Posted in Africa, Elephants

Where the Elephants Live

An excerpt from my book:

In the atlas on my desk there’s a satellite photograph of a giant bird footprint pressed into the southern part of Africa – an inland river delta the size of Massachusetts.  Swollen by November rains in Angola, Botswana’s Okavango River floods south, arrives in May or June, fans out and terminates at a fault line that stops the river in its tracks.  Most of it evaporates or sinks into the Kalahari sands.  Not a single drop reaches the sea.

But as the river pushes south, it filters through a 5,500 square-mile-delta, the largest in the world, an unparalleled ecosystem with an ark-full of animals.  And as the river dies, it leaves behind orphans: ponds no bigger than puddles, abandoned lagoons that shrink into brackish waterholes, and four main dead-end channels – the bird’s footprint.

Okavango Delta

Doug and Sandi’s camp is on Chief’s Island, about thirty-seven miles, or fifteen minutes flying time from Maun – rhymes with “down.”  Maun is an outpost, the last town before venturing into the Delta.

The pilot let me sit up front.  As his chattering Cessna lifted north I saw many haphazard dirt streets crossed by a few thin, barely-paved roads.  Dusty paths led to round bomas fenced by thornbush.  Shaded by an occasional acacia or mopane tree, each boma contained a tiny hut plastered with mud.  Some corralled a cow or a goat.  As we flew higher, Maun’s taller, three-story buildings flattened and disappeared.  The town melted into the desert.

Meandering two-rut tracks lost their way and vanished.  A waterhole appeared, left behind by last year’s flood.  Another came into sight and then another.

Soon a thousand or more blue eyes hypnotized me, stared upward, unblinking, as the shadow of our Cessna crossed them.  Etched in the sand by countless hooves, game trails meandered through the dry landscape, all headed to pockets of water stained cornflower blue by the sky.

We dropped lower.  A thousand mirrors signaled the sun.  Lower still, and the mirrors turned blue, became waterholes again, puddling the Okavango Delta as far as I could see.

Right before we landed on a strip of dirt near Stanley’s Camp, the pilot and I glimpsed a cheetah sprinting for cover.  With that single spotted blur, my life divided between home and Africa.


Cheryl Merrill’s essays have been published in Fourth Genre, Pilgrimage, Brevity, Seems, South Loop Review, Ghoti, Alaska Quarterly Review, Adventum and Isotope. “Singing Like Yma Sumac” was selected for the Best of Brevity 2005 and Creative Nonfiction #27. It was also included in the anthology Short Takes: Model Essays for Composition, 10th Edition. Another essay, “Trunk,” was chosen for Special Mention in Pushcart 2008. She is currently working on a book about elephants: Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants.

One thought on “Where the Elephants Live

  1. i love your writing Cheryl. Beautifully descriptive & takes me right back to the Okavango Delta! I can hardly wait for the next entry!!

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