Illustrations by Brian Degraw
Scientists have followed troops of monkeys around and recorded how they spend their days. Apparently less than five percent of their waking hours is spent feeding on delicious tropical fruits and nuts. They have few enemies so the remainder of their time is spent: observing the world around them, interacting, grooming one another, playing with baby monkeys, yelling at other monkey groups, fucking, sucking, etc. There is a misconception about the lives of animals because of TV documentaries. They only film the exciting stuff like alligators tearing a giraffe’s leg off, a lion killing a zebra, and so on. Ninety-eight percent of the time, however, the animals are contentedly grazing or relaxing. 2. Soaring Birds
Vultures, hawks, ravens, etc. These birds are primarily meat eaters, and yes, they are on the wing to look for food but I have watched soaring birds (like ravens) that always pick a time of day when the weather is most pleasant and they just soar, hardly flapping a wing and rising on the thermals until they are just specks and you can hear them calling amongst one another undoubtedly because it gives them great pleasure. We had an orphaned raven here that we rehabilitated back to the wild and when he learned to fly he would sneak up on our sleeping dog and pull its tail. The dog would be pissed and give chase across the yard as the raven made funny sounds and flew about three feet off the ground, just out of reach. 3. River Otters
I can walk on my property almost any time there is snow on the ground and find where otters have been sliding down a bank. I have seen this on film also, and there is no reason they are doing this other than because it is fun. Can you imagine taking a toboggan-run into water, wearing a superwarm, impenetrable fur suit when you are full of good food and you are with your best friends? That is what they are enjoying.
We have goats on the farm and they play “king of the mountain.” One gets up on a rock and all the others try and knock him down and they butt heads and chase each other while kicking up their heels. I used to play that same game at school on the snow piles left by the snowplow in our schoolyard. Fuck, my head got sore. 5. Songbirds
This group, which comprises about 80 percent of the world’s known bird species, is aptly named. When you think of whistling, melodious birds, you are thinking of songbirds—species like robins, mockingbirds, wrens, and nightingales. According to scientists, it is usually the males that sing, and they are claiming a breeding territory by singing to ward off other male birds. However, I have always wondered why birds (females included) will burst into song long after breeding season, often in migration hundreds of miles from breeding grounds. Scientists seem rather uncomfortable about this because they don’t really know why and they tend to avoid the subject. Scientists are nerds so they are reluctant to admit the birds are just happy to be alive. Personally, I think a kind of celebration at being alive crosses all species. Birds sing, wolves howl, people laugh and otters slide because that is their nature. When living things are so deeply immersed in the present moment they are free from the encumbrances of self-consciousness. That’s the secret, I guess. MARKUS SAUNDERS