Waiting for Death and Waiting for Apes, Part 2

My old friend Carole Gale died.

Carole in Talent, Oregon, doing what she loved best: soaking up biodiversity

I wrote of our conversation about The Rise of the Planet of the Apes a little more than a month ago.  Carole, a committed, passionate and thoughtful primatologist (among the many other labels that could be applied to her) wanted badly to see the film before she stopped breathing. It didn’t look as though she was going to be able to have this, one of her last wishes, granted.

But she did. She and I and her caretaker Elizabeth were able to see the film, together, a few days before her death.  Carole – who often talked of having spent some of the best years of her life among the chimpanzees with whom she worked, years earlier, in Africa, was quite moved.  Especially during a moment in the film when (warning: ‘spoiler’ follows) the protagonist, a chimpanzee named Caesar, speaks three words.

It is worth mentioning that the thoughtfulness and generosity of another dear old friend, my fellow screenwriter J. Paul Higgins, were instrumental in helping Carole have this final cinematic communion (not merely a metaphor) with the movie’s primates.

In the months before her death, Carole was able to indulge in her long-held passion for both talking and storytelling when she gave a series of talks – and readings – of her stories about her encounters, close and otherwise, with African primates.  One of her public storytellings was chronicled by a local newspaper; journalist Hannah Guzik interviewed Carole and Hannah’s words provide an inightful portrait – and de facto epitaph – for some of the reasons why Carole, and her stories and way of seeing the world, were special; she also mentions the years Carole spent working with legendary primatologist Jane Goodall:

Gale was just 19 went she went to work for Goodall in Tanzania.

“My story is about arriving as a volunteer typist and waking up the next morning and seeing all these chimpanzees in this camp,” she said.

A few days later, as she was delivering something to a researcher, a male chimpanzee charged her.

“It was pretty dangerous,” she said. “We didn’t want that to happen, because they’re far stronger than we are.

“You had to hold your ground. You couldn’t try to run because then they would chase you for sure. You had to stand still and face it and then at the last minute jump out of the way.”

Gale said she could write an entire book about what she learned in Africa.

“There’s somebody there inside each other animal — they aren’t just sort of generic beings, like how one car is the same as another car,” she said. “Chimpanzees are as individual as we are.”

Carole wasn’t just my friend…she also taught me a few things. Some days, I even remember some of them. Like today. Remembering her curiosity. Her insatiable desires to observe, to know, to understand….the minutest details of the quotidien world that surrounded her and surrounds me. Which often I never see.

Time to stop writing and go out and look at the world.

Carole observing....in Talent, Oregon

15 comments on “Waiting for Death and Waiting for Apes, Part 2

  1. Thank you for this – I work at Wild Futures Monkey Sanctuary in the UK – where Carole herself spent a few years. We are so sad to hear of her passing and glad to be reminded of the passion she had for all living things and the need to pursue justice in our world.
    So, here’s to Carole from us all at Wild Futures and the monkeys here – especially the woollies who knew her well.

  2. Hear, hear! If you know Carole, then you also know that, in addition to being passionate and thoughtful, she could also be, on occasion, hectoring, overbearing, and sometimes just plain irritating. And also seriously generous: as I write these words I am sipping ‘bush tea’ – aka roibos tea – to which Carole was on occasion semi-addicted – in another present she left: an ancient and beautiful teacup from The Monkey Sanctuary, in Looe Cornwall. I know she often thought of those monkeys – and woollies – so your words and thoughts, Rachel, are waaaay cool. Raise a glass of the good stuff to her when you can.

  3. Pamela Stirrat says:

    That sounds like the Carole I knew! I also worked at The Monkey Sanctuary and lived there for a few years alongside Carole – I was very fond of her and loved her stories. She took on such a different demeanour when she was off in storytelling mode – fantastic enthusiasm. I’ve thought of her often over the years since I saw her last and I’m sad that the first news I’ve had of her reports her death but thank you for a lovely article.

    • You’re welcome, Pamela. And yes, she did have a special demeanour when she went into storytelling mode, as you say. In addition to being a long term friend for most of my life, Carole was also a roommate during the last few years as she battled cancer, in typical Carole fashion, with a diet of almost nothing but totally raw juices and veggies. I think she died as she lived….with enormous heart, and love for the world.

