thanks.

    1. Rosemary,

      I’ve been thinking about story-telling a good bit today, and I’ve been intrigued to realize how many “story-telling cultures” I’ve been a part of. There was Liberia, of course, a land of oral history and folk tales. There was rural Texas, a place where a shade tree and a glass of sweet tea is all that’s needed to start someone off. And of course there was the sailing world, and all the stories of poorly-chosen anchorages, bad navigation and impossible coincidence.

      For most of my life I’ve been a listener. Maybe now I’m learning how to tell a tale. Story-telling isn’t gossip, after all, or a simple recitation of details. There’s a certain structure, that grows slowly – just like your moon shell!

      Thanks so much for your kind words. And thanks, too, for your current series. You already know how much inspiration I’ve drawn from your musings and the quotations you add.


  19. I saw my e with your post come in on my iPhone while on the road. So I mentioned the title to my husband as we rode along musing..wonder who Zero is!! But I knew it was someone or something with chances! And, so it is and I love the tale and the glimpse into a part of your growing up years.

    When I lived in the Philippines as a high school senior through freshman college, I mostly shot underwater pictures and we used Kodak Ecktachrome film. Getting film developed was an issue and sending away took so long so we had E4 kits as I recall and deveoloped our own slides. It worked pretty well but I must say the longevity of the ones we did were not equal to Kodaks. The black and white prints we made at the hobby shop on base fared better.

    So while today I worry about losing pictures to computer crashes, it is good to remember that film negatives had factors that might cause loss as well, as heat and moisture. This is why we treasure the ones that survive and are fortunate when good memories fill the outline of our lives.

    Thanks for sharing this bit of your experience and the charming chimp who is certainly no zero!! :) I always love your storytelling!!

    1. Judy,

      I just smiled when I saw you refer to my years in Liberia as my “growing up years”. I was nearly 30 at the time, so in a strictly chronological sense I already was grown. On the other hand, during those years I had remarkable freedom in my work, and the chance to make some choices about what I did. It was a growth-filled time, for sure.

      Everyone I know says the b&w photos from those years survived much better than color. I know that some of the black and white family photos I have from as far back as 1910-1920 are in very good condition – still sharp and unfaded. Now, if only someone in the family could remember who’s in the photos!

      I have noticed something remarkable as I browsed other Liberia photos over the past days. One person’s photo of Monrovia, or Gbarnga, or the bush is very much like another person’s photo (unless the focus is on individuals, of course). As a result, photos I no longer have can be replaced by archived photos. For my purposes – memory – that works perfectly well.

      Thanks for stopping by – I’m really glad you enjoyed the story!


      1. LOL!! I appreciate your utter graciousness with my error. Probably overlaid my personal reality that my travel was most often as a military dependent at my Dad’s overseas duty stations. So your Dad being there and the girl with the chimp looks quite young :)
        so perhaps I can be forgiven!!

        I have found that some things look quite similar in photographs even decades apart. My grandparents met in the Philippines when grandmother at 18 took a big boat alone out there to visit her brother in the military and met grandfather. Photos from their time are quite similar to the ones I have from when I was there at 18!! So even the older photos trigger my memories of being there!! Shoot..MINE are old now too!!

        So as you say when our own images get lost or destroyed, we are so fortunate that there is such a wealth of archived photos we can see for that sweet tangibility which supports memory.

        1. Trust me – I did look quite a bit younger then – about thirty-five years younger! The great irony is that I feel much younger now than I did then. I was a terribly serious, “grown-up” child, so it’s been fun to recover a certain child-like enjoyment of life in my middle years. (I did hear a news report about an “elderly” person of sixty-five the other day, but I’m not accepting that.)

          As for things maintaining continuity with the past – it’s completely amazing to me that the book that best captures the reality of up-country Liberia for me is still Graham Greene’s “Journey Without Maps”. I’m so grateful that I had a chance to sit on the gallery of the City Hotel in Freetown prior to its destruction in war. It probably was my best “life-imitates-art” moment of all time.

