Are We Still “Great” Apes?


“Apes. Together. Strong…” Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

My dad used to say all the time, “First the apes learned to talk, then they learned about fire and then they set about burning the world to the ground and bragging about it.”

We are Great Apes, one of seven still existing species. The Sumatran and Bornean Orangutans, the Eastern and Western Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Bonobos and Humans. We are, in case you are wondering, the ones with the bombs, suv’s and 401k’s. We are also the ones responsible for the near extinction of the other six species.

I will not be drawn into the age old debate about, “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” The answers are out there, even in easy to understand graphics, so do your own research with your mind open and you will feel the little lightbulb blink on, I promise.

I went in to the Planet of the Apes movies (the reboot, not the Charlton Heston ones) expecting good adventure, some cool FX and perhaps some amazing action, but what I have gotten so far have been two movies that at points left me in tears, at points had me ashamed of what we have become and ultimately inspired, and isn’t that what good stories should do for us?

If you haven’t seen the movies yet, I highly recommend them. I cannot guarantee that they will have the same impact on you as they have on me, I cannot even promise your enjoyment of them, but I have a feeling that if you are reading my words, then it might stir something within you.

This is not our parents’ Planet of the Apes franchise. This isn’t about time traveling astronauts ending up in the future and discovering an earth mastered by our hairier cousins, this is a story that begins now, with Chimpanzees, Bonobos and other apes being used for product testing and all of the things that go awry in the aftermath of that.

The story follows Caesar, yes, the “ape”. He is our protagonist. He is a leader, a genius, and dissatisfied with the way he and his species are treated by humans in general, but it is so much more than that but I will go no further in my description because I loathe spoilers.

I grew up in a home where I was taught that I did not have dominion over the earth, I was simply another species upon it and was actually more flawed than most. There is a certain freedom to this knowledge, it allows you to see your place, your interconnectedness with your surroundings, it gives you the wisdom to see that your actions against the earth are actions against yourself.

It also gave me a love for nature in a way that has given me incalculable joy and also many sleepless nights. I find myself angry over the destruction of tiny tracts of forestland to build another strip mall when there are three or five of them sitting vacant within a couple of miles. I find myself upset, sad and then furious when I see healthy, huge, ancient trees laying in yards where they had just been cut down by people who didn’t want to rake leaves.

I dislike driving down roads called Oak Lane or Poplar Drive when all of the oaks and poplars where cut down to make room for more houses.

“Monkey killing monkey killing monkey.

Over pieces of the ground.

Silly monkeys give them thumbs.

They make a club.

And beat their brother, down.

How they survive so misguided is a mystery.” Right in Two by Tool

The idea that some neighbors complain when others plant gardens instead of grass in their yards disturbs me and makes me wonder at how broken human priorities have become.

But the part of me that is most affected, is the part that says that we, as a species are horrible to each other.

For all of our protestations that we are the superior species or nature’s crowning achievement, we define ourselves on so many levels by who we hate, who we won’t tolerate and who is inferior to us.

But on the other side of it, are the hated, the untolerated, and the inferior. Those who have been marginalized for their differences, their sensitivities, even for how much they care and the amount of empathy that they show.

I am not going to make this political, but I am going to say that now, more than any time in my life, I see fear in my fellow apes. We are afraid of our governments, our futures, our bosses and our neighbors and those who are feared, seem to be reveling in the fear that they cause.

If you see such people, ones who have fled social media because of the hate, because of the injustice, who are afraid to express themselves on a daily basis because of this swelling resurgence of misogyny, racism, homophobia, or other hate fueled rhetoric and your first thought is, “Suck it up Snowflake.”, then you are part of the problem, a problem that is tearing us apart.

And in our fear, we are abandoning each other, we are giving up hope, we are retreating behind our walls, diving into our fantasy worlds and hoping that it will all just blow over, but the wind that is blowing, is fueling the inferno that is threatening us as a species, but more than that, it is tarnishing, ruining and breaking apart the one thing that we had left to be proud of, our compassion.

