This recounting of the fable of the monkey of McMicken Island was recently told to me by Scooter McMicken, a resident of Herron Island and the great-great-great-great grandson of Jedidiah McMicken, who was the first to claim McMicken Island back in the 1800s. Rumored to be a summer getaway for Bigfoot family reunions, Jedidiah found several Bigfoot abandoned lairs, scattered with oyster and clam shells, along with some primitive cave art. Today the island is a state park and getaway for boaters, a perfect location for a vagabond monkey by the name of Humphrey. This is his story…
Humphrey was a very unlucky monkey, or was he?
Humphrey was a very smart monkey, that’s for sure. He came from good primate research monkey stock. His research team could trace Humphrey’s lineage to Michael Jackson’s monkey, Bubbles, and even as far back as Ronald Reagan’s monkey, Bonzo.
So you knew when you met Humphrey there was something behind those eyes contemplating greater things for himself.
In the meantime Humphrey had to content himself with life at the University of Washington’s primate research laboratory. Great things were happening and he was the star of a research program that was on the very cusp of enabling chimpanzees to speak. It was very exciting times at the lab and the research team, Drs. Gottlieb, Rottweiler, Dewey, Cheatham and Howe, were breaking new ground.
You see, they were working closely with another research team at the university pioneering artificial intelligence. They had developed a process that, through computer algorithms taught to the chimpanzees, would allow the experimental chimps to speak perfect English. That is, if they could only get the chimpanzees to concentrate.
They had made great strides with Humphrey. He learned basic math as well, and was good with the money he received in the form of treats. And he even got pretty good at picking stocks in the stock market, usually involving bananas and other food item commodities.
Well, anyway, Humphrey (who, by the way, was named after Humphrey Bogart), just couldn’t seem to get the language down. Try as he might, Humphrey did not seem able to make the final revolutionary and evolutionary leap forward to spoken language.
His research team hit on a new idea. “I’ve got it!,” exclaimed Dr. Cheatham one day as Humphrey was reviewing stocks on his online trading account. “Let’s have him watch all his namesake movies, and his favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart.” “Well,”said Dr. Dewey, that just might get him to say a few movie lines at any rate.”
So they sat Humphrey down in the chimpanzee movie theater (donated by the Institute for Simian Research). This is where all the monkeys would watch Monday Night Football and Friday night movies together in between National Geographic and Hallmark films, which they loved. They would usually fling banana chips and apple slices at the screen when their favorite team was losing or if the movie was a dud.
Humphrey started watching the African Queen, Casablanca, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and well, frankly, just about any Bogart movie you can think of. To really help him think more about getting the words down, they bought him a fedora hat just like Bogart wore, although his was a bit less formal.
He really started getting into the role of Bogart, and this greatly encouraged the research team. “Why, just look at him!,” exclaimed Dr. Rottweiler as she observed Humphrey one day pacing back and forth in the research lab’s 2 acre jungle (which had been donated by the Foundation to Advance Chimpanzee Intelligence). Humphrey strolled along, sucking on his pipe in quiet contemplation, “I do believe he is starting to think he’s actually Humphrey Bogart!”
This continued on for months but not a word was uttered from Humphrey’s mouth. He would do his computer labs with the artificial intelligence software, pick his stocks, work on math problems, but, alas, nothing was said.
Time was running out. The research grant (donated by the International Foundation for Monkey Freedom) was almost out of money because the nonprofit was cheap and Humphrey had refused to do an infomercial for them.
So finally the research team had to pull the plug on the project and recognize that Humphrey, as brilliant as he was, would not utter a word out loud even if his life depended on it. “It’s a shame,” said Dr. Rottweiler, tears running down her cheeks as she strolled with Humphrey through the garden on their way to the fully stocked cafeteria (donated by the wildly successful company allthingsmonkey.com). Humphrey nibbled on a banana and an apple and drank a smoothie while they sat by the artificial waterfall (donated by Gorilla Glue, Inc.), each lost in their own thoughts.
November was coming and it was time to donate Humphrey to an animal shelter or wildlife park. After much discussion, Drs. Dewey, Cheatham and Howe proposed to Drs. Rottweiler and Gottlieb that they donate Humphrey to the Olympic National Wildlife Refuge. There were all sorts of animals in the refuge, and Warren Harding’s great-grandson Biff, who was quite impressed with Humphrey’s approach to picking value-oriented stocks, agreed to build Humphrey his own special compound, replete with a cafeteria, movie theater, and Bogart-themed bedroom. The research team unanimously agreed that this would be best for Humphrey.
