I’m fortunate enough to be traveling again this week, after a long winter of holing up and working on writing of one kind or another. I’m back in Florida, where I came to spend more time on the Silver River with the monkeys than I was able to in January, given the iffy weather. I have my 12-year-old son with me, because it has become tradition that we travel to Florida on his spring vacation, and I get him outdoors into nature. I don’t expect him to love the same things I love. But if he is willing, and so far he has been, I’m always going to show him nature. There are multiple reasons for this. One, being in nature is one of the greatest joys of my life, and I would like to pass that experience along to him if he is interested.
But also, I believe that with every passing year, people are more removed from the nature of the world they inhabit, and our condition as a people bears the marks of that distance. In spite of living in an age with more scientific knowledge and a greater availability of information than ever before, we are more ignorant about the costs of human existence to animals, wildlife, and our natural environment than ever. The only remedy for that is making sure that the next generation has a deep acquaintance with the natural environment. And so I view our trips as a parental obligation, one I can cheerfully fulfill.
Sean had heard my stories of the Silver River monkeys, and wanted to see them for himself. I know my kid and the way he becomes enthusiastic about a prospect, so I deliberately took him on the glass-bottom boat tour at the headspring first. I knew if he became interested in what was beneath the surface of the gin-clear water, he would be eager to get into a canoe or kayak and look over the side at all the life below. And that is precisely what happened. When he saw the first tiny turtle swim under the boat’s clear floor, I knew he was hooked. Wildlife could still compete with the XBox. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Seeing the first monkey was a thrill. We spent a long time in the boat watching and photographing them. The rhesus macaques that live on the river seem to approach life with an unbounded sense of glee and humor. We watched and laughed as one “multitasked”, as Sean put it, hanging onto a branch with one hand, stuffing food in its mouth with the other, and looking around for a friend to jump on.
Two of the monkeys spent more time playing than eating. One of the pair would stalk the other and leap onto its companion when least expected, and they would roll down the hill in a ball, clinging tightly to each other, and always somehow stopping just shy of the water’s edge. We watched this over and over again, and they never seemed to tire of the game.
“Monkeys,” intoned Sean after an hour of this, “are the spirits of preteen boys.”
He ought to know.