When my baby monkey, Jupo, jumped out of my arms and onto the branches of the 80-foot tree, my heart stood still. She had never left my side before, except to go into her enclosure some nights, or when I went to school during the day. She had never been out in the wild alone. Infants rely, the encyclopedia said, completely on their mothers until they are twelve months old. Jupo was barely nine months. This was far too soon for her to be leaving me.
I watched in horror as she agilely made her way from the outside branches towards the center of the tree. Then, without any hesitation, she began to climb up the thick trunk. Seconds later, she was at the top. I let out a blood-curdling scream, and within minutes both my parents came running.
Spider monkeys, my encyclopedia told me, have prehensile tails that serve as a fifth hand. When a spider monkey walks, even a baby one, its arms are so long they practically drag on the ground. Their hands are long and narrow, too, and they have no opposable thumbs. They are highly agile, and, when they reach a certain age, can easily jump from tree to tree.
“Call the fire department,” my parents both screamed when they reached my side and saw what the situation was. “Call them immediately!”
“Jupo is on the highest branch and it’s too light to hold her safely,” my father added, as he began to climb up after her.
“Oh no,” my mother cried. “Dear baby Jupo. I don’t want her to fall.”
While my parents both watched Jupo, who was now tilting back and forth on the top of the tree, I ran into the house and called the fire department.
“Hello,” I said, trying to keep calm. “We have an emergency. Please come right away.”
“What is it?” the fireman who answered asked. “And tell me where you live.”
“Sunny Hill Farm,” I answered. “It’s my baby monkey. She is stuck at the top of a tree.”
There was a brief silence, and then the phone went dead.
I had to call back several times before anyone at the firehouse would take me seriously. But when they finally did, they came running. Three fire engines came, in fact, with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Since none of them had ever seen a monkey except at a zoo, and especially a monkey stuck in a tree, all the firemen at the firehouse had decided to come along for the occasion. It was the two youngest ones, trainees probably, who were sent to climb to the top. The others climbed up too, but separated themselves so they were each five feet apart.
According to the encyclopedia, when a spider monkey sees a human approaching, it barks loudly, much like a dog. It climbs to the end of the branch it is on and shakes it vigorously to scare away the possible threat. It shakes the branches with its feet, hands, or a combination of the two, while hanging from its tail.
When Jupo saw the two men climbing up after her, and all the others behind them, she was so terrified that she let out a piercing howl. Then she began to bark. Leaning out to the edge of the branch she was on, just above one of the firemen’s head, she began to shake it fiercely, while still hanging on to the narrow trunk with her tail. I was so afraid that she was going to let go and fall, I had to close my eyes and bury my head in my mother’s arms. But before she let go, the top of the tree was hastily clipped off. Clinging tightly to her branch, she was carefully handed down from fireman to fireman, until she was finally safe in my arms again.
The following morning, my mother, Jupo, and I went out into the orchard, picked dozens of apples, and made half a dozen pies, which we delivered to the fire station just in time for lunch.
Jupo’s first time out in public was when my mother and I took her to the Acme supermarket. I had her all wrapped up in a soft pink baby blanket, which had a triangle flap at one end that I used to cover her face. Pushing the shopping cart with one hand, I held her very carefully with the other. It was on aisle three, I remember, just as my mother was asking if I thought we needed more pickles for the hamburgers we were going to grill that night, when a sweet little old lady came over with a big smile on her face.
“Oh my,” she said sweetly. “Would you mind if I saw her face?”
My mother was a few feet away reading labels on the pickle jars. Smiling, I answered, the sweet old lady, “Certainly.” And as I did, I proudly lifted the triangle flap aside so she could get a good look.
Spider monkeys have coarse hair and it ranges in color from ruddy gold to brown and black; their hands and feet are usually black. Their heads are small, their nostrils very far apart, and they have hairless faces. Mostly, their eyes are blue. With her twinkling blue eyes, the same color as mine, Jupo stuck her head out from the blanket and smiled happily.
My mother had moved back in time to catch the dear old lady, who was on the verge of fainting. “Oh dear,” the lady mumbled, her face as white as a ghost. When she was steady on her feet again she looked at my mother and me.
“Oh dear me,” she said, shaking her head. “I am so, so sorry.” Then, putting her quaking hand over her mouth, she all but ran away.
To be continued…