Another component of my project that I (Alison) have been working on is monitoring the phenology, or seasonal patterns of availability, of monkey foods in vegetation plots that we established in the forest. This process involves using binoculars to inspect an individual tree in order to determine how much of the canopy consists of young leaves, flowers, and fruit. Then we repeat this process many, many times. Later we will be able to analyze these data to see if/how food that is available for monkeys in the forest is related to patterns of crop raiding behavior. Monitoring phenology, while sometimes a literal pain in the neck, and rarely a crazy adventure, can actually be quite peaceful.
Primatologists discuss anthropomorphism of the primates they study- but what about trees? I have favorite trees. There are trees I am happy to see every two weeks when we return to that plot. There are trees that I dislike because they are too tall or covered in vines. There are trees that seem to smile at me and envelope me in their comforting branches. There are trees that seem to taunt me and enjoy making my life a little difficult. And there are trees that I pity because their leaves are mostly holes or because they flower later than all the others of that same species (actual late-bloomers!). I have been known to speak to the trees on occasion, asking something like “What color is your ripe fruit?” or “What is your Latin name?” I may even hug my favorites before I leave.
I sometimes remember that I am missing out on the joys associated with studying animal behavior. The feelings of familiarity toward certain individuals. The privilege of witnessing the funny, quirky, interesting things primates often do. But I have glimpsed up at tree, whose canopy I have inspected regularly for many months, and seen a refreshingly beautiful combination of sunlight, bright green leaves, and iridescent butterflies. Trees are living things that we see every single day, yet we barely notice them. I feel lucky to have this opportunity to become intimate with a few of them, and I enjoy this part of my research.