David Bowie is dead. I’m on a diet that has me awake at 2 am thinking about the foods I yearn to eat. And the political situation is . . . well, you know. But you can never tell what life is going to deliver, and just when I was in sore need of salve for the soul, I met Trixie the spider monkey. A piece of my heart belongs to her now, and part of me still wants to be sitting on the deck that wraps around her beautiful home while I hold her in my lap — those were two of the most blissful hours of my life.
But I should start at the beginning. Lynden has a charming main street with many interesting stores and one afternoon I wandered into Rustic Cottage, a shop filled with antiques and cool stuff for home and garden. I was completely surprised to see a big caged area that is filled with toys, blankets, climbing equipment and a hammock strung up at the top wherein lay a small sleeping monkey. Melissa Van Datta, store owner and constant companion to Trixie, graciously agreed to let me come to her house to meet her properly and since I’ve never known a spider monkey, or indeed any monkey, I was tremendously excited.
Trixie captured my heart the minute I walked into their living room by pulling her blanket over her head to hide from the stranger (me). I can’t say why this was so impossibly cute and endearing.
Trixie is what is known as a New World Monkey. Glen, Melissa’s husband, told me that her legs are 125% the length of her head and torso; her arms are 110% this length, and her prehensile tail is twice that. Her hands have four very long fingers and no thumbs, for easy and fast grasping of branches. Interestingly her back feet do have thumbs. Spider monkeys are one of the most intelligent of New World primates. In a Harvard study, scientists challenged a macaque, capuchin, and spider monkey to eat from a private stash of food without revealing to another dominant monkey of the same species where the stash was. Sometimes the stash was revealed instantly or over time. The macaque succeeded in keeping the hidden food a secret by eating less. Only the spider monkey managed to keep the location of the food concealed while ultimately eating more from the hidden larder than the subordinates of the other species. [While I’m referring to this particular study because presumably the monkeys weren’t hurt, I want to state that there are many “studies” I abhor and deplore, especially having met Trixie.]
Trixie is tethered in comfort when inside (too much stuff for her to get into) but outside, on the deck that wraps around three sides of the house, she’s free to do what she loves: leaping, swinging and climbing on the eaves, beams, roof and railings. She doesn’t wander off so there’s nothing to worry about. It was a joy and fascination to watch her.
Melissa and Glen have lived with Trixie for seven years and brought her home when she was three months old. Ardent animal lovers who also live with two cats, two dogs and two parrots, they wanted the challenge of a super smart animal even though their Husky and African Grey certainly fall into that category.
Glen says, “We didn’t want an animal that could grow up to kill us so that knocked out chimpanzees and tigers. I’m someone who gets bored relatively easily but when we first met Trixie at the breeder’s, I watched her for four hours straight — I was mesmerized. At one point, she put her hands on my face and rubbed each cheek softly. It was like a kiss and she did this to each of us. Maybe you can imagine how it made us feel.”
Glen was adamant that if this monkey was brought into the family, he, Melissa and their two children all had to agree that it was something they wanted. They were initially told spider monkeys can live to be 20 years old but in fact, in domesticity, that number is more like 35-40. Melissa’s initial reaction to the idea was “no way.” Knowing that she would end up with much of the caretaking responsibilities on top of already-significant obligations, she resisted. After spending hours with the captivating little monkey, the family left the breeder’s to go to a nearby Dairy Queen to discuss the serious decision. “Well,” Glen said, steeling himself for an intense meeting, “What do we think?” Melissa said, “I think we should name her ‘Trixie’ .” And that was that.
NEXT WEEK: PART 2 — MY VISIT WITH TRIXIE