  20. Loved your account of Zero. the older I get, the more I appreciate the personalities in our pets..we have a dog (Libby) who is definitely her own person..a few years ago, I had a pet pig (Winston) who was also highly intelligent. Your story made Zero come alive to me. Thank you! dm

    1. DM,

      They’re real individuals, aren’t they? Before my cat came into my life, my up-close-and-personal experience with animal had included Zero, a rooster, a squirrel and a prairie dog. A cat that just lounges around the house and asks to be brushed morning and night is a bit of a relief! (Here’s Miss Dixie)

      A friend and I just were talking about pet pigs last weekend. Is yours a miniature, or a pot-belly, or “just” a pig? She said she’d heard they were intelligent, but never had known anyone who had one. Have your written about him? I’ll have to go look.

      Glad you enjoyed the post! I wonder if we could have trained Zero to pick apples?


      1. Winston was a 600 pounds (and growing) pig. She was 2 years old when I decided it was time to say good by. I donated her to a camp for handicapped children and adults. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to add her to their petting zoo so she was sent directly to the locker upon leaving our home. :-( Scrolling back through my archives I did write about her a couple of times but the blog posts are not nearly as interesting to read as yours here about zero. I’m sure you could have trained her (Zero) to pick apples! What really surprised me was just how social Winston was..she wanted and needed interaction/ just like a human. I have a picture of her and I that would melt your heart. It looks just like she is smiling @ me.

        1. I loved Winston’s pictures, and I also commend you for being so clear about the fact that animals are animals. They deserve the best we can give them, they never should be abused, and they certainly are entitled to long, healthy lives if we adopt them as pets. But when the time comes to end the relationship, we also have to do that as responsibly as possible.

          I appreciated the post about your dog, too – and the poem. Experiences like that are hard, and hard to write about, but when we have to go through them posts like yours are a great help.

          Thanks for telling me about Winston!

  21. What a lovely insight into such a formative experience. It is interesting how animals often teach us how to be human. They endure too much of our foolishness with an aplomb that is seen too rarely in Homo Sapiens.

    1. Allen,

      Animals that have entered into a relationship with people, whether our “normal” cats and dogs or other creatures, do seem to have a tolerance and patience that’s remarkable. Sometimes, we forget just how important we are to them. We get up and go, we do this and we do that, and they wait – for play, for attention, for whatever it is that’s most important to them.

      I always have to be careful with Dixie – cats are so quiet and so patient (except at 5 a.m.!) that I can forget she’s there until I see her sitting next to this computer with a look on her face that says, “You are neglecting your duties!” I apologize immediately, and get with it!


  22. Linda,

    I think this is the first time I read about your time in Africa, and oh what a story. I await your version of “Out of Africa”, compilation of personal essays and insights. Way to go for putting down in writing to share some precious experiences… and the more fortunate for us your readers. ;)

    1. Arti,

      Do you know I’ve never read “Out of Africa”, and despite your marvelous reviews never have seen the movie? I don’t really know why, except that my “African reading” has been focused west and north. East and West Africa are as different as Manhattan, NYC is from Manhattan, Nevada (population 174).

      There probably will be another story or three. I’ve been turning one over in my mind for about three years – it’s just a matter of letting it find it’s direction. This one was fun to write and share, though. And, oh! you would love the birds there! Some are complete pests, like the rice birds that can eat unimaginable amounts of grain in the fields. But some are beautiful, with lovely songs.


  23. I’m also so very happy you found the wonderful photo of you and Zero and shared her story. Remarkable to know that she learned to catch balls and was such a good babysitter.
    Reading your story reminded me of Robert Sapolsky’s brilliant book about his twenty-one-year study of a troop of rambunctious baboons in Kenya:
    “A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons.”

    I’m sure you could write a book about your stay in Liberia.

    So sad that her baby was killed for meat. The poaching of wild animals by hungry people in Africa is becoming a really serious problem.

    I also wanted to know what happened to Zero. I hope she managed to survive the war.
    I love the photo of your Dad and the chief, and the cyclist riding along that narrow bridge, and the kids :D

    1. Rosie,

      Baboons, chimps and monkeys are fabulous creatures. There were monkeys in Liberia, too, but we rarely saw them in the wild. Occasionally one would show up in the market, usually smoked. They were considered “Bush meat”, a loose category that went far beyond the usual definition of meat as chicken, goat or beef.

