Kona Died

“This was the hardest one,” an ape keeper named Tara at the Dallas zoo told me today, “the hardest one ever.”

Anyone who works in any capacity with the apes had sunglasses on today and were carrying much needed tissue.

Last night as I sat at dinner with my husband I kept hearing my phone tones for email and text.  I don’t work (I volunteer) so I don’t get as much activity on my phone as most people and the rate at which these sounds were coming in alarmed me a little.  “Excuse me please, let me check that,” I said to my husband.

I am an amateur expert on the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Chimpanzee and I volunteer at the Dallas zoo two days a week speaking about behaviors and personalities of the apes.  I have come to know each ape intimately and some know and recognize me.  I love them deeply.

Andrea, it’s Julie at the zoo.  I know this is going to hit you hard and I’m so sorry.  I sent you several emails and I think Tracy did, too.  We lost Kona today, I read on text.  I burst into tears.  My husband was frantically asking what happened of course and I told him we lost Kona.

“Oh, the one who got his toe bit off by Juba?” my husband asked anxiously.

“NO!” I said, “those are the gorillas, Kona was the 7 year old Chimp!” I said as I sobbed.  I cried myself to sleep.

Driving to the zoo today was horrible.  I was so scared to see the keepers but even more scared to see the Chimpanzee troupe.  Cindy did a good job faking it at the Chimp Keeper Talk and then I saw Annie.  We embraced and I started to cry and she hugged me even harder.  Sweet thing, she’s only 28.

I am good friends with Kona’s main keeper whose name is Will.  Will is an emergency medical technician and is in Vietnam right now on a doctors without borders type mission with his father who is a surgeon.  I was so shaken up that I texted Will and just said OMFG and he responded and was an absolute wreck. Annie is his girlfriend and he asked me to take care of her until he could get back.  I told Will she’s a lot stronger than either of us, which is true.  Annie is not unemotional, she just controls it well.  When I told Annie Will texted me to take care of her she chuckled with tears in her eyes.

Later in the day I saw many other ape keepers and it was emotional.  Kona was one of a kind.  He was a rebel, a clown, a strategizer, a risk taker and his two and a half year old little brother Mshindi loved him to pieces.  In fact, at the zoo when an ape dies, they let the other apes in the troupe see the deceased body so they can process what has happened.  Little Mshindi was slapping Kona’s dead body trying to wake him up.  Gut wrenching.

No one knows exactly what killed Kona.  He had been a little lethargic and not eating well for a week.  When they brought him in and put him under anesthesia to try and figure out what was wrong, he just died.  Blood work and autopsy in progress but who cares, it won’t bring him back.

This morning when the keepers got to work there was poop spread on every wall, floor and ceiling of the indoor Chimp bedrooms.  Last night, the chimps protested.  It was the only way they knew how.  Today the Chimps were despondent and little Mshindi was trying to play the games on the ropes and climbing structures all by himself that he used to play 0n with Kona.  Gut wrenching.


Sweet Kona


Mshindi is going to miss Kona

So am I


“You have to be strong,” the woman in the waiting room at the oncology radiology facility said. “My husband has lymphoma everywhere in its final stages and we are cheerful and optimistic. It’s what you have to do to be with cancer.” Her husband will probably die. He is completely hunched over by what I suppose is osteoporosis in addition to the lymphoma his lovely wife told me has taken over his entire body.

That first day we went for Steve’s radiation treatment, I noticed a bell on the counter with a ribbon tied to it. On the ribbon it said I made it the whole way! I was so new to this idea of my youngish husband having to go through radiation that I didn’t quite get what that was. Then, when Steve was in treatment, someone walked out, picked up the bell and rang it. Everyone in the waiting room applauded and some jumped up to hug the person who had just completed the grueling months long, daily treatment of radiation. I suddenly got it and of course, was one of the jump-up huggers. But I was also in tears.

A couple weeks ago was Steve’s last radiation treatment for a mild recurrence of prostate cancer. MILD? Can you really even say that if its cancer? You really can’t. It’s cancer. In his case even though his numbers are low and very encouraging, you get only one shot at radiation. One. You can’t do it again because radiation causes cancer. What? We are trying to solve cancer with a cancer-causing agent? Yep. OMG.

On Steve’s last day I was in the waiting room, waiting. My husband is a very subtle and humble person. He is not a person who has a need to bring attention to himself so I wasn’t expecting him to ring a little funny bell. I just assumed he would want to get out of there and put it all behind him while we wait and wait for results of radiation.   He walked out, made eye contact with me, picked up that bell and rang it loudly with a huge smile on his face. I burst into quiet tears; I try not to be a spectacle either. People applauded, jumped up to hug him and it was a demonstration of how beautiful people can be when we realize we are all in the same damn boat. Cancer levels the playing field.



Where Am I?