First they had to make sure that Humphrey would be well equipped for the trip to the wildlife refuge. They got him some rain gear, a backpack with camping supplies and food. Over a few evenings of excellent banana cream pies, lots of laughter, and Bogart movies, they prepared Humphrey for the long journey that lay ahead.
The rains came in November and it was particularly stormy on the day that they loaded Humphrey into the van along with Drs. Gottlieb, Rottweiler, Dewey, Cheatham and Howe. They all wanted to be along for the ride and make their final goodbyes to Humphrey, all wishing silently to each of themselves that he would actually say, “Goodbye.” Because then they would know he could speak and they could turn around and publish their findings and Humphrey would be famous.
But alas, it was not to be for the unlucky monkey. They drove south through Seattle in the pouring rain down to Tacoma, and then Olympia. Heading north up Highway 101 and then Highway 3 they continued in the driving rain and wind toward the refuge. Dr Cheatham had to use a restroom. They found a restaurant in a very deserted spot while the rain poured down, the windshield wipers on full speed, headlights stabbing the quickening darkness, and all around them black, dark, menacing forest.
“My God it’s desolate out here, isn’t it chaps?,” said Dr. Dewey. The doctors piled out of the van and ran into the restaurant to get out of the pouring rain and find the restroom and grab a bite for Humphrey. He was particularly fond of hot dogs and Diet Coke.
But Humphrey had other ideas. Grinning to himself he clambered out the back door, and in the pouring rain headed into the gloomy forest. He knew where he was going since he had been learning navigation skills and using his iPhone maps. Humphrey threw the backpack over his shoulders and pulled his slicker hood on tight. He had some walking to do.
Eventually working his way east he came to the bridge at Harstine Island. Black as the soul of hell itself, the rain pouring down, and the wind blowing ferociously up Pickering Passage, Humphrey leaned into the storm and crossed the bridge onto Harstine Island. No one was driving on such a motherless night and he made his way easily onto the island, stopping only here and there to get his bearings.
As daylight broke the rain and wind abated and he finally saw his destination, McMicken Island. The tide was high, so he sat down under the cover of a madrona tree on the beach and took a short rest. He breathed in the salty sea air and waited for the tide to go out.
After a nap he awoke to bright sunlight and sparkling water. McMicken Island beckoned him and with the tide now at low ebb he easily crossed the sandspit onto the island. There he found a state park and he moved quietly so the few boaters anchored at the state park would not notice him. He then began exploring the island. He knew from his research that this was an ancient Bigfoot holiday spot in days of old. As he explored further, he found what he was looking for; the best hideaway of all the Bigfoot creatures, Sir Sasqautch’s private den. It was very well hidden and he climbed down into the sanctuary and laid his gear down. This is where Humphrey would stay. Outside of the lair was a beautiful view looking east toward another island, Herron Island. Humphrey was intrigued because he could see cabins and people strolling the beach. He missed humans and thought to himself, how might I get over there?
Over the winter months and into early spring, Humphrey taught himself how to fish, how to go clamming and gather oysters, and discovered the best places to go beachcombing for shells and other seashore treasures. On clear days, the water sparkled like a million diamonds, porpoises jumped playfully out of the water, orca whales swam by in their pods chasing salmon, and eagles flew in high in circles above the island.
One day during the following summer, Humphrey was strolling the beach and spied a canoe that had washed ashore after a storm. In the canoe was an oar. Humphrey pulled it up onto the beach and covered it with ferns and branches so no one would see it. That night, under a full moon where the phosphorescence in the water glowed mysteriously, Humphrey left his Sasquatch lair and pulled the canoe out and into the water.
He paddled quietly toward Herron Island. It was not that far away, and on this still moonlit night he could easily find his way. After paddling across Case Inlet Humphrey came ashore by the oyster bay. He could see lights up above in some cabins and he avoided those because he was on another mission. Although he was well fed by the clams, oysters, cutthroat trout and salmon that he caught, he greatly desired hot dogs and Diet Cokes.
