Lucy the Chimpanzee: A “haunting epic” tale from Radiolab that you will never forget

When I heard the life story of Lucy the chimpanzee on Radiolab I felt as if I had taken a spear through the heart. I connected with her innocence, her suffering, and her abandonment as if I were touching a downed live electrical wire.

Lucy was adopted at two days of age by a couple who raised her as their child. Later, after having been raised as a human, she was taken to Gambia and released on an island to live with a group of wild chimpanzees.

Lucy encountered one beautiful bit of good luck in her life: Janis Carter, who studied chimpanzees in Gambia, worked to help Lucy adjust to her new life. With great compassion and persistence she did what she could to ease Lucy’s sense of profound abandonment and loss.

Listen to this story. Once heard, you will never forget it. It haunts me now, almost a year since I first heard it, and I know it will stay with me for the duration.

May it inspire us all to protect the lives of animals everywhere. Click the photo for the link to the audio.

Lucy the Chimp: A True Tale of Staggering Sorrow & Loss

Lucy, wherever you are, may you be at peace now. May you live on in the heart of limitless grace.

Lucy the chimpanzee was raised as a human in the 1970s and 80s by Dr. Maurice and Jane Temerlin. Black and white images of Lucy with the Temerlins from Dr. Temerlin’s now out-of-print book, “Growing up Human,’ courtesy of Science and Behavior Books, Inc. Photos of Lucy in Gambia courtesy of Janis Carter. Slideshow produced by Sharon Shattuck.

Lucy clings to Janis Carter in their last meeting.

Lucy clings to Janis Carter in their last meeting. Then, resigned, drifts away into the forest.


How my dog became fat: I believed her when she said, “Help me. I haven’t eaten for days.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 2.12.32 PM I learned the hard way that a fat dog is, basically, a sick dog.

It was all my fault: I believed her when she seemed to say with her sweet, sincere eyes, “Help me. I am starving.” Inevitably she ballooned over time.

A vet said, “She’s got to go on a crash diet. Now,” and provided diet instructions on a green page from a prescription pad. I followed the instructions religiously. The plan worked.

I learned the hard way, at the expense of my dear pup, that a dog is a hedonist.

by Mary Oliver

“Please, please, I think I haven’t eaten
for days.”

What? Ricky, you had a huge supper.

“I did? My stomach doesn’t remember.
Oh, I think I’m fading away. Please
make me breakfast and I’ll tell you
something you don’t know.”

He ate rapidly.

Okay, I said. What were you going to
tell me?

He smiled the wicked smile. “Before we
came over, Anne already gave me my breakfast,”
he said.

Be prepared. A dog is adorable and noble.
A dog is a true and loving friend. A dog
is also a hedonist.

Beluga whale in a tank douses little boy

Do you get the feeling that the beluga whale may not be happy about being held in a tiny tank ogled by humans day-in and day-out? As Colin Baird, a former orca trainer, said about killer whales, “I think everyone has a better understanding of the natural world, and the intelligence and social infrastructure of these amazing animals — and that concrete pools are not a place for them to be.” That applies to beluga whales, too.

For an even-handed, level-headed view of killer whales held in captivity, see the documentary Blackfish, which “traces a 39-year history of killer whales in captivity leading up to the 2010 killing of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by the 12,000-pound orca, Tilikum.”

May whales everywhere thrive and increase. May they find safe, fertile waters untrammeled by humans through which to swim their daily rounds. May those places remain uncharted…

“It is not down in any map; true places never are.” Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.

‘Astronomy Picture of the Day’ returns after government narrowly escapes shutdown’s black hole

'Three Galaxies and a Comet' -- "Diffuse starlight and dark nebulae along the southern Milky Way arc over the horizon." From Astronomy Picture of the Day


by Freya Manfred

What matters most? It’s a foolish question because I’m hanging on,
just like you. No, I’m past hanging on. It’s after midnight and I’m falling
toward four a.m., the best time for ghosts, terror, and lost hopes.

No one says anything of significance to me. I don’t care if the President’s
a two year old, and the Vice President’s four. I don’t care if you’re
cashing in your stocks or building homes for the homeless.

I was a caring person. I would make soup and grow you many flowers.
I would enter your world, my hands open to catch your tears,
my lips on your lips in case we both went deaf and blind.