      Probably my most unusual meal was one I encountered pretty far off the beaten path. The “soup” atop my rice was good, but I was a little puzzled when I found the “W” shaped bones in the bottom of the bowl. Eventually I figured it out – fruit bat! The bones were from the wings.

      When it comes to hunting, you have to understand – there are no grocery stores in the bush. Even in the towns, the markets are selling primarily local foods. There were a few stores that had some basics, but for “real” groceries we had to travel to Monrovia.

      People there hunt, gather and farm in order to eat. It isn’t poaching as we usually think of it – taking animals for their ivory or skins. It’s a simple matter of putting food in the bowl. Finding meat can be quite an occasion. Even termites (bugabugs) are eaten – they’re very high in protein, and if you roast them they have a crunch like popcorn.

      As for other foods – do you need plantain, bananas or coconut? You cut them. Do you want wine to celebrate an occasion? You take a machete, top a palm tree and hang a bucket to collect your wine. Palm nuts, greens, cassava, rice, ground pea (peanuts), collards and such were staples. Grapefruit and oranges were around, as well as eggplant and “butter pear” or avocado. You could buy Mandingo bread in the market, and sometimes eggs, but you always were on the lookout for food – just like a hunter in the bush.

      My gosh – even the pet dogs and cats ate rice mixed with canned mackerel. I’m not sure there was any normal pet food in the country. And if you had a pet, you kept your eye on it, lest it land on someone’s dinner table.

      You think there weren’t some Liberians with their eye on Zero, mentally flipping through their recipe file? I suspect there were more than a few!


      1. I think I’ve seen too many photos of animals orphaned by hungry villagers in magazine like “National Geographic” so its good to hear the other side of the story. I know Africa and I understand that there aren’t many stores in the bush but I haven’t lived in a place like Liberia where one had to drive to Monrovia for real “groceries”. Good heavens!

  24. Thank you for sharing those personal photos and stories. Having been a humane investigator (in the US) I have many thoughts and feelings about Zero’s life, but what was is no more and lives collide.

    1. Martha,

      As I mentioned to DM, animals deserve to be treated with dignity, and to live without abuse. On the other hand, our culture and the realities of Liberia are so different that it’s hard to impose our values there. I don’t know how things have changed, of course – but I suspect humane treatment of animals was at the bottom of the list for a time. During the civil war, the biggest issue was inhumane treatment of humans.

      The nearest analogy I can think of is the Native Americans’ use of the buffalo. The were hunted, yes. But everything was used – the meat for food, the hide for shelter, and so on. It was the same for Liberian hunters.

      As someone once said, Zero’s name could have stood for the fact that it made zero sense to many folks that she should be kept as a pet/family member. But she was, and she brought great joy to a lot of people, especially the children.

      Who knows? Maybe one of the Liberian children who got to know her will be involved in better treatment for the country’s animals as the nation gets back on its feet.


      1. You’re right. And yes, tough to impose our values except in situations of outright abuse and cruelty. As an investigator I found for the most part people did not intend to abuse their pets by not feeding or sheltering them properly. The people themselves often did not live any better than their “pets”. It was an education issue often and a financial issue, too.

        1. I admire you for being able to do that job. One thing I’ve become far more conscious of is the relationship between hoarding behavior and animal abuse. When I was growing up, we always knew about “the crazy cat lady” or the guy who just had too many horses for his land, but we never really thought about what intervention would require. As a matter of fact, we never thought about doing anything – I think that was partly because of the era, and partly because hoarding has gotten worse. Back then, “crazy cat lady” might have a dozen – not a hundred!

  25. What a heartwarming story about Zero.

    I don’t recall hearing you mention before that your folks visited you while you were in Liberia. How wonderful that they had the chance to do that.

    1. Gué,

      Oh, it was wonderful to have them there. Dad had retired not so long before they came. As both he and Mom told the story, they had planned to go to Arizona with friends and spend some of the winter there. One day he wandered into the kitchen and said, “Tell you what. As long as we’re going all the way to Arizona, why don’t we go on over to Africa and visit Linda?”

      Truly, I have no idea what my mom said or how they worked things out from there, but they showed up and stayed in a house just across the road. I think Dad’s biggest thrill was getting to fly into one of our mobile clinic villages, and Mom’s was shopping, of course! She saw all those beautiful tie-dye and wax print fabrics, not to mention the Fanti cloth in the markets, and she was a happy camper.