When you consider that we share 96 percent of our DNA with Chimpanzees and we view what we have done to them because they were weaker or different from us, then what are we going to do, what are we already doing to members of our own species that we feel are weaker, or just simply different?

“We have only one thing to give up. Our dominion. We don’t own the world. We’re not kings yet. Not gods. Can we give that up? Too precious, all that control? Too tempting, being a god?” – Ethan Powell as played by Anthony Hopkins in Instinct.

What will it take to make us shake off the façade of weakness? What will have to happen before the threat of what might happen if we speak up becomes less frightening than the possibilities if we do? If the 22 veterans committing suicide a day isn’t enough, and the 13 million hungry children doesn’t merit a rise, if the 50,000 drug deaths in the US last year doesn’t do it and the nearly 6,000 hate crimes in the past year doesn’t move us to shake off our fear and apathy, then we are not even deserving of our place among the other “great apes.”

Each time I write one of these blogs, I sign off with, “Take care of each other.”

I mean it, it is not me being cliché or clever, I am asking, no, I am demanding that you look at your fellow apes and stand up for them, check up on them and do what you can, because we are all we have…

“Apes. Together. Strong.”


Take care of each other…


The Snake Whisperer ~ Part II

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In a previous post, I wrote about recent experiences with snakes and briefly about my lifelong love for them, I will link you to that earlier post here.

I will continue on by saying that I believe that snakes and to a lesser extent, larger species of lizards are some of the most abused, neglected and mistreated animals in the pet trade.

Reptiles (as well as many other kinds of pets) have fallen into the same category as appliances, cars, clothing and even homes in this modern economy. They are seen as disposable. A family buys their child a snake that they are ill prepared for, if they are prepared for it at all and then suddenly the realization hits them that the snake in question is always, ALWAYS going to require that you feed other animals to it. It has certain environmental needs, their enclosures need to be kept clean, some of them grow quite large and suddenly, the family is posting ads on Craigslist trying to recoup some of their investment by trying to sell the snake and its enclosure.

Or worse, the snake is just left to suffer, dehydrate, starve or succumb to any one of a number of ailments.

Considering that captive bred snakes, if properly cared for, can live anywhere from 10 to more than 30 years, how many of those purchases do you think are living full lives?

Not very many.

I can’t stand that part of the hobby/lifestyle that I am so passionate about.

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Let me introduce you to Orchid. Orchid is a Corn Snake, also known as a Red Rat snake (Pantherophis guttatus). Orchid came to us just a little over a month ago. A friend contacted me and said that an acquaintance of hers was trying to get rid of a Corn Snake and would I take it.

I of course said yes. Gypsy loves Corn Snakes, as do I and I also hate to see them neglected, and so sight unseen, I drove an hour north to meet our new family member.

Nothing really shocks me anymore, I have seen such terrible cases of abuse in reptiles that I seldom flinch, and in truth, Orchid wasn’t in that bad of shape, but everything about her situation was wrong and bad for her.

The gentleman that brought her, was the father of her owner. His daughter had purchased the snake, her enclosure and lights, and then before more than a month had gone by, had moved away without warning, leaving the snake behind with no care instructions and not a backward glance.

So, what I picked up was a young, small (14 inches), thin, underfed, dehydrated female Corn Snake, in a 36x18x17 inch enclosure, with four inches of sawdust in the bottom of it and a tiny one cup sized Tupperware container in the middle of it for water (that had no water in it, but since he was driving the snake around I will give him the benefit of the doubt.)

The tiny snake had no place to climb, it had this enormous area, all exposed where it had to burrow to hide, it had to hunt for its water container, which looked like it had been dry a long time and she obviously had not been fed in a while.

I thanked the man, listened to his story about his daughter and then tucked Orchid and her accessories into the car and brought her home for love and rehab.

I wish I could say that this was a rarity, but most of the snakes that come to us have been neglected or outright abused and we cannot save all of them. We see them in organ failure, we see them so underfed that they are not strong enough to eat, we see them so dehydrated that their skins tear like paper and always there is a litany of excuses, of reasons, of justifications, but all of them amount to the same thing. People are saying, “Who really cares? It’s just a snake.”