Have you heard about Texas weather? When we told people we were moving here they said, “Well, clearly you aren’t moving for the weather, so why are you moving?!” It’s 8:30 pm, I have a sinus infection, Steve is on a plane hoping to get into Dallas/Fort Worth tonight from a biz trip. It is thundering, lightening and what I cannot reconcile is that it’s 92 degrees and HAILING! How is that even possible? How can it hail when it’s 92 degrees! Could it be 32 degrees High in the sky when it’s 92 down here?? (Notice I unconsciously capitalized high as if something supernatural is going on.)

I can hear the hail smashing against the the skylight in my kitchen. This is also tornado weather, something brand new to me. Tornados are a “warm weather event” I’ve been taught. Lovely. So I stay awake with my sinus infection, two dogs freaking out about thunder, my husband on a plane circling around, still trying to get my arms around what the hell is Texas….

Personal Characteristics

Ever notice no one has freckles anymore?  I guess at some point they have become considered a flaw.  There are relatively inexpensive procedures to get rid of them now.  Kinda sad. I miss them.  I always thought they were so cute.  I never had them.  Someone who did told me they are cute when they are someone else’s but not when they are your own. I get that. Maybe the same deal with really curly hair. Curly hair is a pain in the ass.


The Wizard of Oz

One of the less than lovely things about Texas is tornedos. Apparently we don’t get as many as places like Oklahoma and Kansas but we do get them. Take the day after Christmas for example. 11 people in the Dallas area died in tornedos and a house 15 miles from ours was demolished. I’ve learned that when people die in tornedos it’s usually either a traffic related incident caused by the tornedo or they are hit with flying debris. So, If you are out and about, you have to quickly figure out a way to get out of the car and somehow take cover.

I’ve only been in Texas just over two years and the only other places I’ve lived are California and Arizona. In California we worried about earthquakes, landslides, houses sliding down hillsides and wildfires. In Arizona we obsessed over rattlesnakes, scorpions and a particularly threatening cactus called “Jumping Cholla”.


The cholla (pronounced choy-a) is perhaps the most feared and hated cacti in the southwest desert. If you brush up against one, you will know why. The plant has pads that separate easily from the main stem. The spines easily attach to your clothing, your skin and your shoes. Since the plant is covered with spines, it’s difficult to grab and dislodge the pad that has found a new home with you. Why are they so difficult to remove? Unlike other varieties of cacti with solid spines, cholla’s actually have hollow spines. Because they are hollow they can easily attach to whatever they touch with their needle like sharpness. If there is moisture, such as with skin, the tips actually curve once they have made contact, locking their spines in place just underneath the skins top layer. OUCH! But, I digress….

When the tornedo sirens blared the other night, my husband and I and our two golden retrievers hunkered down in the inner most room of the house, which is my husband’s closet. If you have followed my blog for some length of time, you might recall that I have that closet well stocked for an event such as this one.

Here are the contents of our shelter in Steve’s closet:

  • water for humans and water/water bowl for dogs
  • snacks for humans and treats/chew sticks for dogs
  • a battery powered American Red Cross emergency weather radio
  • a battery powered, super mini flashlight
  • a battery powered lantern
  • two battery powered personal spray bottle/fan contraptions in case it gets really hot
  • back up batteries for all that battery operated crap
  • a blanket
  • a little nightgown for me in case it gets really hot
  • reading glasses in case I have to run in there without mine
  • 2 bottles of wine, a wine opener and doggie Xanax
  • a deck of cards for gin rummy in case Steve or Tim are in there with me and paper/pencil to keep score since we’ll be drinking all that wine and would no way remember the score

I’m not kidding. All that junk is beautifully organized in Steve’s closet.


So, while Steve was fumbling with the tornedo radio, I was texting my sister in California. My sister Lisa always has and always will live in California. We were born there and she is a beach girl.

The tornedo radio is saying we are in a life threatening situation and to take cover immediately, I texted. So we are in the safest place in the house, a closet, with the dogs.

That must be freaky, she responded, are you scared?

I am kind of scared, I went on, the radio just said the tornedo touched down about 15 miles from our house.

Ooooh, she replied, I didn’t realize they touched down.

I chuckled to myself. Just like me two years ago, she knows nothing about tornedos. I think she was thinking of hurricanes.

Think “twister”, Lisa, I texted back, like The Wizard of Oz. 

Oh! she exclaimed, Is Toto with you?


A Mortal Threat

We have little storms around here where lightening hits houses, windows break, thunder sounds like close range gun shots and trees get blown down. I used to wonder why anyone was afraid of thunderstorms but that was before I knew they could be a mortal threat. Fortunately, when we first moved here, the reality of tornados terrified me so I created a refuge in a big closet under our stairwell. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m used to theatrical weather. I’ll take an outrageously dramatic dust storm called a haboob like we had in Phoenix any day; it’s the devil I know. I just don’t know tornados or these kinds of thunderstorms at all.



