A La Costa gibbon saves a marriage

When I think of La Costa, I remember the wildlife — the skunk that lived under our house, for instance, a beautiful creature whose size would double when it puffed up its fur after it emerged from a tiny hole in the side of our redwood deck. In those days, circa 1988, animal control would come out and catch a wild animal in a live trap and take it away, which is what eventually happened to the skunk. Animal control hasn't provided this service for several years because there are just too many displaced animals.

I remember Santa and his Reinpony, not a wild animal but one that would soon be displaced. A roadside attraction, the Reinpony was a horse with antlers attached to its head. I must have last seen it on Christmas Eve in 1994. When I told the owner that next year I would bring my one-year-old daughter, she said, "There won't be a next year. All this land has been sold."

I think the Reinpony attraction was located in the vicinity of the Home Expo parking lot but closer to the street. Lienzo Charro, a rodeo ring hidden down a dirt road that I never had the nerve to explore, was just north of the Reinpony.

However, the most distinctive animal in La Costa (other than my pet pig Sporky) was the gibbon that lived down the hill. The gibbon wasn't wild either, or at least it wasn't free, but it seemed wild, its loud whooping a sound I heard immediately upon moving onto Mimosa Drive. The whooping was far enough away so as not to be annoying; you would swear it was a kid's voice or a theremin or that plastic toy that ascends and descends in pitch as you push or pull it. When I asked my neighbor what that strange noise was, she told me it was a monkey — although a gibbon is actually a lesser ape -- that lived on the small farm along the edge of the Batiquitos Lagoon. From my house, in 1988, you'd be there in five minutes. You could walk to it easily then, before Aviara and the golf course were built. Before development made the chaparral disappear, you could see yellow sandy hills and purple statice, big oak trees and craggy valleys, wild artichoke and the occasional woman's bra in the bushes. You could go for miles, which is what my husband and I did once, on the verge of divorce. I attribute the fact that we're still together, 19 years last July, in a small part to that walk we took. It was a gorgeous, six-mile-round-trip mentally torturous excursion on which we decided whether we would break up our three-year marriage.

The gibbon lived in a cage, and no one seemed to mind that I came to visit him. The second time, I brought a banana, which he grabbed eagerly and threw away. Then he reached through the small opening where chain-link fence met concrete floor, a miniature human hand with elongated fingers and lots of hair. Soon I realized that the gibbon just wanted to hold hands. For many years I'd go for half an hour at a time to stroke this animal's fur. My neighbor told me that another, much larger cage once held a lion, there to keep the gibbon company (I very much doubt that a lion would comfort a gibbon), but it died of a urinary tract infection. My husband the scientist tells me that kidney infections (often caused by urinary problems) are one of the most common killers of domesticated cats. My husband is a cat lover. His family always had a half dozen at a time. And I am allergic to cats, so we don't have any. A testament to love if ever there was one.

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