But I don’t care about your birthday, or Christmas, or lover’s lane,
or even you, not as much as I pretend. Ah, I was about to say,

“I don’t care about the stars” — but I had to stop my pen.
Sometimes, out in the silent black Wisconsin countryside
I glance up and see everything that’s not on earth, glowing, pulsing,
each star so close to the next and yet so far away.

Oh, the stars. In lines and curves, with fainter, more mysterious
designs beyond, and again, beyond. The longer I look, the more I see,
and the more I see, the deeper the universe grows.

I have a long way to go, and I’m starting now —
out in the silent black Wisconsin countryside.

“Stars” by Freya Manfred, from Swimming with a Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2008.

…Of how we ought / To let life go on where / And when it can.

Please stop for turtles on the road, any road, every road. Help them to cross in the direction they were headed. More tips to help turtles here:

Please stop for turtles on the road, any road, every road. Help them to cross in the direction they were headed. More tips to help turtles here:

An Interruption

by Robert S. Foote

A boy had stopped his car
To save a turtle in the road;
I was not far
Behind, and slowed,
And stopped to watch as he began
To shoo it off into the undergrowth—

This wild reminder of an ancient past,
Lumbering to some Late Triassic bog,
Till it was just a rustle in the grass,
Till it was gone.

I hope I told him with a look
As I passed by,
How I was glad he’d stopped me there,
And what I felt for both
Of them, something I took
To be a kind of love,
And of a troubled thought
I had, for man,
Of how we ought
To let life go on where
And when it can.

“An Interruption” by Robert S. Foote.

Wine Tea Chocolate + Family and Friends = A Very Good Thing

I just returned from an amazing evening at the lovely Wine Tea Chocolate cafe in Fremont. My friend, I will call her Mimi, organized a get-together there so that her friends could meet her identical twin sister who is visiting. Her twin sister’s 11-year old son and 15-year old daughter, both charming people, were also at the gathering.

This may seem like it was an ordinary event. But, no. It was not ordinary.

About forty years ago, Mimi’s biological mother, who was struggling through difficult times in an East Asian country roiling with political and economic turmoil, reluctantly, with a very heavy heart, gave her to an orphanage when she was just a few months old.  An American couple living in California soon adopted Mimi.

Mimi grew up with her adoptive parents and their other children in a loving household. She was aware that she was adopted, but did not feel compelled to find out about her origins.

Today Mimi is well educated and has a successful business in Seattle. Her nature is open, honest, loving, compassionate, smart, humble, and visionary. She defines the term “drop-dead gorgeous.” I would say she is doing an exceptional job at living life.

Though Mimi had not considered looking for her biological family, they thought about looking for her and took action.  About a year ago, she received a letter from them–they had traced her through the agency that handled the adoption. That contact was astounding for many reasons—one of which was that Mimi learned that she was born with an identical twin!

The details of this extraordinary story are for Mimi and her sister and other family members to tell.  I will say that after corresponding for a few months, Mimi traveled across the oceans to meet her biological family, including her mother, her identical twin, and siblings.  Her father unfortunately had passed away in the recent past.

Her biological mother had remained heartbroken over the decades about the circumstance and want that compelled her to give up Mimi so long ago. She had worried through the years, as only a mother can worry: Is my baby safe? Did a loving family adopt her? Where is she now? Is she happy, healthy, alive?

Upon meeting her mother, Mimi assured her that she had been loved and cared for as a family member by people who raised her as their own. She told her mother that she had only great compassion for her, knowing how difficult the times were and how wrenching the decision to give her up had been.  She expressed love and gratitude to her for bringing her into the world and for doing the best she could in dire times.

This chain of events led to Mimi’s identical twin traveling to California and Seattle with her family to learn about Mimi’s life firsthand. Mimi invited friends to gather at the coffee shop to meet her sister and her children. (Her twin’s husband had to return to work, so was not present at the event.)

When I met her, Mimi’s sister’s kindness, sincerity, and caring easily overrode the language barrier.  Not only did she look pretty much exactly like Mimi, she emanated a familiar feeling of fundamental goodness.

I took photos at the event.  The camera caught beautiful smiles and twinkling eyes, some with tears. Everyone looks very, very good.

As I write this post, I realize that this is the second truly meaningful and memorable adoption-related event that I have attended in the past few weeks. How fortunateI I am to experience “family” in such expansive, celebratory ways

How apt that we gathered at a place called Wine Tea Chocolate–add friends and family to the mix and you have something truly extraordinary.