Here are the contents of my shelter under the stairs:

  • water for humans and water/water bowl for dogs
  • snacks for humans and treats/chew sticks for dogs
  • a battery powered American Red Cross emergency weather radio
  • a battery powered, super mini flashlight
  • a battery powered lantern
  • two battery powered personal spray bottle/fan contraptions in case it gets really hot
  • back up batteries for all that battery operated crap
  • two heavy duty moving pads to cover the carpet in case we are in there for hours and the dogs need to go potty.
  • a blanket
  • a little nightgown for me in case it gets really hot
  • reading glasses in case I have to run in there without mine
  • 2 bottles of wine, a wine opener and doggie Xanax
  • a deck of cards for gin rummy in case Steve or Tim are in there with me and paper/pencil to keep score since we’ll be drinking all that wine and would no way remember the score

I’m not kidding. All that junk is beautifully organized in the closet under my stairs. In fact, when I showed it all to Tim, my adored retired corporate executive/dog walker/house sitter, he said, “Wow, you are really organized!” I’m pretty sure he meant, wow, you are really anal! Yeah, well, the next time the tornado sirens blare, I wouldn’t be surprised if he uses his house key and joins us in there!

Anyway, the last time we had this kind of storm with 90 mph winds, thunder following lightening after one second, debris flying dangerously near the windows and the loss of electrical power, the dogs and I took shelter in our closet. While Mother Nature raged, I ate a 200-calorie power bar while I would have preferred 1200 calories of Texas fried chicken, the dogs got decadent treats reserved for closet time so the psychological canine association with the closet is positive, and the three of us snuggled.

IMG_1073 IMG_1067 IMG_1053

After 45 minutes the storm blew over. Thirty-two hours later we got our power back and I threw away all the food in the refrigerator and freezer. Great opportunity to clean the fridge.

Rockin’ and Rollin’ in Texas

My dogs suddenly looked disturbed as I sat at my desk writing. I looked up and wondered if they had to go pee. I just took them out an hour ago, I thought. Then, I heard a familiar jingling sound. I don’t know how else to describe it. I knew what was next; I was born and raised in California.

Earthquake, I said to myself. The house began to moan and then it started to slightly shake. Then there were two jolts among the shakes. The dogs started barking and looked alarmed. I have been trained from a young age to get under a door jam during an earthquake. I’ve never quite bought that because if the house falls down will the door jam really save you? And, when the dogs are totally freaked out how in heck do I get a 100 pound boy and 65 pound girl to stay under a door jam with me??

I’m the Accidental Texan, really I am, and I knew there would be lots of new things when I moved here. Many Texans told me about Tornedos, but no one mentioned earthquakes and I just assumed we didn’t have them here.

On jolt number one it occurred to me that this could be like something I’ve experienced in my past so I jumped from my office chair to an earthquake ready position. Unless you are from earthquake country, you probably have no idea what that is. That position is something like a quarterback ready to receive a hike. (You know, “HIKE, HIKE, GO!” and that one guy throws the football under his butt to the waaaay toooo cute quarterback who is married to a waaaaay toooo gorgeous skinny model.)

In an earthquake, just like with a quarterback who catches the ball in a hike, the next question that pops in your mind is what the hell do I do now?!? So, as I stood in earthquake ready position I asked myself that question. I have a “safe room” in a closet under the stairwell for tornedoes so that’s where I decided to go. The dogs love it in there because I have trained them that it’s a fun place and there are treats! The earthquake never took on California proportions and was over quickly. It took the dogs a while to settle down and I finally continued to write.

Over the next couple days, what utterly amazed me was what a big deal Texas made over an earthquake that measured 3.5 on the Richter Scale! It was on the front page of the newspaper, on the morning shows, on talk shows and Texans talked about it at the grocery store. They talked about the emotional devastation, the fear and the beloved trinkets lost to the natural disaster. In California, this wouldn’t have made the last page of personal ads. (Do personal ads still exist? Am I dating myself on my on blog? One of the reasons I’m blogging is to stay current, sniff. Is it all Match.com now?? I was married long before electronic dating started!)

I’ve been in 4 major earthquakes in my life. The first one was in 1971 and I was 12 years old. My whole family was sleeping at 6:01 am. First the jingling and then suddenly utter chaos as the force built.  In these huge earthquakes, everything shakes so dramatically you think the planet is being thrown off its axis. The end of the world occurs to you. It’s all you can do to crawl to a door jam hoping you don’t get hit from the things flying across the room as you hear dishes and glasses crashing to the floor from the cupboards in the kitchen. You find yourself screaming for your loved ones in other parts of the house. It is utterly terrifying. The 1971 earthquake measured 6.7 on the Richter Scale. Here are a few photos of the devastation.

CAoverpass1971     image-2 1971-san-fernando-earthquake-collapsed-everett            images

I hope to God no one was in that Chevrolet.  Obviously with earthquakes of that magnitude, electricity goes out, entire towns and cities are shut down for days or weeks and it takes a tremendous toll on emotions, costs and industry.

I hope I’m not messing with Texas, but these Texan 3.5’s are calves while California 6.7’s are Longhorns.