Who cares? I do. I really do, to the point of tears on some nights.

Recently, Gypsy was fortunate enough to be invited to be the photographer at the Mid-Atlantic Reptile show in Carlisle Pennsylvania. We spent the entire day, visiting with the vendors, getting to know them and some of their animals and educating some people along the way.

Two of my favorite snakes from that show were this stunning, ten foot male Purple Albino Reticulate python:

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And this beautiful Albino Jungle Boa.

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They were both healthy, well behaved and as you can see, large. I handled the python for the best part of an hour as the crowd moved around us. The owner and I answered questions, presented facts and posed for pictures, but part of me felt incredibly guilty.

Very few people have the space, the resources, the knowledge or the experience to keep such massive, intelligent and potentially dangerous creatures, yet there I was, with ten feet of stunningly beautiful animal draped around my shoulder, making it look so easy.

It is. And it isn’t.

Ease, in any discipline from playing piano, to practicing Kung-fu, to handling potentially dangerous animals, comes from years and YEARS of experience. It comes from trying things, observing, listening to your mentors, doing your research and making mistakes.

Have I made mistakes?


Have I paid for them? Yes, painfully.

I have paid for my errors in injuries, bites, broken bones, dislocated joints, and worst of all, in poorly cared for animals.

When I began in this, there was no internet, there was no know-it-all resource and many of the snakes we were keeping were not common and little of their needs were known. But we learned, we passed on what we learned and we became good at what we do.

Do I get bitten? All the time.

How do I react to it? Generally with laughter now. Not long ago a friend’s Goini Kingsnake decided that my thumb looked delicious and he spent about five minutes trying to figure out how to devour me, thumb first. What did I do? I went and found Gypsy with her camera so that others could get a giggle out of it too.

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I very seldom ever get bitten by big snakes, the more dangerous ones. Why? Because I have a method, and while I will describe it here, I warn you, it comes off sounding a little esoteric or new agey.

It is a combination of how I move, how I breathe and my knowledge of each particular species’ intelligence and habits.

That’s it.

Okay, well a bit more of an explanation is probably in order. Movements that are likely to make a snake nervous are jerky, hesitant, fearful and sudden. Smooth, yet deliberate movement always is best. Think of the way a Tai Chi master moves, fluidly, steady, calm, without hesitation. This is good for the way snakes move, constantly moving your hands to support them as they move, never moving quickly toward their faces from straight on or from above, always from below or slightly to right or left.

Make sure that the snake feels supported and secure, falling frightens them and if you react harshly or rashly when a snake begins to drop, they can and will lash out in instinct.

Some snakes like Retics, Boas, Rat Snakes and Carpet pythons are naturally arboreal and are good at climbing and holding on. Where King snakes, Milk snakes, Drymarchons (indigos and cribos) and Bullsnakes are much more terrestrial and need more support when handling because being off of the ground is not their most common scene.

And also, when standing, I seldom stand still but sway slightly as I hold, especially larger snakes. I am not sure why this works but it has proved out to be very effective for me.

Breathing is important, more for self-control than anything else, but I try to breath as slowly as or more so than the snake. If you breathe when they breathe, it seems to settle them more quickly and they tend to grow quiet and calm at a much faster pace. Plus it makes you mindful of your own anxiety, fear and impatience, all of which the snake can sense.

Lastly, the most difficult one of the bunch, knowledge.

Books are wonderful. The internet is an amazing resource. Television has had some great educational programming, but the problem is, they are not immersive. If you want to learn about snakes, find snake people and ask them to show you how to interact with their animals. Then let the snakes teach you.

Snakes have been my gurus since I was in diapers.

You will learn, quickly if you are passionate that Bullsnakes are not Ball Pythons, and Ball Pythons and Burmese Pythons are night and day. You will discover that while your Corn Snake is super gentle taking the frozen mice out of your tongs, that you should not expect the same reaction from a hungry kingsnake.

You can spend the rest of your life exploring these things, like I have and will continue to do. Snakes are simply one of the most diverse, beautiful, complicated, fascinating and awe inspiring groups of creatures on this planet and I speak up for them, because I have seen too many of them suffering.

