Do you know the book by George Saunders, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip? The story is terrific, especially if you’re an adult or child who doesn’t mind imaginary things that are a little dark and awfully wonderful. The heroine is named Capable, and lately I’ve been wondering if she was about seven-and-a-half in that story. After all, seven and a half is many things, and sometimes, like I experienced yesterday, it’s just incredible capable.
Yesterday evening, after I brought Wyatt home from his sewing club, he went by our neighbor’s house to drop off a piece of cake, a holiday card, and a holiday gift bag of caramel corn. Then, he assembled our dinner (our version of spring rolls). He remarked I could just make the sauce which shouldn’t take that long, and then I could relax. I happily offered to set the table, too.
Eventually, we sat down to dinner, and about half-way through , Wyatt found he had a lot to say.
Mom. So we’re reading this book and learning about Jane Goodall. She spent TWO WHOLE YEARS watching chimpanzees! And she always wore the same kind of clothes. Tan shorts and a tan t-shirt, to blend in. And she got cut and she didn’t care. And she got scrapes and she didn’t care. She went to this one spot because she was there to dig for fossils, and she was like, ‘I’m going to dig for fossils and watch chimpanzees,’ and then I guess maybe she stopped paying attention to the fossils? I don’t know. But she was the first person to NOTICE that chimpanzees use TOOLS, like a blade of grass to pick out termites and eat them. All these other scientists had gone and looked and been like, ‘Those are chimpanzees doing regular chimpanzee things,’ but they didn’t stay to watch for TWO YEARS like she did, so they never saw them using tools.
Also? She’s still alive. I know you were wondering about that. And we saw two National Geographic videos of her. She’s old, with white hair and wrinkly skin, she always wears a ponytail, but she doesn’t move like an old person AT ALL. She said one time a Japanese woman came running to her with tears streaming down her face saying how much her work inspired her to go observe polar bears, WHICH SHE DID, she WENT and watched polar bears, and it became her work! Someone asked Jane Goodall what advice she’d give to kids, and she said that her mother always told her—haha, she’s British, right? So she says ‘motor car,’ and they didn’t have enough money for one, so they were really poor—her mother always told her if she wanted something she had to work hard for it. She had to read, and do the math, and do all the other things and work hard. She wasn’t even a trained scientist but she did all this work with chimpanzees! Also? When she came back home? SOME STUPID men [with a dismissive hand wave plus eye roll] didn’t believe she saw what she said she did. So she had to come back with some souvenirs to prove it to them. And then those STUPID MEN finally believed her.
She was eight during World War II. Her family knew war was coming so they moved to the countryside, but they still worried about being bombed. That would be so hard, spending all that energy every day worrying you’d be bombed at any time. How do you even LIVE like that? How old is she now? [I checked Wikipedia, and told him 84.] 84? So if she was 8 during World War II, that tells me World War II was . . . 84 minus 10, then add 2 . . . 75, 76 years ago. That was NOT very long ago. Not very long ago at all.
There’s some “progressive education” for you. Feminism, reslience, history, math, empathy, science, scientific methods, patience, and storytelling, to name some of the big concepts that jumped out at me from this glimpse into school on Monday.
I told Wyatt we learned about Jane Goodall when I was in school, too, and I agreed she did some great work. I added that now, scientists go out of their way not to interact with the animals the way Goodall did, because science has taught us we should give the animals their space. He looked at me as if I had mortally wounded his mother, and said, “She wasn’t HURTING them, and she wasn’t feeding them, like CEREAL or something. She was feeding them TERMITES. And the chimpanzees put their arms around HER. She wasn’t chasing them or something.” You know, like, pigeons and squirrels, I guess. I agreed, and I added that one of the best parts of science is that we’re always learning and then we can do even better at things. He changed the subject.
“Mom. I would really like to meet Jane Goodall.”
“I know, right? She’s pretty amazing. What would you want to ask her?”
“I don’t know. Maybe what it felt like to be there with the chimpanzees for TWO YEARS? Really, I’d just like to meet her.”
Just in case one of the important ingredients to having such a fabulous dinner conversation was the food, I’ll share the recipe with you.
The rolls Wyatt assembled were inspired by the recipes on the back of Happy Pho brown rice wrappers. We like the larger size wrappers because we can fit more in them. We used tofu (that I had pan fried, sprinkled with salt and sliced into strips), rice noodles (boil for about 2 minutes then drain and cool under running water), shredded cabbage, chopped mint, chives, and slivered cucumber. The dipping sauce is 1/4 cup each of water, rice vinegar, and soy sauce, 1/2 cup of nut (or sunflower) butter, a garlic clove, and 1/2 tablespoon of fresh ginger. Blitz all the ingredients in a blender until smooth.