      They thought Zero was pretty cute, too.


      1. “As long as we’re going all the way to Arizona, why don’t we go on over to Africa and visit Linda?” Your dad made it sound like Africa was just a couple of blocks further on down the road! lol

        1. Oh, he was something. He was the explorer, the curious one, and I was his traveling buddy from the days we’s sneak off to drive country roads when we were supposed to be doing something useful, like going to the dump.

          He was a smart cookie, too. He knew that if he was casual enough and made it sound like Africa was just down the road, he’d have a better chance of getting there!

  26. Lovely story! I particularly like your description of the source of her empathy :” she knew grief ….she could detect grief in people”. Also enjoyed your muse that her tolerance, honest, and humor might work for people. I always hope that to be the case, and try to live it in my days, just to be sure!!

    1. Irunsolo,

      Just don’t forget the “perhaps” at the beginning of that sentence! It’s a bit of a weasel word, of course – who really can know the mind of a chimp? But she did seem to have a keen sense of human emotion, and seemed to adjust herself accordingly.

      I’m with you. Tolerance, honesty and humor beat intolerance, duplicity and snark every single day of the week. We all depart from the good path at times, but it’s the trying that matters.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind words! You’re always welcome!


  27. Wonderful story, as so many others have said. Your closing line reminds me of a young man who took the online poetry course “ModPo” that I’ve mentioned from time to time. He was hugely intelligent and insightful, but autistic and unable to speak. Instead, he wrote his thoughts and his father spoke for him. He described himself this way: “I am a seventeen-year-old boy emerging from autism. I can’t yet sit still in a classroom so ModPo was my first real course ever. During the course I had to keep pace with the class, which is unheard-of in special ed.”

    He came “live” to the final webcast (as did I). He and others were asked to give two words to describe their experience. At first he wrote his words, as usual, and his father read them out. Then he reached for the microphone. This is what he said: “Not impossible.” It was an extraordinary moment in this extraordinary course.

    You can read a bit more about him here.

    1. Susan,

      Your first quotation from the boy reminded me of Walt Whitman – a poet who had his own words to say about sitting still in class, if his “Learn’d Astronomer” is any evidence. I know a few astronomers who hate and despise the poem, thinking it anti-scientific and such, but there’s no doubt students of every sort can identify with it.

      I was much taken with his comment about being expected to keep pace with the class. Sometimes, we expect far too little from people with handicaps of all sorts – one of the most subtle forms of discrimination.

      Your description of events at the final webcast is breath-taking. “Not impossible”, indeed. But what’s even more breath-taking is Daniel’s letter to Prof. Filreis. Good grief. It makes me slightly ashamed, though of what, I can’t quite say. Not taking advantage of the possibilities open to me, perhaps.


  28. Thank you for this wonderful reminder that, in the end, we’re all just looking for connection and closeness. All of the photos portray that, as does the story about Zero. I was also fascinated by the way your father and the village chief were dressed in that top picture. Was it ever cool enough in Liberia to wear a winter hat and jacket?

    1. Charles,

      And isn’t it remarkable that so many of our new technologies and social platforms, ostensibly meant to encourage connection, end by doing quite the opposite? There’s no wholesale rejection of Facebook and other social media on the horizon, but there’s clearly much more questioning going on, and some well-reasoned decisions against them being published.

      As for the clothing in the photo – that’s fashion and status, not necessary protection. It never got cold enough for winter clothing, although occasional mornings in the dry season would be cool enough for jackets. But headgear in Liberia was ubiquitous when I was there – caps for the men, headties for the women. Current photos show they’re still in favor.

      As for the jacket – when important people show up, you get out of your tee shirt and put on something a little more appropriate! It’s a way of showing respect, and a way of indicating the chief’s status.

      Here’s another little tidbit you’ll enjoy. The fish was a gift, as was a bucket of rice. When given such a gift, the custom was for the person receiving the gift to give back a portion. My father, with infinite good sense, gave back the fish. Rice was much easier to carry back home.


  29. An incredibly well written story that tugged at my heart stings. Chimps are so closely related to us. It is especially easy to understand and empathize with these magnificent creatures. Thanks for sharing these memories. I will remember this story for a long time.