Get to know a snake, and maybe, like me, you will hear them whispering.

Lance and Purple Retic 4133

Take care of each other.

A Festival of Fire

Here, on this beautiful Beltane afternoon, I am sitting, half distracted by the clouds tumbling by, the rain, bouncing on the dark leaves of the Norway maple outside my window and the sheer volume of pulsing, green energy in the world today.

But I want to talk to you, I want to summon you, seduce you, draw you away for a moment, if that is all you will grant me, though the truth be told, I would rather have you for the duration of this day, into the night and on to dawn.

Beltane is a festival of fire, it is a rite to celebrate the death of winter and the coming of summer. It has many traditions associated with it that range from dousing and relighting house fires, driving cattle to summer pastures, decoration of windows and doors with yellow flowers that represent fire and many, many others, but I am not here for a history lesson today.

I am here to talk about fire.

I am here to talk about cleansing.

I am here to talk about wildness, sex, passion, power and freedom.

This is the holiday, the holy day that dances closest to my thundering green heart.

Beltane thrives within me as the true rite of spring, when the leaves have turned the hillsides green, there is no silence in the woods for all that lives is heady in the rush to mate, to create, to burn with the fire that they were given as a birthright.

In ancient times it was believed that dew, or rain taken from the leaves on Beltane had curative, restorative and beautifying powers. It could make you live longer simply because it as imbued with the spirit of this day.

I am going to offer you a similar cure.

Burn it all.

Just for today, set a fire, make that fire sacred to you and then burn all of it for a day. Let it go. Come back to me and for this period of time, be free.

“What the hell are you talking about you mad bastard?”

I am talking about all of the things that are desiccating your soul.

Part of the ritual of Beltane are the bonfires. Ashes from Beltane bonfires have great power and can be used throughout the year to bless, protect and ask favor on everything from crops to marriage unions.

But I am going to ask you to do something different. I want you to light a fire. If you can only light a candle, then do that, if you cannot even light a candle, use visualization, but no matter how you do it, I want you to do this for me.

Now, once your fire (real or visualized) is burning, I want you to create a short but powerful list (again, either real or visualized) of all of the things that are wearing on you today, get them out, all of the political fear, all of the personal anguish, all of the familial angst, the sadness, the loneliness, the hatred of exes, the loathing for your job, all of it. Write it out, hastily, angrily, or with slow, beautiful precision and then burn it and let all of it die for a day.

Burn it all to ash and once it is ash, I want you to breathe deeply, take the air, the energy of this wild, beautiful spring day into your lungs and I want you to acknowledge to yourself that you are a child of nature, and as a child of nature you are perfect.

You are every flower, you are every hawk in flight, you are every thunderstorm, every wave on a pristine beach, and you are every bowing willow, every coursing deer, every diving falcon and every mischievous crow.

Take your clothes off if you can, even for two minutes in the privacy of your bathroom. Understand the stunning work of art that you are, accept that the most powerful fire burning on this holy day is the one in the engine of your heart.

Close your eyes and run your hands over yourself, it need not be in a sexual or sensual fashion but if it comes to that, let that be in celebration of you as well. How pleasing are you to touch? If you accept the truth that it is only the strange whims of society that dictates what is and what is not attractive at any given moment, then you can burn your insecurities as well.

You are tremendously beautiful. How do I know?

Because I follow Her and She is flawless in Her creations.


Are you unloved?

No. Not if you are reading this. If you are reading this, I love you and I think that you are one of Her finest creations.

And I am right.

Today is Beltane, today is a day to feel alive, to allow the coursing green laughter of spring flow through you, to allow your hungers to blossom, burn and be a part of the great fire that we all gather around.

As I am writing this, all of Western Pennsylvania has gone Tornado Watch. Even our Mother is feeling wild, today is rare, it is powerful, it is beautiful and it is ours. OURS!

I am leaving, I am going back into the world, I am shutting off the computer and going out to lay in the grass and watch this day unfold, I will be alive like no one else, I will be wild and burning like no other creature in the world.

Unless you join me…


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