Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Wally Report, with Water for Elephants

Sorry to bring you TWO blog posts so close together. Turns out I was busy having a life today - writing time with Angela, taking care of the dog, Chinese food with M for dinner and a trip into Philly with my friend Lisa to hear Sara Gruen (author of Water for Elephants) talk about and read from her new novel, Ape House, which features bonobo apes that speak American Sign Language (ASL), who are "freed" from a research facility and wind up on a reality TV show, where they use their sign language to ask the researcher who used to be in charge of them to find them. (It's all in the flap copy, so I don't count that as spoilers.)

Sara Gruen
I'll get to the official Wally report in a second, but first a bit more on Sara Gruen. It turns out that she did several years of research on bonobos before and during the writing of the book. She not only read books and talked to researchers, but also talked with bonobo apes at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. The apes there do not use ASL, but communicate with humans via lexigrams. Bonobos obviously have their own language as well, because they are able to clearly communicate directions to one another through vocalization. As Gruen remarked, and I'm paraphrasing so I won't use quotes, these apes have been able to learn our language, but after years of study, we haven't learned a thing about theirs.

During the signing, I thanked Gruen for her presentation, and complimented her on doing such detailed research. She told me that she considers herself lucky indeed because she gets to spend a few years immersing herself in something she's passionate about. It shows in how she glows as she talks about her research and writing, and is the sort of thing I can completely relate to (says the woman who spent three and a half years immersed in Austen research). Like so many writers I know, Gruen is thankful for the existence of schools (to take her children away so she can write), and she admitted to getting snippy about how loudly people chew, for instance, when in the midst of writing. In short, she was completely down to earth and relatable, and I found myself wishing we could hang out. If you are interested in the apes, or in this author, her tour dates are listed here.

The furry boy you see here to the right was extremely busy today. I still have to "help" him relieve himself by pressing unmercifully hard on his bladder expressing his urine, which is how I discovered that as of this morning, if I hit the right spot to start the flow, the little dude simultaneously lifts his tail - not something he was doing before today, and a fun new trick since he's had practically no tail movement until now.

Also new today: Wally got himself up into a standing position of sorts (he didn't manage to get his back feet under him properly - we're told the ankles/feet come back last), then sort of "walked" for about 8 feet. Both M and I saw it, and he was clearly moving those back legs in an alternate rhythm, even if he was standing on folded-back feet somehow. Really wild to see, and I choose to be encouraged by it rather than weirded out.

Another new trick today: After a session "expressing" in the back yard, and while I still had my hands under his back end, Wally decided to make a break for it. As a result, we ended up running into the house together, him racing with his front paws and me holding up the back end. He seemed very pleased with himself, even if it was an oddly taxing experience for me (bent nearly double while running and supporting at least half his weight made it rather more arduous than it might sound at first).

We'll see what our excellent veterinary neurologist, Dr. Speciale, has to say about all this come Friday morning, and what Dr. Howe-Smith, the guy doing Wally's PT, has to say come Friday evening.

Meanwhile, thanks to all of you for your cheers and support during a decidedly crazy time. You can expect another Wally report at the end of the week, unless he miraculously finds his legs before then.

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