Story Time: Celebrating an Adoption

Camino de Santiago Fields of Green

I have to face it: This blog has wandered and staggered, not cleaving to the subject of my dog’s surgery or the question of communicating with animals. Will I return to these subjects? Yes, but not yet.

This evening I did meet a certified “medical service dog”, a Rhodesian ridgeback, accompanying a social worker employed by the State of Washington. The social worker told me that she and her dog had walked the entire Camino de Santiago, all the way to the sea, this past summer. They trekked more than 500 miles in just over a month. She is now planning a longer trek with her pup–from England to Rome. I didn’t ask, but she must have an opinion about whether it’s possible to “communicate with animals.”

We met in the basement of a Baptist church in Seattle’s Central District. We were invited there to celebrate the official legal adoption of a child.  This was no ordinary celebration: My friend from work, Felicia, began caring for this baby boy shortly after his birth.  She picked him up from the hospital once he was stable—he was born “addicted” to crack cocaine—and took him home to the nurturing love of her tightly knit, highly functional, extended family.

The story of the biological parents is complicated and sad. The shorthand version is that the mother, in her forties, was incapable of caring for the baby due to her addictions, and the father, in his fifties, floated from jail to prison, back to jail then again to prison. (He was imprisoned when the baby was born.) Felicia was called-in to help by her former husband,  a brother of the baby’s mother.

Felicia has “saved” many kids over the years, giving them a chance when no one else would or could. She does this in a quiet way, without fanfare, gracefully surfing the complexities of the biological family and the court and foster care systems.

Felicia said she realized that being in her late forties with her own parenting responsibilities, she could not “raise this baby as my own.” She would have to work toward getting this little boy “free” so that he could be adopted permanently—a process that would be fraught with drama: The biological parents did not want to give up their son.

Once Felicia brought the baby home, he set about melting any reservations Felicia’s family members had about her “taking on another baby”. He woke up every day with a smile in the big house filled with the coming and goings of extended family, was bright, communicative, and loved to snuggle. He laid waste to all the hearts around him by dint of his charm. He became the “apple of everyone’s eye.”

The social worker with the dog was in charge of this case. She moved with the painfully slow speed on the State, drowning as she was in the details of many other cases of children with non-functional parents. Eventually, almost a year into his life, she found a potential foster parent for the baby boy: Patricia.

Patricia, a single woman, educated with a good job, would endure hours of scrutiny by the State and by Felicia and her extended family before she could serve as a foster mom to this growing boy. Felicia and her family functioned as a serious, but open hearted, “posse” who would only accept the very best for him.

Patricia passed muster! As she put it, “I not only got a wonderful son, I got a whole extended, loving family.” She took the baby home and kept his relationship with Felicia’s family alive.

Eventually, after another year of the biological parents’ unfortunate failing of drug tests and their string of no-shows for home-visits and court appearances, Patricia was able to formally adopt this beautiful young boy. He now has her last name.

There was not a dry eye at this celebration of the adoption. Minor and major miracles had fallen into place for this boy and his adoptive mother.

After the ceremony I chatted with Felicia’s mother about her upbringing. I wondered “What is the provenance of this kind of love and caring for family in its broadest definition?” She was raised on a plantation in northern Louisiana. Her forebears had been slaves on the plantation. Amongst her distant relatives was the slave owner himself. She told me her mother treated each of her twelve children, ten girls and two boys, equally well—there were no favorites.

Felicia’s mom, who is an influential and beloved community leader in Seattle, went on to say,  “Yesterday I was stuck in traffic with my granddaughter, so to pass the time she started asking me questions. ‘Who’s your favorite sister? You must have had a favorite sister.’ I told her I don’t have a favorite sister. We weren’t raised that way.  Each sister is as important to me as the others. That’s the way my mom raised us.”

She continued, “My mother taught us that we need to take each person we meet as an individual—she taught us that not all white people are bad, that we had to figure out who were the good ones and get away from the others. That lesson helped save us all a lot of grief. She taught us to believe that most people are good.”

I’m pretty sure that everyone lucky enough to be befriended by this family feels held in a special way.  I know I felt that when a few weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving, I returned to my desk at work to find a warm, homemade sweet potato pie wrapped in foil. No note. None needed. Every year right before Thanksgiving, the family fans out to deliver just-out-of-the-oven sweet potato pies to people across the city. It’s a tradition. Just. Wow.