Posted in Africa, Elephants, Jabu, Morula, Thembi, Uncategorized

A Morning Walk with Elephants, Part One

An excerpt from my book:

The sun rises with spokes on her head like the Statue of Liberty.  She rises into an immense lemon sky that almost turns green before it turns blue.  She ignites the tops of trees with her torch.  Bare, wood-muscular branches of a jackal-berry tree stretch above my head, tips ablaze with light.  Crisp and clear, the air tastes of damp sage mixed with cold sand.

Doug sets down his coffee cup and leaves to fetch the elephants.  Skirting a tree-line filled with purple shadows, he crosses an open field of grass.

Sandi and I wait, our hands wrapped around steaming cups.

Half an hour later Doug returns.  Jabu, Thembi and Morula are right behind him.

Sandi whispers, “Let’s go, Jabu,” and he turns away to follows her down the dusty road in front of camp.

 Plain-Jane Morula is next to saunter past, her broad, honest face etched with a network of creases and wrinkles, the tip of her trunk canted in my direction.  Thembi lags behind, with Doug at her side, but soon catches up to Jabu, picking up a stick like he does, stashing it between her trunk and tusk like he does, dropping it just as soon as he does.

The order in which they assemble never varies.  First Jabu, then Morula, and finally Thembi.  Yet, when we set off on our morning walks, it is always Morula, the oldest, who brings up the rear.

We mosey away from camp at a slow ramble, all in a line – Doug and Sandi, three elephants, and me.

Yesterday I traveled by jet.  Today I fall into place behind an elephant.  My mind is having a hard time keeping up with a change greater than eight time zones and two hemispheres.

I’m clumsy in this new world.  The old discarded one of concrete and cell phones trails me like a lost dog.  I kick at it, but it circles back to nip at my heels.  It just won’t leave me alone.

Tufts of grass nods gently in the wind of our passing.  Isolated clumps of finger grass wave six-digit tassels at us.  The fingers of a slight breeze hold my hair up to the sun.

Morula stops, turns, and takes a single step toward me.  Somehow she doubles in size.


My heart leaps, captive within its ribs, desperate to flee.  I know Morula is not wild, not truly.  I know she has spent half her life with Doug and Sandi.  Nevertheless, I’m paralyzed.  I forget how to breathe.  Everyone else is up near the front of the herd, as far away as another continent.

Morula stands in half-profile, stares at me with one nut-brown eye.  A feathery tuft of hair sticks out from her ear canal.  Her mottled forehead glistens like cracked mud.

Slowly she blinks her eyes, flaps her ears, and a lifetime later swings around to overtake Thembi.  I exhale as they entwine trunks.

Cicadas chirr, stirring up the morning.  I stare down at huge round footprints in the dust.  I look up; the elephants are receding.  Last in line, I’ve been left behind.

Wait for me! shouts every cell in my brain, as I scramble to catch up with the herd, take my allotted slot in the order of march.


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.

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