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Collect gorillas? I know. It’s weird. But it’s fun too.

When I was a kid I loved all things “animal” and all things “outdoors.” I read far more than the average kid, I later learned, but I spent a lot of time with my dog in the fields and woods around our home on the edge of town.

Later, I did some hunting but not really a lot and only for small game. I read, however, “Sports Afield,” “Field and Stream,” and “Outdoor Life” every month for years. Back then I could talk turkey about bullets, shells, calibers, and gun makers. I’ve forgotten a lot of this.

What I haven’t forgotten are the names, habits, and habitats of nearly every animal and bird in North America and a fair amount of the rest of the world. And I know trees. I love trees and seeing a new kind on a trip is a thrill my travel companions don’t always comprehend. I’m not bragging, just exalting in things nature.

Now the gorillas. When I was a kid I watched every black and white “Tarzan” movie ever made. I watch them now and see some silly plotlines and some not-so-silly racism, but the jungle is still the jungle, filled with exotic animals. Loved that then and now.

So after my stint in grad school at the University of Cincinnati, where I’d swallowed scholarly journal articles that could kill a horse, I had had about enough of academic “literature.” I remember walking into the house on Friday the 13th, the day I’d defended my dissertation in political science, and noticing that Sarah had brought me three books from the public library—Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan” trilogy. I’d watched all those films but never read the books.

Over the next maybe three years I read all Burroughs’s “Tarzan” books, all 24 of them. Still have the paperbacks. The books are also a product of their time, sometimes wanton killing of animals or people, racist attitudes and behaviors, paternalism. But there’s also good writing, an interesting and seminal character, loyalty, bravery, love, fiercely guarded freedom, and strength.

So the gorillas? Oh yes, the gorillas. When your children are little what do they get their Dad for birthdays and Christmas? In my case, it was often a gorilla. The kids had seen me read these books. They’d heard me tell the stories to them. They’d heard me do Tarzan yells to make them laugh. So they bought me gorillas. That’s how it got started. And by the way, not chimpanzees, not monkeys, not orangutans, gorillas.

I still have the first gorilla they gave to me—complete with the diaper they dressed him in for unknown reasons. Now I have a few dozen gorillas in my home office—warm and fuzzy, fierce, plastic, rubber, on a drinking glass or cup, made of candle wax or carved from a coconut, a gorilla who sings Christmas carols and one who sings “Wild things, I think I love you” while holding a Valentine’s heart, carved wood, porcelain, even pewter. I have huge black gorilla slippers I’ve never worn and a gorilla Halloween mask that’s scared each and every grandchild in their toddler years, candy in a stick with a gorilla on top, a puppet, and a gorilla in a snow globe. Not to mention gorilla pics. I once had a gorilla tie and shirt, but they went by the by.

Some other time I'll talk about the gorilla exhibits I've visited in zoos around the country. Or we'll talk about gorillas as an endangered species.

I still get gorillas from time to time. Why? Why do any hobbies become hobbies? Maybe it’s the gorilla in me.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

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