Rare across its range. Prefers highland forest near open water. Matrilineal. Not gregarious. Forms loose-knit groups only when young are present, otherwise solitary. Retreats to isolated refuges in mature trees. Browses on mistletoe, clubmoss, horsetail, lungwort and blueberries when available. Needles of hemlock and red cedar fronds are important winter forage. Individuals have been observed taking salamanders and tree frogs (Grieve, 1949). Often mistaken for a juvenile yeti. Typically silent, though when mating its copulatory vocalizations are imitative of and sometimes confused with the melancholy yodels and harsh howls of others with whom it shares its diminishing range.
–Field Guide to North American Monkeys
A howl from the beach below our camp
woke us at night, and moments later
another answering from krumholtz
high on the mountain above.
Then still night again, the moon-path
leading away down the glassy lake to falls
we planned to portage around days later.
Bright moonlit hemlocks and cedars,
draped in solemn green robes, stood
around us, attentive as we were
who startled awake, at first afraid
of those daunted cries—a song we knew,
a round first taught in kindergarten,
the one that goes no, not now, not for you,
probably never. The sorrow monkey
living without hope in its dwindling
sliver of life, crowded by refugees
from that world on fire in the south,
aware that nothing else is possible
beyond the already-known—there will
be no more adventuring forth, only
hammering back into the familiar hole,
no achievement, no Infinite Theorem
or Hundredth Monkey, just limits:
the falls, a border never to be dared,
and the range of that roar, its cascading
over cliffs, the mist rising, rapids
churning below—all are a reminder of how
the farther a Sorrow Monkey roves
the louder the overawing rebuke,
a trail around hazards is a risk
never taken. Those two didn’t
call out twice, though we sat up
waiting, listened all night, recalling
those troubled howls, a moonlit dome
of fog hovering over the unnavigable
falls we soon found a route around.
David Axelrod is the editor most recently of Sensational Nightingales: The Collected Poetry of Walter Pavlich. His most recent collections of poems are Folly and What Next, Old Knife?, both from Lost Horse Press. Individual poems and essays have appeared previously or are forthcoming in Bear Deluxe, Fogged Clarity, High Desert Journal, Miramar, Narrative, Serving House Journal, Stringtown, Terrain.org, and Western Humanities Review, among others.