An old photograph of the bachelor bulls at Savuti, Chobe National Park, Botswana.
The Presidential Elephants of Zimbabwe. A lot going on in this photograph.
It’s a catchy tune, one that loops round and round inside our heads. The announcer takes center ring, resplendent under a spotlight in top hat and tails. “LADIEZZZ AND GENTLEMEN! BOYS AND GIRLS OF ALL AGES! WELCOME TO THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH!
And indeed it is. Here comes the parade of animals, prancing horses, muzzled bears, tigers roaring in their cages on wheels. Here come the elephants in pink tutus, performing night after night to that same inescapable rhythm which now marches into our ears.
There’s exhilaration tumbling inside us as the great beasts circle center ring. We have tamed them; they obey our commands and kneel before us. We oooo and aahh and clap at these exotic creatures from far-off places. We laugh at the clowns and at ourselves. Each and every one of us wants to run away and join the circus, relief from our humdrum lives.
When we exit the canvas tent our imaginations deflate a little, but our wish to master the world does not. We go home and try to teach new tricks to cats curled in our armchairs.
Buddhists believe a person would do well to model themselves after the elephant. Not the ones in pink tutus circling and circling to the same song, for they are most like us, made over in our own image. We should instead metamorphose into great gray patient beings standing naked in our own skins under the stars and the sun. Perhaps then we could rejoin the world of fellow beings, relearn ancient rhythms. Perhaps then we would know what they know.
A youngster, showing development of tusks, which begin to show beyond the lip when an elephant is three – five years old. Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.
Jabu digging up sycamore roots with his feet.
A collared female in Chobe National Park. Being monitored for the effect of her mastitis on her young calf.
The underside of an elephant’s trunk sometimes reminds me of an old tire. Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana.
When you’re out in the bush, often this is all you get to see. Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana.
There is a cold way of seeing that clips wings and stifles our words into faint echoes. But there is also a way of seeing where the eye can be like a mouth, swallowing color, taking in the entire world with one choking gulp.
A rabbit has a 360º field of vision, so that it might gauge the distance between itself and its attacker. Humans have front-facing, binocular vision. It’s hard for us to look at where we have been and where we are going, impossible to see both the stars and the ground at once.
An elephant’s vision is front facing, binocular, but an elephant also has a large blind spot caused by its nose. Place both hands between your eyes in the manner of prayer and you will see what I mean.
It is said that elephants will stare at a full moon; do they also see the stars?
What would it be like to think without words and recognize shapes without names?
There is a cave of light from our eye to our brain. But it is the corners of our eyes that perceive the most light; the corners of our minds where we begin to understand.