Interview with a monkey

Interview with a monkey

(Part I)

Dear Readers

Our special guest for today’s Los Arboles Celebrity Interview, I am thrilled to say, is none other, than the Elder of one of the three groups of spider monkeys with whom we share Los Arboles.  I have been working on this for several years, and I am super excited that I was able to snag this interview.  I will be asking penetrating questions on a variety of subjects to get to know him and his group better.   

I: Good morning!

(Monkey nods)


(Monkey shows teeth)

I: Sir!  How are you!

Monkey: Very well, thank you. And you?

I: Oh…great.  Yes, ah, yes, well, thank you. Good.  You speak English.

Monkey:  Yes, we discussed that, didn’t we?

I: Yes, yes, of course.  But …I am impressed, to say the least.

Monkey: Thank you.  So, what do you want to know?  I hope you came prepared because I have a lot to do.  We got little ones, some really little babies.  You know them!  They come by your nests all the time.  And I got the crazy teenagers to keep out of trouble.  So, If I swing out of here suddenly, I am not being rude, but I am needed elsewhere.  Cool?

I: No problem.  I can respect that. It must be tough to take care of a bunch of monkeys.

Monkey: Why do say that? We do a better job than you! Don’t give me any of this superior attitude!  Do you see us swing around mass shooting youngsters?

I: Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.  Yes, you are right.  We humans do make a mess of things.  Let’s move on, please.  My apologies.  May I ask for your name?

Monkey: Yes.

I: Well… what is it? Please.

Monkey:  Max.

I: Max.  Excellent. Does it mean anything?

Max: It’s not Max.  It’s Max.  The last sound is in the throat. Anyway. A very long time ago it was the name the first hairless ones of this land called us.  And it’s a sound you can say.  Kind of.  You hairless apes have a very limited number of sounds in your language, did you know that?  Do you have any idea how many sounds we have in our language?  Probably not.  You have to have really good ears to understand the different sounds we make.  Not everyone can hear them.  You’d probably think all we do is screech when we actually have a sophisticated discourse on the digestive benefits of Ramon leaves.  We like debating!  

I:  You don’t say!  You know, we had a team here recently that recorded the sounds that you monkeys make.  I can’t wait to tell them! They are trying to learn what your sounds mean!

Max:  Oh!  So that’s what they were doing! I remember them well.  Nice kids!  Funny.  Stumbling after us through the jungle carrying strange things.  We first thought they were for killing.

I: Microphones.  We use them to record sounds.

Max: Whatever.  We had fun with them!  Did they learn what the many different sounds we make with tree branches mean? I doubt it. We made these kids run all over the place.  Of course, our teenagers were saying things that were, well…let’s say, unkind.  But … since you don’t understand our language …

I:  Unkind?  Really? Like what?

Max: Well, you know, making fun of how you look.  Hairless and no tail. Awful! Poor sods. No wonder you cover up.  Easier on the eyes, I tell you!

I: Excuse me! What do you mean, Max?

Max:  Take it easy!  It’s not your fault. But, seriously, how did you come up with this hairless stuff?  Hair is good!  It protects you! Hair is gorgeous! It makes you look good!  It feels good.  Here try.

I: You are right!  Very soft. 

Max: scratch my belly.  That’s the softest.

I:  Perhaps next time.  We just met.

Max: Sure, whatever.  Hair hides stuff, too.! Stuff that doesn’t look so good. 

I: Well, we just evolved that way.

Max: Obviously, something went wrong.  You have hair in all the wrong places!  Look, here is my armpit!  Nice, right! Barely any hair.  And you!  I don’t even know how to describe it.  Wild stringy moss? It’s an independent eco-system, from the looks of it!

I:  Max, can we talk about something different?

Max:  Sure!  But listen, you have the same mess on the bottom of your belly.  Do I have a hairy mop there?  No.  Just a few hairs, nice and soft, for grooming.

I: Grooming. We do that too, Max!

Max: You should!  It’s good for you.  Relaxes you.  But it’s got to be difficult with so little hair and in all the wrong places.  Well…to each his own, I always say.

I:  Indeed.  Alright, Max, let’s get started.  Can you tell us a little bit about what life is like here in Los Arboles?

Max: Not too bad.

I: Not too bad!  Good. I am pleased to hear that. Can you be a little more specific?

Max:  Let’s see.  You know I have been swinging around here long before you hairless showed up.  When I grew up, it was just one big, beautiful jungle.  Here and there were small groups of hairless.  The ancient ones.  You know, the ones who have been around here forever.  We tried getting friendly with them.  But they are not always easy to get along with.  Sometimes, they even kill and eat us.   Hard to make lasting friends that way. 

I:  With you on that!  

