Monkeys at 5
June 25, 2011
5:00 AM. Running around the property in my underwear chasing monkeys. Darting about hooting and growling doing my best to be alpha monkey but half asleep with my bandy white legs quickly becoming polka-dotted with sand fly bites I feel less than convincing. The monkeys view me as some sort of minor threat, at least, or maybe more just a nuisance (my view of them) as they retreat to a safe distance – about a metre or two beyond a reasonable stone’s throw. They sit and watch and wait and when I tire of standing under the fruit tree or can take the sand flies no longer no sooner have I gone back to the house and sat down with a cup of tea than the unmistakable sound of a monkey crashing through a loquat tree… Yesterday some monkeys stripped one tree loaded with fruit in about five minutes flat. I hate to say it but the phrase ‘you snooze you loose’ has acquired some sort of meaning in my life.
Turning up at the kind of ungodly hours of the morning as they do the monkeys could, should they wish, go about their business quietly, denude a fruit tree entirely and be on their way with full bellies and not a care in the world. But that is not the Monkey way, my friends. No, the Monkey way is for one of them to get up into the fruit tree and start scoffing fruit, tossing half eaten fruits all over the ground while a second monkey climbs up on the roof of the house jumping about making a hell of a racket and waking me in the cruellest manner possible. By the time I come to my senses – or, at least, cobble together enough of them to stumble out of the house and figure out which tree is under attack – the ground beneath is strewn with the remains of half eaten juicy, perfectly ripe fruit. But, ’tis not enough to display the ravaged fruits of the loquat tree on which they have launched their assault. To add insult to injury the little, uhh…monkeys, leave a ‘calling card’ – two half eaten near ripe white peaches. On none of the peach trees in the vicinity (that we know of) are the fruits anywhere near being ripe!
So we go through this routine three or four times of me running out of the house hollerin’ until I’m hoarse and the monkeys retreating (just) into the forest. But with each repetition their retreat loses some urgency and as they make what is to be their final retreat the leader of the band turns and gives me a look that unmistakably says ‘yep, we’re just fuckin’ with ya.’ Or, on second thoughts, maybe the look was actually saying ‘hey, don’t blame us just because your ancestors gave up the easy life for the fools path of sedentary, agriculture and that ultimate folly, civilization.’ And, you know, I gotta give it to them, the monkeys have got a point there.
My relationship to the fruit trees in the area is precisely that of the monkeys: when I’m hungry I go to the tree, harvest fruit and eat. No more, no less. (Although I do have the decency to eat the whole fruit.) And though I have planted many things on this land the fruit and nut trees were already there, waiting, delicious. So, I can hardly be mad at the monkeys for doing only what I am doing. Should we be talking about the monkeys helping themselves to an entire crop of corn I may not have such egalitarian feelings. Ahh, the slippery slope of plant domestication that leads to work, private property, money, hoarding, scarcity…
I have often heard it said that there is nothing more gratifying than eating food you have grown yourself but, I would say, there is nothing more gratifying than eating food that has grown naturally without any need of your work. The Way of natural farming (in the Fukuoka sense) or of forest farming is the slow return to a foraging existence, a re-wilding of our food supply.
It’s hardly surprising the monkeys wanna come hang at our place when most of the natural forest with its abundant fruit, nuts, berries, tender shoots and medicinal herbs has been replaced by a monoculture of timber trees.
After scaring off the monkeys for today, finishing my cup of tea, having a leisurely breakfast, Asako and I harvested as much of the ripe fruit as we could be bothered (yes, there was still plenty left). And I failed to mention that over the past couple of weeks we have been eating plentifully of loquat and making loquat wine. So, we certainly get a reasonable share of the bounty. But, should we be dependant on selling fruit for a living we might be viewing the whole situation rather differently. That is having the monkey on your back.