I used to live my life for the summers.
Growing up in a maritime New England town, summer was always the “best” season. The warm weather and sandy coastline brought tourists from all over, and my teenage friends and I spent those months playing baseball, mowing lawns, and bringing Dunkin iced coffees to our favorite beaches. Even though I moved to a big city and academics took over, I still wanted to live my life in a permanent state of summer vacation and I developed this dream of expatriating to the tropics and staying there. As a naive young biologist, my plan was to track wild primates through jungles all morning and end each day with a bottle of rum in a hammock overlooking some turquoise lagoon. (Don’t ask me how I planned to fund that kind of lifestyle.)
In an unexpected turn of events, I now reside in an arid place far from the ocean where the summers are short, windy and dry. I’ve grown to respect the other seasons and, for some reason, I can now see the beauty in even the most frigid, gloomy, foggy, damp, and dusty landscapes. The Pacific Northwest is a natural marvel; it’s truly a wonder that the snow-capped Cascades can exist so close to the mossy forests of the Olympic coast, the dusty shrub-steppe of the Columbia plateau, and the wind-blown grasslands of the Palouse. Out here, there’s no such thing as perfect weather; there is just weather, and you better have the right gear for it.
Now, the central region of Washington state is transitioning from a cool and wet spring into a dry and hazy summer. Yesterday was the official solstice, but we have had golden sunlight well into the evenings for the whole month of June. The cattle are grazing heartily on the prairie grasses and make daily pilgrimages back to their watering hole before finding some afternoon shade below the pines. Jamie and the gang have been taking advantage of the extra daylight to go on more group patrols out in their grassy enclosure, and Willy B and his friends have been napping in the Courtyard and sunbathing in the outdoor chute.
I sometimes wonder if, in some abstract way, the summer months have a similar effect on the chimpanzees as they had on adolescent me. As I watch them chase each other around the Hill, harvest wild greens, sunbathe in the Greenhouse and slurp down chunks of avocado and watermelon, it’s easy to forget just how much the chimps also enjoy crunching on icicles, taking in the crisp fall breeze and napping on rainy days. Like true residents of the Pacific Northwest, they can make the most of any season and aren’t deterred by a little precipitation. Although they may not have the same sentimental attachment to summer that I once had, I hope that their entire sanctuary experience gives them a similar sense of freedom, with their only objective being to do whatever they feel like doing within the confines of their sheltered home. Since they’ve just celebrated the twelfth anniversary of their retirement to sanctuary, they have now had 4,392 consecutive days of vacation. That’s a whole lot o’ summer.
Of course, there are those who generally prefer the comforts of the indoors and the word “vacation” just means that they don’t need to get out of bed. To these individuals, the seasonal changes really don’t seem to matter too much and just seem to flow around them. The chief of these stoic couch-potatoes is Negra. “The Queen” will occasionally venture out to participate in an outdoor forage, but she generally has the same low-key itinerary each day, rain or shine. Today, she napped in the Greenhouse under a pile of fleece blankets while the other chimps engaged in summer fun out on the Hill. Happy four-thousand, three-hundred and ninety-second day of summer break, Neggie.