    1. WildBill,

      It is easy to empathize with the chimps – and apparently they find us worth a little empathy, too. When we’re granted a relationship like this, the effect does linger. It’s been thirty-five years since Zero and I shared a little corner of this planet, and it’s as fresh in my memory as if it had been last week.

      Speaking of animals and friendship, you’ll never guess who showed up in my town a couple of weeks ago – Rosie and Opal’s circus! Of course I went, and of course there are photos, and of course there will be a story or two, especially about one of Rosie and Opal’s friends named Isa!


    1. Rosemary,

      I haven’t seen it, but I agree absolutely with her thesis, and I’m eager to read the book.

      One of the most remarkable sights I’ve ever witnessed was a pair of boat-tailed grackels grieving one of their babies who fell from the nest in a palm tree. I hardly can bear to recall it. Each parent in turn stood over the baby, fanning their wings frantically as though to breath life back into it. They stayed with it for a full half-hour, until, apparently exhausted, they flew off with terrible cries. I took the baby away, and cried a bit myself.

      Many thanks for the recommendation!


  30. All I can say is… WOW. This brought tears to my eyes. I hope you have a place to submit this beautiful story, this amazing tribute to Zero. Thank you so very much.

    I hope this exceptional creature lived the rest of her well-deserved days in peace. With each new “study” I read on primates, it appalls me all that more, what WE as a species do to them.

    Finally… My mother and I rescued a beautiful thoroughbred, who was slated for slaughter. He was on his way to the Killers Auction. He had won all his races, but as an “older” guy (not really), and slightly ornery — scars all over his body attested to horrific abuse at the track — he was called, yep, ZERO. We immediately changed his name to Blythe Spirit. Unfortunately, he wasn’t with us long — too much trauma to his poor body. But his remaining time on this planet was in basking love. :)

    1. FeyGirl,

      How amazing that your horse also was named Zero. I’m glad you changed his name. Blythe Spirit has so many good associations – I loved the film – and it sounds as though he had zero importance for his previous owners. Well, except for winning races, I suppose. I’m glad he had some good months or years with you.

      There’s a dog track down the road from me, and a very active greyhound adoption group in Houston. I really don’t know much about them, but from what I’ve read they’re doing an excellent job of keeping an eye on conditions here. Every track, dog or horse, needs such people.

      I’m just so glad you enjoyed Zero’s story. I couldn’t imagine that you wouldn’t. I wish you could have met her and gotten a hug, too!


    1. Claudia,

      Isn’t that the truth? She understood the importance of hugs, for sure. I think she was bigger on receiving than giving, but it really didn’t’ matter. The fact that she loved people was obvious, and I don’t know anyone who wasn’t willing to give her a hug!


  31. I love that Zero became a babysitter for a human baby, particularly after losing her own. The instinct is there, regardless of species. And I love your photo of yourself with Zero.

    I can’t imagine living in a country going through so many throes as Liberia. You must have been incredibly unsettled over the years?

    1. Val,

      Actually, I was in Liberia prior to the coup that preceded the civil war. When I went back for an extended visit, the coup had taken place and Samuel Doe was in power. The atmosphere was quite different at that point, but I didn’t have any real trouble. I wasn’t too fond of handing over my passport to soldiers in the middle of the street, but what to do?

      I think there are many instincts – or at least tendencies – that would show themselves, if only we would let them. Affection and a sense of natural connectedness are real – but they need nurturing, too.


  32. Thank you for sharing and I love the photo of you with Zero. I can only imagine what it was like in Liberia and it must have a tumultuous place to have been but there must also been so much beauty. In the next phase of my life when the kids have flown the nest my goal is to volunteer overseas.

    1. belleofthecarnival,

      When I lived there, I wouldn’t say it was tumultuous. That came later. But it was filled with complexities and struggles. They weren’t always so obvious on the surface, but they were there.

      It was beautiful. In fact, it sometimes was indescribably beautiful. The flowering trees could be astonishing, and there were so many gardenias around my house it just was heaven. I especially liked the birds, some of which had the most melodius calls in the world.

      There’s plenty to do in such countries, and many, many good organizations who provide opportunities and support. There’s no question in my mind that you’d do well and enjoy it.


    1. Promenade Claire,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Zero truly was a character, and deserved a story of her own!

