My old friend Carole Gale died.
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.