Monday, September 27, 2010

The Small-Mammal House Revisited

Once I established that the malodorous haze I’d associated with the small-mammal house was an artifact of either winter or my first visit, I’ve visited the exhibit a number of times. In most of these visits my interest has been focused on a few specific species: the elephant shrew, with its impossible nose; the meerkats, because they pose so well; and the small primates, because they look at once so like and unlike us. (And also because the golden lion tamarins have such lovely auburn fur.)

I love the tamarins’ clever hands, agile movements, gorgeous fur, and funny expressive faces reminiscent of Animal from The Muppets.

Within moments they can look wise and pensive,

then cute and curious,

then languid and dreamy as a pre-Raphaelite figure.

I also really like the red-ruffed lemurs’ wide, round green eyes that make them appear perpetually surprised—even shocked—by the world around them.

[Has this lemur heard about the success
of the “Tea Party” candidate
in the Delaware primary?]

But my newest Fascinating Primates are the pale-faced saki monkeys, who look remarkably like my vision of medieval monks (at least, the pale-face males with their suggestion of a tonsure do).

The females, interestingly enough, are not pale-faced. In fact, I took a picture of one without reading its identifying placard and was convinced that it was a member of a different species entirely. I was also kind of convinced that it was really one of the monkey-gods I’d read about in a long-ago children’s book (one that was based extremely loosely on Chinese stories and myths).

There’s something about her look and movements that reminds me of fairy-tale creatures, the ones that eat magic herbs and transform themselves or who give the heroine a walnut out of whose shell bursts a glittering ball-gown.

Although a small part of me feels it’s disrespectful to the animals to create stories about them that are so clearly not about them, most of me is thrilled at the possibilities these muses open up for me in terms of tales of magical women, shaggy-haired and dressed in long hooded robes, who travel the mountains dispensing advice and help in exchange for kind thoughts and exotic fruits.

Since I’m still working on my novel (one unrelated to monkeys of any kind), it’s unlikely that I’ll get past the brainstorming stage with this idea. But I don’t know; these small mammals have turned out to be more inspiring than I thought. Maybe another couple of visits will provide me with the plot for an entire story about these mountain-dwelling monkey-women. (And of course, any suggestions would be appreciated.)

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}

1 comment:

Anca said...

That last photo, with such intense eye contact, is incredible. Write that story! But the novel first--I'm really eager to read the last installment.

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