Nathan: Language lessons with an extraordinary ape

Dan Musgrave at Longreads:

I had been volunteering at the ape house for four months before I was invited to meet Nathan. It was December and I’d just spent my first Christmas with the apes. Everyone but the director and I had left for the day. The night sky spilled over the glass-ceilinged, central atrium we called the greenhouse. Despite the snow outside, the greenhouse air was warm and ample. Moving toward the padlocked cage door, I felt light, as if I was about to float up into that dotted black expanse above me, rather than enter a room I’d cleaned feces and orange peels out of hours earlier.

I juggled my keys and the offering I’d brought with me — a tub of yogurt, a couple of bananas, Gatorade, and some blankets. With the two padlocks removed, I entered, sat, and arranged the gifts in an arc around me. Even though I was planted firmly on the glazed concrete floor, I swayed.

In the adjacent room, watching everything I did through the glass portion of a mechanical sliding door, was Nathan. Five years old to my 21. He was stout, wide-shouldered, with thick muscled arms, but almost twiggy legs. Nathan was, simply put, a cool little dude.

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