Today’s day of sanctuary (including this blog post) was sponsored by Jenara Miller to celebrate the birthday of our dedicated supporter, Carrie Miller. Carrie is a friend of ours and is a pal of Burrito’s, and we wish her entire family nothing but happiness as they commemorate this special occasion!
Speaking of anniversaries, it’s almost been a year since I joined the CSNW staff last summer. It’s been a weird trip around the sun, to say the least, but there is nowhere else I would rather be despite all of the unusual circumstances. In the absence of a global pandemic, our organization would currently be preparing for our annual gala and auction which has traditionally occurred every summer in Seattle. With the event postponed, we’re hosting an online auction and a spectacular event called the Queen’s Brunch (and bidding starts tomorrow!). In this way, we plan to celebrate the birthdays of Honey B and Negra while uniting our community virtually. As the new mantra goes: Together, apart.
It’s very exciting, but that’s not what this entire blog post is about. This post is a case study.
When people ask me what the best part of my job is, my default answer is always, to keep it simple, “the chimpanzees.” It’s an answer based on subjective truth. They’re really, really great, even when they’re at their worst.
To be honest, though, there are more specific reasons why I love working at this unique sanctuary.
As caregivers at CSNW, a significant responsibility of ours is to serve as advocates, historians, and storytellers for the chimpanzees since they cannot act as such for themselves. Some organizations are large enough to employ personnel specifically for this purpose, but our small team shares the workload on a rotating basis. Our most valuable tool for this (as you may have guessed by now) is the sanctuary’s blog. I had already been a blog reader for a couple of years before I first visited the sanctuary as an intern, and I developed an appreciation for and familiarity with the individual chimpanzees through this virtual experience.
Years later, I’m occasionally on the other side of the keyboard. It’s certainly a privilege to write the blog each Sunday, and it’s sometimes unnerving to imagine hundreds of people receiving my words in their email inboxes. It can also be difficult to keep the content fresh and original without veering too far away from our reader’s comfort zones. We constantly walk the line between being creative and being familiar, and we hope to entertain just as much as we strive to inform. When you divide a year’s worth of daily posts among seven staff members, we each write about fifty-two posts annually and each one ends up being a new page in the documented history of the Cle Elum chimpanzees.
That’s a lot of creative work that needs to be completed amid all of the other tasks that we caregivers are also expected to get done (including everything from cleaning the drain filters to walking around the Hill with Jamie). Therefore, although writing the blog can be fun and is always rewarding, it can sometimes feel like another chore to add to our never-ending to-do list.
Today, I went to work with a rough idea of today’s blog theme in my head. This is NOT it. As the day progressed, my tentative ideas unraveled. By mid-afternoon, I had trashed the entire concept and was ready to move on. The necessary decision to change directions left me without a plan as the clock continued to tick. I wasn’t too worried, though. Blogs tend to work themselves out. I doubt that J.B. started his day on Friday with the expectation that Foxie would turn a routine session of positive reinforcement training into a heartwarming and hilarious game of tag. In the words of renowned artist Chuck Close,
“Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself… Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
So, I got to work. In this case, “work” consisted of disinfecting an enclosure, looking at some stool samples in the vet clinic, and then following Burrito’s excited head-nods and poignant sputters out to the Greenhouse for a rowdy game of chase. I had my camera with me, just in case one of the other chimps was napping photogenically in a sunbeam or something. Capturing photos of a rambunctious Burrito isn’t usually an option, so taking his picture didn’t even cross my mind. Usually, his style of chase involves banging on the caging, stomping around, and poking fingers and toes through the steel mesh that separates him from his human caregivers. He’s a flurry of limbs and laughter that cannot be captured.
He surprised me with a flash of opportunity, though, and I was unexpectedly prepared. Between his joyful bounces and hearty chuckles, he suddenly flopped onto his belly and calmly stared at me. Time seemed to slow down for a second. I lifted the camera up to my squinted eye and fired the shutter, expecting him to already be a shapeless blur by the time the photons hit the sensor. Shockingly, he laid in that prone position for what felt like a few seconds, allowing the tiny computer in my digital camera to construct several portraits of his goofy and lovable face. Even after he sat back up, he stayed just far enough away from the caging for my 35mm lens to keep him in focus for a few more snaps. Just like that, going to work had given me inspiration. You can all thank Burrito for today’s blog.