So he pulled his canoe up onto the south beach and made his way quietly toward a darkened cabin. When he was at the research lab Humphrey had taught himself how to pick locks. Being extremely dexterous, this was not hard at all, so he had a simple plan to pick the lock of a darkened cabin and see what kind of goodies he could find.
In one of the cabins he found exactly what he was looking for in the freezer: a pack of hot dogs. Taking a pillow case off of a pillow in the cabin bedroom, he threw those in, along with some buns and Doritos and Diet Cokes. Content with what he had, he carefully closed the door, being sure not to leave anything amiss, and headed back to McMicken Island.
As fall approached word started getting around Herron Island about a mysterious thief who had a particular hankering for hot dogs and Diet Coke. Other food items went missing too, including candy bars, nuts, chips, and sparkling water. Yet no one was able to identify the mystery thief. Humphrey liked to keep it that way. He only went on moonless nights and by cover of total darkness, where he could see just fine but humans could not. He knew where the dogs were and stayed away from them. He liked the deer and made a special effort to find treats for them, so carrots and bananas and apples would go missing as well.
As the days grew shorter Humphrey prepared his lair for the coming winter storms. He was quite comfortable. One night he paddled over to Herron Island looking for some winter clothes that he had spied on a couple previous cabin searches. It was getting cold and he wanted to make sure to stay warm in the coming months.
He paddled over earlier than normal, right before sunset, because few people were on the island in the fall and it was much quieter. He pulled his canoe up on the beach and began making his way up the trail to the cabin he had in mind. It was a nice little cabin with red trim and a green door and a friendly family with nice friends that he had spied on a few times during his evening adventures. Once, he saw a couple of boys pitch a tent outside the cabin with their father, and he watched them for a very, very, very long time from his hidden spot in the huckleberry bushes.
Drs. Gottlieb, Rottweiler, Dewey, Cheatham and Howe had come out to Herron Island for a Thanksgiving vacation. Their research project was completed. Unfortunately their grant funding had finally run out and they needed new sponsors. So they contacted a friend on the island with a rental cabin and decided to have a mini retreat while they plotted their next research effort. They thought orangutans might be receptive to their research efforts and were in the process of acquiring one who was exceptionally intelligent by the name of Jojo.
Out for a walk on the island one fine evening, they decided to go down to the lower deck of the friendly family nearby. They knew the family well since the mother and father had both worked at the world famous Battelle Memorial Institute in Seattle, were well renowned for their outstanding research and writing skills, and their daughter was the most beautiful, intelligent and precocious girl on the island.
Talk on the lower deck turned to Humphrey. It had been almost a year and all of them missed Humphrey greatly. “So sad,” said Dr. Rottweiler, recalling her lunch long ago with Humphrey. She missed him the most. Drs. Dewey, Cheatham and Howe recollected some of Humphrey’s amazing skills. In fact, they had followed his stock picking closely and made a fair amount of money off the monkey. And of course Dr. Gottlieb pondered his little friend’s fate, hoping that he had somehow prevailed after leaving them on that dark, miserable night.
As the sun set into a glorious palette of deep blue, red, pink and yellow skies over the calm waters of Case Inlet, Humphrey moved silently up the trail. Then he heard distinct, familiar voices. He stopped cold in his tracks when he heard Dr. Gottlieb’s voice, saying “I wish I could hug Humphrey right now.” He approached quietly, overhearing their conversation, recalling what good researchers they were, and how good they had been to him. He moved closer, and then, when conversation paused for a moment, he walked onto the deck and sat himself down at the picnic table.
They gasped as one. “Humphrey!,” exclaimed Dr. Dewey. “How are you, old boy? You look fantastic!” Each spoke out in unison and Humphrey gave them all the biggest grin he could muster.
Once the excitement had settled down a bit, they all sat back down again in a circle on the deck watching the sun finally set over McMicken Island. Dr. Rottweiler stared lovingly at Humphrey, walked over, sat down and put her arm around his shoulder.
Taking in the glorious sunset, happy to be reunited with his research team, looking proudly upon his island home across the water, Humphrey turned to her. He gazed lovingly in her eyes, then said in his very best Bogart imitation, “Hey baby, how you doin’? I’m fine.”
Maybe Humphrey wasn’t such an unlucky monkey, after all.