The Writing of Jane Goodall

Self is on Chapter 13 of In the Shadow of Man, by Jane Goodall.  It’s turning out to be quite an enthralling book. Chapter 13 is called “The Child,” and most of it focuses on a young chimpanzee named Gilka.  Her mother, Olly, did not attach herself to any other chimpanzee group and “so, often for days at a stretch Gilka wandered through the forests with only her old mother for companionship.” When termiting season came along, the situation became even worse because Olly would sit “fishing for the insects three or more hours at a time” and completely ignore her daughter, who was not yet weaned.

Goodall writes:

. . .  this combination of circumstances resulted in Gilka’s becoming increasingly lethargic — she who formerly had been such a gay and lively little chimp.  Small wonder that she began to show strange idiosyncracies such as putting one foot in the opposite groin, sometimes for long intervals, or senselessly doodling with pieces of bark.  Almost certainly it was because of her boredom, her lack of chimpanzee playmates, that Gilda during that period formed a very strange friendship indeed.

Gilka’s only friend was a baboon about her own age, named Goblina.  Goblina had, “at quite a young age,” lost her mother.  She and Gilka bonded and played together.  That is, until the time when Gilka’s mother decided to remove herself to a forest further north, and Gilka (not yet weaned), had to follow her.

One night, Goodall decides to follow the pair.  This is when self’s jaw almost drops to the floor in amazement.  Goodall, completely on her own, tracks the pair as they leave a feeding area one late afternoon.  Self cannot say enough about this woman’s absolutely consuming thirst for knowledge, her tenacity and her determination:

In the past I had spent many hours roaming the forests with these two chimpanzees, so they paid me scant attention as we walked briskly along one of the well-worn tracks leading into the mountains . . .  Presently we left the forest and moved on to one of the ridges overlooking the lake.  There the grass was high — on a level with my head.  Often I feared I had lost Olly and Gilka, but luckily the faint rustle they made as they proceeded along gave away their whereabouts, and so I managed to keep behind them.  Just before dusk Olly, closely followed by Gilka, climbed into a tall tree.  For twenty minutes the two fed on the yellow blossoms that grew in profusion. Finding a comfortable rock, still warm from the sun, I settled down to wait until their meal was over.  I had a view over the evening lake and watched as the reflected crimson and brick-red of the sunset gradually gave place to bluish-purple and steel-grey while the sun sank lower behind the dark mountains of the Congo on the far side of the lake.  The high-pitched shrilling of the cicadas gave way to the night symphony of the crickets.  Slowly the colors drained from the trees and grass and the thin sickle of the new moon and her attendant evening star became visible above the lake . . .  There was just enough light for me to see the tree ahead when Olly and Gilka climbed down and set off along a narrow track toward a small pocket of forest . . .  As they entered the trees the blackness of their coats merged with the darkness and I could no longer see them.

Goodall waits until both Olly and Gilka settle down for the night, then turns to make her way back to camp in pitch black darkness.  Of the experience, she writes:  “I have always found walking at night through tall grass rather unnerving.”  Yes, self wants to say.  Aren’t there lions and tigers about?  Leopards?  Belligerent baboon troops like in the movie The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?

Nevertheless, Goodall makes it back to camp safe and sound, and is able to record her observations.

She is such a tremendously powerful writer.  And brave, too.

Stay tuned.

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