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Jungle Party Header
By Bev Patterson

chimpMOST BIRTHDAYS COME and go without a lot of thought and worry. This year was different. I’m not sure whether it’s the simple fact that as I creep past the halfway mark of my life my wish list gets shorter and shorter. It’s not unusual now to feel stumped when someone asks me, “What do you want for your birthday?” The other reason, and I think this is closer to the real reason for approaching my 42nd birthday differently, is that in the last year Watershed’s educational life has been filled with reading and discussing ecological wisdom. Everything from cosmology to evolution to how do we care for our immediate environment was filtered with a sense of contextual awareness and in a way that reflects our personality. So when I finally thought about what I wanted this year, the only thing that seemed to make sense was to offer any gifts I might receive from community in the form of money to a charity focusing on ecological issues.

I’ve always loved  animals. I’ve tried to surround myself with their presence as much as I can. For me that simply means living in a house filled with a dog, always cats, at times a few fish and the regular flock that hangs out at our birdfeeder outside the living room window. That is pretty much the extent of my direct experience with the animal kingdom. The closest I come to connecting with the wild side would be good ol’ PBS and the Discovery Channel when nothing else is on.

But having had my consciousness raised, and wanting somehow to symbolically reflect that shift on my birthday, my senses were heightened. What grabbed my attention was the plight of the chimpanzee. Maybe because the other primates are really only a DNA step away from the human, there is a sense of affinity with these creatures that swing their way through life. On the one hand, their lifestyle is quite distinct from mine, yet on the other there is a close resemblance that feels quite haunting. Having stumbled on that awareness, it didn’t take long to find a charity that seemed to embody the type of animal/nature wisdom that we as a community had been reflecting on æ a perspective that went beyond the political/ideological agenda or one that relied on shock tactics. For me, it just seemed obvious that The Jane Goodall Institute fit the bill.

Jungle Party Jungle Party
Jungle Party Jungle Party
So my 42nd birthday, with
the help of a friend who also felt a similar call for her birthday close to mine, became a Jungle Party. The donations were sent, along with letters of heartfelt intent. Yet I felt I wasn’t quite done. I wanted to do just one more thing: a gift from myself with a personal touch. Maybe what I needed to do was to not only give a gift to the wider world but also give back to my small world. I wanted to find a way of bringing a bit of the jungle spirit into my domestic world and expand the imagination of my own community. One way I can do that is to play with painting watercolour images. When I chose to paint for this particular piece of the Watershed Online Spring edition I knew immediately that it would be a playful endeavour and that it was important to stay true to the idea of the party. Despite the suffering that chimpanzees go through they embody extreme play and wild abandon. Not only was I giving to them, they were giving something back to me. Together, chimp and human, we became guests at a party much bigger than I imagined.

It’s something I’ve always had a hunch about but I am slowly discovering how true it is: living this life really is about partnership, not just human to human but creature to creature whether we are two-legged and communing with each other as we navigate the concrete jungle or we fly through the air from limb to limb in African jungle communities. All of us inhabit this place called earth and if we follow our bliss and search for joy and beauty, wisdom will become our play and playful will our wisdom be.

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