Tony’s Journal: (Grist 5)

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HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. (reprinted from, art. 5) I began the week asking, “Where am I?” It is the place one perceives and experiences that circumscribes one’s identity. Physical surroundings don’t always inform a person’s thoughts, feelings, or actions. And it is our mind and manners that determine who we are.

For me, most daylight hours are spent in Africa — mentally. So at these times I am Tony Rose, the conservation psychologist. This is true when I am in Cameroon, and when I am in California. It takes great discipline to pull myself back to Hermosa Beach at the end of the day: to become the father, husband, friend. Usually, I do this by standing on the balcony and watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean. There, the dark continent is replaced by a darkening sea and sky.

This morning was different. Before I could finish my first emails — to Ron Cohn in Woodside and Karl Ammann in Zurich — a call came from my wife, Annie. “Today is Celeste’s birthday celebration at Via Pacifica! Bring your camera — now!”

Imagine the shock. Take yourself out of the rainforest, now, and come to school. Stop pondering the lives of talking apes and ex-gorilla hunters. Participate in the lives of your children, your community here at home. It was hardest to stop thinking about Joseph. He is the Bantu man whom Karl and I have been supporting for over five years in his quest to become a conservation worker. Today, I had hoped to outline a plan for writing the story of Joseph. A copy of my first article about Joseph, “On the Road with a Gorilla Hunter” (download a PDF version), still sits here on the desk. Beside it are photos of Joseph’s three boys: Karl, Anthony, and Pious.

Koko and Penny
Rose’s raison d’etre.
Photo: Tony Rose.

It was a painful moment, like birth. I shut down AOL, picked up my Sony digital, poured a fresh tumbler of coffee, and trudged out the door. Imaginary aromas of red clay and gorilla musk vanished, replaced by sea salt and fresh-cut grass. Driving along quiet streets past rows of high-class homes, I set myself in order. Sorted my priorities. I was going to see my child; my reason for being who I am.

I work to save Africa because of my daughters, Celeste and Gabriela. I labor in distant climes for my son Josh and his son Noah. They must know the world as it was, the way it was created. A wild world where the synergy of all living forms and forces prevails. They must transcend the human construction, reach beyond this faulty landscape of square corners and stoplights; see through plastic heroes and dull aspirations designed by men who have never slept in starlight.

My children, your children, all the children of the city must meet Joseph’s children, and all the children of the forest. We must take ourselves and our children out of this urban exile and become immersed in Eden again. That is how we shall be redefined. Only in wilderness can we discover the essence of being human. Only in Africa, in all the wild Africas of the planet; only in the birthplace of the human soul, can we become whole.

At the school, I watched the celebration. The children sang birthday songs in two dozen languages from all the continents of the world. I joined in the ones I knew — Spanish, French, Swahili, Indonesian, English. Celeste sat in the birthday chair and was lifted high in the air by her classmates, a ritual of trust and support. She then gave her gifts to the school: books about nonviolence and peace in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. There was a melancholy tone to the event, especially for the older children whose birthdays mark their transition to more adult responsibility. I acknowledge their passage.

sunset at Hermosa Beach
Sunset in Hermosa Beach.
Photo: Tony Rose.

It is vitally important that I be here, now, for my children. To take them where they are, enmeshed in their own world views, is the way to know their hearts, their hopes, their hurts. That is how I will connect with them — in their place. From that connection, as they trust that I respect who they are in this temporary constructed world, we shall move together into the world as it has always existed in eternal time.

I work to save Africa so my children, all our children, can discover where we were born and where we will die. Once we find this place of origin and destiny, we will know who we are and how we can make peace in the world.