      Thanks for your gracious comment. You’re always welcome!


    1. Andrew, those pics are, in a very real sense, street photography! Granted, the streets weren’t paved and in some cases were little more than a machete-cleared path, but people are people. Well, except when they’re chimps!

      Glad you enjoyed the post!


  33. I am following up Harper’s Nudge, and I’m so glad he pointed me / us this way… such a moving story… like the story of Christian the Lion ( it’s on YOutube if you haven;t seen it) it breaks me up to know the depths of love and devotion that the members of other orders of creation have, and if one of them has it, they all have it – and how we de-value, exploit and destroy them.
    beautiful piece, thank you…

    1. valeriedavies,

      So nice to have you stop by! And of course you’re right about the capacity for love and devotion demonstrated by other species. It’s a marvel to behold when we’re granted an opportunity to observe – or take the time.

      Humans are more than exploiters and destroyers, of course, but our willingness to impose our will (or senseless cruelty) on those who are weaker and less able to defend themselves is well-documented. Unfotunately, we de-value, exploit and destroy members of our own species, as well.

      I’ve not heard of Christian the Lion – I’ll be sure to take a look, and I’ll be by to visit you as well. I usually do my “catching up” with all things bloggish on the weekend – or rainy days when I can’t work.

      Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them!


  34. That’s a thought-provoking story. We — in the broadest sense — spend far more time destroying animal life than trying to understand it better. We have barely scratched the surface with primates and whales and elephants, for instance, and they might disappear before we get much deeper. What a sin.

    We were in the zoo in Zurich many years ago, and we encountered a great ape that did not want to be photographed, and that was that. She would stare straight at us as long as the camera was on my lap or on the bench. Whenever I raised it, she would turn her back to me, giving me an occasional glance over her shoulder. The message seemed to be: “I find your species amusing, but don’t take advantage of my good nature.”

    1. Charles,

      I love your story from the Zurich zoo. The behavior demonstrated by the ape seems (at least in my extremely limited experience) to be cross-species. My cat turns her back to me when she’s angry, and when I had my pet squirrel, he absolutely was intentional with that behavior. If he was angry, he’d turn his back and cross his forepaws. If I walked around to face him, he’d turn his back to me again. It could go on for quite a time.

      Eventually I got smart, and started doing the same thing to punish him for misbehavior. He really couldn’t stand having me turn my back to him. It was the funniest thing in the world, and much safer than trying to take on an angry squirrel directly.

      I think there are a couple of reasons we do so badly when it comes to understanding animals. We don’t spend enough time with them, and we aren’t patient enough to allow them to teach us how best to interact with them. Of course, that could apply in our relationships with humans, too.


  35. Thank you so much for this beautiful and touching story. Don’t animals teach us a lot ? There is so much to read in their eyes, in their movements, gestures. I love the pictures, the memories you shared with us.

    1. Isabelle,

      I have in mind an image of your little teacher – so funny, and so sweet. I do hope his health still is good, and that he’s enjoying the coming of spring.

      Don’t you think the greatest gifts all animals offer to us is to slow us down, so that we can stop the chatter and just enjoy? I watch many, many dog owners here in my apartment complex, and long ago decided one reason so many people have dogs is that the dogs give them an excuse to play.

      And isn’t sharing memories wonderful? You do it in so many ways, but I think especially of your quilts. Piecing together the past, as a gift to the future. That’s what we all do, in one way or another.

      So nice to see you! I hope all is well.


  36. Saw a not-quite-so-successful Broadway play, “The Happy Time”, approx. 45 years ago. The one phrase I recall, “The best pictures are in the mind”…

    1. Lindy Lee,

      Every now and then I get into a discussion with a friend over the question: if you had to choose, would you prefer your body to fall apart or your mind? I’ve always come down on the side of keeping a sharp mind and a good memory. The line from that play is precisely the reason.

      Both would be best, of course, but I certainly don’t want to give up that mental picture album!


    1. Cherie,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it. When I saw your comment, I couldn’t help but spend a few seconds pondering whether Zero might have been good as a goat herder. Probably not, but it’s fun to ponder!

      As I said somewhere in the comments, anyone who uses the phrases “bird-brain” or “dumb animals” still has a little learning to do.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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