Max: Back then, we could swing for days, always discovering new places with good stuff to eat.  Fabulous sleeping trees!  Huge, with lots of forked branches, plenty of leaves for cover.  Sometimes, when we would find a particularly special tree, some of us would spend a few days there and explore the surrounding area for food sources, waterholes, who else is there, and just monkey around. 

I:  It sounds fabulous! The hairless love monkeying around! 

Max: And you show that love by…destroying our home?  Weird.  Anyway, back then, life was easy.  We would share some things as a group, swing off with a few buddies, or just do your own thing alone, catching up with others throughout the day.  Whatever.   We just swing, play, and eat.  If we happen to know a tree that’s supercool, we might have the whole group together and hand out, talk about what we saw and did, tell stories or discuss what we’d do the next day.  We like mixing up company.  More fun that way. Not a care in the world! Well… there were a lot more big cats.  It’s different now.

I: I see!  Fission and fusion!

Max: Huh? Say what?

I: Fission and Fusion.  Isn’t that what you do?

Max: What are you talking about?  What do we have to do with nuclear physics?

I: No, no!  Nothing.  This is the scientific term for what you told me about the dynamic of splitting up for various activities but still belonging to the same group.

Max: Really?

I: Yes, really.

Max: Fission and fusion. What will they think of next?

I: Look, I think it describes what you are doing very well.  All famous scientists know it.  And guess what?  Our Dr. Filippo, he uses the expression all the time.  You might know him.  He is the skinny, tall one without any hair at all on his head.  None.  Nada.

Max: Does he cover up his legs with grey things with big pockets on the side?

I: Yes.  Cargo pants.

Max:  Whatever.  Yes, I know who he is.  So, he is a famous scientist?  He seems friendly, and he is always super happy to see us.  Is he ok?  

I: Why are you asking?

Max: Well, recently, we watched him making really funny movements, waiving his arms around and trying to walk with his legs bent.  I remember he was making loud screeching noises like someone bit him.  What was that all about?

I: He must have been doing one of his spider monkey imitations.  Pretty good, isn’t he?

Max: No comment.

I:  Hey, you should appreciate him!  He is the reason why you have seen all these different people following you monkeys around.  He is the man in charge.

Max: So maybe I should talk to him then, instead of you?

I: He talks very fast.

Max: Oh! Ok then.  I actually know him from years ago.   There were 2 female hairless who slept in the big nest near one of our favorite sleeping trees. They were the first who followed us around.  It was kind of weird first.

I:  That must have been Denise and Cecilia.  They were the first. Denise now helps Filippo run the program.

Max:  Program?  What program?

I: I forget that you probably don’t know about the Monkey Research Project here in Los Arboles?

Max: No.

I: Well, it is super exciting!  For about 7 years, there have been scientists and students coming here from all over the world.

Max: Why?  The weather?

I:  No, not the weather!  To study spider monkeys!

Max: Huh!  Study exactly what about us? We sleep, we swing through trees, we eat, we procreate.  Repeat.  Ok, you could learn how to swing though trees from us.  You hair and tail-less creatures are pathetic!  We watched some of you use ropes tied together to get up a tree.  Took forever, lots of huffing, puffing and shouting.  We laughed for days!  

I: You missed one very important thing you do.

Max: what?

I: You poop.  A lot.

Max:  So what?  When you eat, you poop.  What goes in must come out. What’s the big deal?

I: Obviously you don’t know that spider monkeys are among the top seed dispersers in this jungle.  Since you spend all day swinging around all over the place and seem to eat and eat and eat different things all the time, the seeds of those things come out your other end and grow into beautiful new plants.  You monkeys keep the jungle alive!

Max: Oh, I like the way that sounds! We Poop for Life.  That explains a lot!  Do you know what ‘poop’ is in our language?

I: I am sorry to say, I do not.  What is it?

Max: Well, get a load of this:  translated word by word it is something like ‘that which we take from nature, extract its nutrients and then return with pleasure and gratitude for further use.’  I have often wondered what that ‘further use’ business was all about.  Now I know.

I:  Quite a mouthful if you ask me!  Frankly, ‘poop’ seems simpler.

Max: Nobody is asking you!  There is no poetry in the word ‘poop’.  What does it mean?  If doesn’t do any justice to the profundity of the activity!   That kind of word needs to pack a punch!  It needs to have descriptive content!

I:  I am not trying to compete, Max.  It’s just awfully long.  How does it sound in your language?

Max: Pfrmph.

I: What?  That’s all?  All those words and it sounds like…well…a bathroom noise?

Max:  I told you our language is efficient.  

I: Ok, ok.  Enough linguistics.  We’ll get to this subject later.  Let’s get back to why Spider Monkeys are important.  In a nutshell, they …

Max:  You have nuts?  I love nuts!!

