I’m here in my Mayan granny rocking chair, enjoying the eye candy that is a tropical backyard. I’m also staring unashamedly at my very noisy neighbors. They don’t seem to mind. There are four of them, sitting in a row on a swaying maculí branch having brazenly decided our trees are a nice place to live.
Which is actually really sweet of them and I am truly humbled to share our land with a troop of howler monkeys.
A few weeks ago, the kids and I spent late afternoon on the front porch. I was reading Little Britches to them and they were digging around with a machete and making ramps for their trucks and I don’t even know what else when the monkeys crossed from our backyard to the front. We started counting as usual. 1-2-3-4-mama and ooooo MOMMY!!! The mommy monkey has a tiny baby on her back! A swoop of about 40 green parakeets zoomed across our drive, squawking and complaining like a bunch of naughty children.
We had to go in and get changed for a church meeting. It felt strange. Like we were already in a holy place, a golden hour worship meeting of creation.
It’s equally humbling. Holy and humbling.
These beautiful creatures find sanctuary….here. In this little spot of earth, they have found refuge, sustenance, beauty.
We know howler monkeys as saraguatos. They live here in the jungles of southern Mexico and down into Central and South America.
I first heard the monkeys during a meeting before moving to this town. We were sitting on our rows, quiet and serene. Suddenly a roar broke through the silence, a roar that sent my heart into my throat, my stomach down to my toes. I looked around in fear. Pumas and jaguars roam the uninhabited jungles. Had one become disoriented and made its way into an area of civilization? Do those cats even roar? At that point I didn’t know, didn’t care and could sense my survival instincts kicking in. Except nobody else seemed to care. No one was moving, their heads still bowed, silence still reigned. The hour seemed to last three. Finally we “sang an hymn and went out”. “What????” I began, “Ohh,” the nonchalant response, “those are just monkeys.”
Those just monkeys have become a permanent fixture in our lives yet as is the case with God’s handiwork, they have never lost their magic of wonder. Their roar is as expected as a bird’s chorus or the creaking of bamboo, yet we still all rush to the nearest window for a glimpse of our hairy friends.
One afternoon (David was gone, of course), we heard roaring and frantic barking. Never a good combo. Our then 8 year old son ran out. When we caught up to him, he was white but fierce courage burned in his eyes. A saraguato was on the ground behind him, just a few feet away. He had wrestled our male Rottweiler away from the monkey, who we quickly realized was handicapped (not an injury from our dog-we had caught a neighbor shooting one the week before and are still suspicious this was the one). He tied up Rosco and went back to check on the monkey. When he got back, the monkey looked him in the eyes and opened his mouth in a ferocious roar. “Oh mommy,” he said, “I could see all his teeth!” “Maybe he was just trying to say thank-you,” I countered. We backed away slowly and let the poor monkey have some space. David brought home a shot from the vet but by then our little hurt friend was gone.
Another time we watched with sadness as a young male chased an old male from the front of our lot across to the back. Any time he stopped or tried to come back, the young one would roar threateningly and force him on and on-likely on to a solitary death, dethroned as head of their troop.
Once I was tending to some shade plants of the heliconia family when liquid began dripping down the leaves overhead. The last drops of an evening pour? I looked up. Nope. Just a few monkeys marking their territory!
There are times when we are out on the porch that I am obligated to raise my voice to uncomfortable levels for the kids to hear me reading over the din of communicating male monkeys.
They are not dangerous, but definitely know how to defend themselves, usually tossing sticks down at the kids when they get too close. They love new leaves and fruit, especially mango, and swing around from tree to tree looking for their favorite foods, using their prehensile tails in the most fascinating ways.
There is more than one troop in the village and they can often be heard communicating back and forth. Sometimes we won’t see them for a few weeks, though the family we have now has been here for several months, electing to have her baby here as well.
We accept this godly stewardship gratefully, feeling a little bit like Adam and Eve in the Garden. Tenders, defenders and facilitators of nature’s incredible wonders.