  4. Jordi Casamitjana says:

    Thank you Miguel for this homage. I also met Carol at The Monkey Sanctuary, but I after I left I moved to Brighton, where Carol spent a few months with me on my flat. I remember the wonderful conversations we had about primates, writing, storytelling and ecology. We had funny times too (in fact is the last person with which I had one of those long laugh attacks that make you cry). She always had an interesting way to look at things.

  5. You’re welcome, Jordi. I had countless insane and funny conversations with Carole myself over the years, on a variety of subjects. Gustave Flaubert said, “A friend who dies, it’s something of you who dies.” I’m not certain if he was right….but I know I miss her wit and spirit.

    • One of my favourite memories, and in fact the first image that always pops up when I think of her, is of Carole dressed as the caterpillar, complete with hookah, for one of our Alice in Wonderland open days – ready with a surreal tale for children…

      • That sounds like Carole, Rachel. Thanks for sharing it. One of my favorite memories of Carol is when she and my older sister Toni and I dressed up as characters from Macbeth, and attempted to perform impromptu snippets of violent and dramatic Shakespearian scenes in the garage of her house in Pasadena, where she was a next door neighbor to my family. She always had a bit of the theatrical in her, I think. What a fine ‘soul’ she was.

  6. fran hunter says:

    Eric and I met Carole in Cornwall too. And after we left the sanctuary we would meet up with her whenever her travels brought her back to UK. She spent some time at our house in Cambs and I remember the Thnksgiving when we searched the stores for the exact type of mayo and other ingredients for Carole’s cold turkey sandwiches! Yes she could be a demanding house guest but her stories and conversations far outweighed her foibles! She was also generous even when she had little and I’ll treasure the little wooden animals she brought from africa for our son.

    • Carole: always a generous spirit and soul, to a fault. She would metaphorically give you the shirt off her back, for the joy of giving something to a friend, of celebrating a gathering, or of just being present. And yes, she could be quite demanding too. But so can I….;)

      Thanks for sharing the memory, Fran.

  7. Suzanne Goode says:

    I only learned today of Carole’s passing. We spent many years studying the grasslands at Point Mugu State Park in California, where I now work. She was a gifted and animated storyteller for sure, as well as spiritual, generous, wry, meticulous, exasperating, humorous, and wholly dedicated to nature and the earth. I am so happy to learn that she was able to return to Africa and regret that we lost touch and will never be able to be old ladies in our 60s showing the new young researchers the location of our plots as we hobbled along with our canes, as we often often joked.

    • Carole spent a few of her last years here with us in rural Southern Oregon….and before that, she was a semi-ancient childhood friend of myself and my older sister. I think possibly all in all we all may have spent a few lifetimes together. And you are quite right when you categorize her as generous, wry, meticulous, exasperating, humorous and dedicated to all things having to do with nature. And, yes, spiritual too, in her own ways. I rather miss her now – but many small things remind me often of her presence. Thanks for your comment, Suzanne.

  8. Kathryn Day says:

    I just now thought of Carole and thought to look for her on the Web — and very very sorry indeed to hear of her passing. I knew her at the Monkey Sanctuary as well and remember one particularly interesting story she told about a chimp who was torn between hunger and compassion as she killed and eventually ate a baboon child. I remember times at the Sanctuary where people seemed to fail to recognize her talents and her passion for life as well as her originality, and just saw her as a tall, odd American woman. As another tall, odd American woman I failed to see those traits as faults. I liked Carole very, very much. I will never forget her courage and outspokenness in a world that was sometimes harsh and intolerant towards her. RIP Carole Gale.

    • She was indeed a tall, odd and definitely American woman – but she was also an original, articulate and passionate speaker in defense of nature, progressive and humanist politics, and an open-mindedness that occasionally got her into conflict with those less willing to understand or appreciate her extremes. I still feel fortunate, years after her passing, to count her among my friends. Thanks for checking in and for your comment/s, Kathryn.

    • Fran Hunter says:

      hello Kathy! So Carole continues to link folks together with all these ex sanctuary people finding Miguel’s obituary – thank you Miguel! Look us up on FB Kathy if you like – I am skygal100, or you can find Eric under his normal name!

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