I:  No, no, no.  It’s just a saying.  Anyway, when you guys are around, we know the jungle is healthy and thriving.  When you leave a place, we know that there is a problem.  

Max: You are right about that!  We don’t leave because we want to.  No, it’s because we have to.  The hairless come in, kill trees, plants, and creatures in the millions, and make the whole place unlivable for us.  It’s disgraceful.  And we are good neighbors!  Why chase us away?

I: That’s a complicated story.  It’s the reason we study you.  We want to avoid repeating the mistakes of all those who are killing the jungle, and we want to learn what we can do to save it.  Like you!

Max: Oh, poop from a tree?

I: No, Max!  We study you to learn what you need so you can live in a certain place.  Like here, in our community.  Steady food supply, no hunting, tree bridges, lots and lots of trees …

Max: We noticed that this area was different from the rest around us..  For your nests, you only cut down a small number of trees.

I: Did you also notice that we protect the trees that you use for food!  And, listen to this, we replace every tree we cut down with a new one that grows food for your kind.

Max:  Well… that’s mighty kind of you. Much obliged.

I: We all want you to stay here!  Eat, make babies, raise families and swing at your heart’s desire.

Max:  And poop.

I: Yes, Max, and poop. 

Max:  And once you know what we need, then what?

I: We can tell others what they need to do to live with you in your jungle and not destroy it.

Max: That’s easy.  Stay in your ugly cities and leave us alone.  But, I suppose, if you want to help us protect our jungle, then go for it.  We need all the help we can get.    

I: That is what Los Arboles is all about.  Protecting the jungle. We can talk about some of the other project later, if you are interested.  But now, let’s get back to my earlier question.  How has life changed for your group since we, the hairless apes, as you call us, arrived? 

Max:  Well, first it was annoying.  We had had the swing of the entire place forever, and then you arrived, cutting trees down and putting in these awful gravel roads all over the place.  Did anyone think of us?  We are tree swingers!  Not road walkers like you! It takes trees time to grow across these stupid cuts.  Sure, we are great at leaping through the air, as you must have noticed.  But…

I: Absolutely!  It is one of our favorite pastimes to watch you swing and leap through the trees.  Very, very impressive!

Max:  Yes, we are good at it – if I say so myself.  In fact, we are the best.  Have you ever watched one of our swinging competitions?  No? They are a hoot!  You’ll have to come next time.  

I:  Please let me know!  I’d love to.

Max: But leaping across roads can be dangerous too, you know!  We have had deaths! Our little ones, pregnant females, our old, and the sick risk their lives to leap across those ugly cuts.  Now, of course, it’s much safer.  Over the last 12 years, the trees built great bridges for us.  Trees are great.  Very chill.  We are very close friends.

I: Understandably.  I’d love to have a friend who provides me with food, safety, shelter, playground, gym, AND a highway system. Literally.

Max: Not just that!  Trees are great to hang out with.  They got stories to tell!  Amazing stuff, I am telling you!  You’d think they make it up.  But they are old, real old, some of them.

I: You will be happy to know that all the hairless apes living here love trees and protect them.  As I told you, we actually plant a new tree each time we cut one down.

Max:  Yes, yes.  Much obliged. You could also just leave the original tree. 

I:  True, but that is beside the point.  Let me ask you a related question.  We noticed that you don’t hide from us.  Sometimes, it seems like you pass near us on purpose.  Is this true?

Max: I wouldn’t go quite that far.  Most of the time we just ignore you, frankly.  We swing where we swing and eat and do our thing.  The jungle is great here.  At the end of the day, the small clearances you and your troop cut make very little difference to us.  You don’t eat us, you don’t kill trees that give us food and you get all excited and happy when you see us!  And You REALLY like our little ones!  In monkey language, you would say you go ‘apeshit’ over them.

I: Really! wow!  We have the same term in English!

Max: Amazing! We must be related, I am sure.  

I:  Circuitously, yes.  But let’s get back to …

Max:  Hang on. Be quiet.  

I:  What?  What’s going on?

Max:  Listen, I have to swing out of here.  There’s something going on.  One of my cousins is calling me for help.  Apparently two of the youngsters are fighting.  Can we meet another time and talk some more? 

I: Of course, we can.  Whatever you say. When?  I have a lot more questions.  

Max:  I’ll let you know.

I: Well … dear audience, please forgive the abrupt ending.  It surprises me as much as you. Usually, my guests don’t just run off – or rather swing away.  But usually, my guests are not spider monkeys.  I hope you enjoyed this brief interview.  We plan to continue very soon.  As I told Max, I have many more questions to ask.  Keep your eyes on this page!

Author: Thomas Bayer