Today I turn 47. On June 13th we will celebrate Queen Negra’s 47th birthday.
I hope you will consider honoring us both today, as well as supporter Monica Best, who had her own birthday last week, by donating to our GiveBIG page.
In truth, we don’t know exactly how old Negra is or what day she was actually born. No one celebrated her birthday before she came to the sanctuary. This year, however we are inviting all of you to join her birthday celebration.
We chose June 13th to celebrate her because it was the day she and her six friends arrived at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in 2008. It marked a new birth for her and for all seven of the chimpanzees.
When Negra and her friends arrived, I was the Director of Outreach for the sanctuary and J.B. was the Director of Operations. We had met the chimpanzees at the Buckshire Corporation months previously and wrote about those early meetings when this blog was in its own infancy.
I absolutely do not have a favorite chimpanzee. I truly love them all. There’s something unique about each of them that makes me admire and appreciate them. That said, it didn’t take me very many visits to confess my love for Negra.
Back in 2008 when so many people were working incredibly hard to get the chimpanzees to CSNW, I never would have guessed that I would still be here twelve years later. And I definitely would not have guessed that Negra would still be here.
Supporter Kathleen Corby, in wishing me a happy birthday today, reminded me of this blog post I wrote about Negra a couple of years ago.
There’s probably a common theme to many of the posts I’ve written about Negra, who was the oldest of the group. The theme, whether written explicitly or just implied, is the limited amount of time Negra might have to experience her sanctuary life and therefore, indeed, every single moment was invaluable.
Witnessing Negra do even the simplest things brings me immense joy, like when she was eating scraps in the greenhouse last week:
or swinging from the fire hose Super Negra style the other day:
Not bad for a 47 year old, if I do say so myself.
Two days ago, Kelsi and Chad were attempting to close up the chimp house after dinner. J.B. and I live in the residence on the property, a stone’s throw from the chimps’ home. I had gone outside to take some trash out, and I noticed Kelsi and Jamie on a walk. Jamie noticed me too and insisted I join them.
One walk turned into a few walks. After a bit, Chad went home and Kelsi went back inside to finish up some tasks.
It was the most beautiful evening I have ever experienced at the sanctuary. The weather was perfectly comfortable, with very little wind, which is unusual in the spring. The grass had taken on that almost unbelievably green luminescence, there were flowers, birds, and squirrels in every direction, and the fruit trees were attracting thousands of pollinating insects. Life was literally everywhere.
The cows were grazing on one side of me while Jamie slowly sauntered on the other side. She was picking dandelions, eating their stems, and discarding the flowers.
There was a magazine article that came out several years ago that described the sanctuary property as bucolic. At the time, it made me laugh. Only a writer who lived in a big city would use that word to describe the grounds. But the other night as I looked around, listening to the cows happily grazing, watching the swallows flitting by, and walking ever so slowly on the other side of a fence from a chimpanzee, the word came back to me. If ever there was a bucolic scene, even with the unusual addition of a chimpanzee, it was this.
Jamie’s walking ritual has always presented opportunities for me to reflect. It’s ironic, in a way. Jamie can be a very intense individual. No one would describe her as laid back. But her need to walk and her desire to have a human join her has helped me on multiple occasions tamp down my own moments of intensity, allowing me to relax and be in the moment.
And so it was the other night as we walked or just stood and took in the bucolic scenery around us.
When she was finally satisfied with walking, we settled in the greenhouse so she could groom the boots on my feet, as that is perhaps the most important part of her ritual.
I took this photo of her hand holding the stick that she poked through the mesh to groom my boot:
I’ve been noticing those hairs on Jamie’s hands for about a year. Like humans, as chimpanzees age, sometimes their hair loses pigment and fades to gray.
Foxie too has been collecting gray hair these last few years. Here’s a photo I took of her the day after her exam as she lie perfectly content with her purple haired doll. In addition to the gray hair, we know from Foxie’s radiographs from earlier this week that she has arthritis in one of her hips. Other than those normal signs of aging, she seems to be in tip-top shape.
We’ve long described the chimpanzees as aging in reverse. They really did gain years on their lives when they arrived at the sanctuary. There is no denying now that they are aging in a forward direction.
Just like me.
Just like all of us.
Every moment is precious because there are a finite number of moments, and we don’t know what that number is. It’s both the tragedy and also the incredible beauty of our own lives and of caring for other living beings.
Who would have guessed that we would be so lucky to have had so many moments – coming up on twelve years worth of them – with these special seven chimpanzees, and now with three more special chimpanzees and four very cool cattle.
What a privilege to be getting older with all of them. And what a privilege that you are here too, a part of all of our lives.