Where in the World

"Not all those who wander are lost."

J.R.R. Tolkien, 1892-1973. English writer, poet, philologist, and academic.
Author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.


As printed in the Orlando Sentinel

Three, 4, 5-inch green vines ascending from the forest floor, curling, turning, twisting in G and S shapes around all in their path. Green, all shades and hues, farther than the eye could see. Bark, stems, branches, Earth and fallen leaves all brown. Trees festooned with dense mats of moss on crooks and boughs, bracket fungi clinging to their broad trunks, and orchids growing high in the canopy.

Listen. The canopy of this Ugandan jungle rings with the liquid whistling of the black-headed oriole, the metallic tonk-tonk-tonk of yellow-rumped tinkerbirds, and the ‘it will rain’ call of the red-crested cuckoo. And then, we hear a great crack, same as thunder, but not. Moments later, falling through the thickness of green to the Earth, another tree dies.

Walking is difficult at best. Bushes filled with thorns; red ants with stings worse than any doctor’s needle; small, slender, tripping vines attaching to our every step; deep undergrowth; sturdy branches overhead banging our brow – we have to concentrate so hard on each step on the floor; there is no time to look up. When the canopy allows, there are occasional peeks at the sky.

And then we hear them. Our eyes open wide. A drumming noise made on a huge tree buttress, followed by deep hoots and chilling shrieks so loud they put fear in our hearts. Many echoes of screams surround us from overhead, from all sides. The noise is almost deafening, but where is it coming from?

We pivot 360 degrees, and look through the green and brown. We see nothing. And again screams. But, nothing. Then, a tantalizing glimpse – the back of a head as they lope through the undergrowth, a peek at huge, muscular arms propelling them along.

Finally, we see her hunkered down, limbs overhanging a thick branch far above. Her eyes are trained on ours. Another is swinging from vine to trunk, shimmying up the tree and jumping across a clearing; then as quickly, it is out of sight. Others are feeding, grooming, playing, relaxing. After four hours of penetrating rain, the weather changes, and the bright sun picks out flecks of color in their fur and markings, making each one unique. Individuals are distinguished by face color – some black and some pink, some with scars and others missing digits.

This is the magical, mystifying world of the chimpanzee.

The areas on the map in blue are the destinations already explored.