Posted in Africa, Elephants, Nature, Travel

The Most Useful Appendage That Ever Evolved

An excerpt from my book-in-progress:

Trunk in face


The tip of Jabu’s trunk hovers in front of my eyes, wet with mucous, dotted with sand, nostril hairs visible.

He blows into my face, gently.  I blow back, gently.  We exchange breath, distillations of our own personal atmospheres, particle-swarms of changed, exchanged air, brewed though all the cells of our bodies.

My lungs fill with the fragrance of crushed leaves, with saproots and spearmint-scented bark, all lightly fermented.  I think of the stagnant air that surrounds my daily life, air that is conditioned, filtered, deodorized, air that is bland.  Elephant’s breath is said to cure headaches.  And it just might, if I had one.

Jabu’s trunk tip investigates my right boot tip.  The scents I’ve picked up while walking tumble up two seven-foot-long nostrils – nostrils surrounded by nerves, arteries, veins and a staggering array of longitudinal and transverse muscles, the world’s biggest, longest and certainly most flexible schnozz.

A trunk is the most useful appendage that ever evolved.  Imagine having an arm in place of your nose, an arm long enough to reach to the top of a tree, and pluck a single leaf from its crown.  Imagine having a nose with which you could rip, tear, excavate, whack, and blow bubbles.  You could steal with your nose, suck on it, squeal, swat, poke and siphon with it.  You could take a shower, or reach over your shoulder and scratch your back with it.  You could even arm wrestle with your nose.

He chuffs, a hot gust of air directed at my feet.  Wet mist covers one boot top momentarily, then evaporates.



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.

10 thoughts on “The Most Useful Appendage That Ever Evolved

  1. My dear friend, Cheryl, I enjoyed every moment reading this. Your description of how you and Jabu came mouth to trunk with each other’s “chi” (life force) is but only one of the very many beautiful examples of what I like to call “expressions of the soul.” Thank you for sharing. Much love X

  2. I am at the top of the wait list for your fine book. I especially like how you describe the exchange of breath. Quite a wonderful way to think about it.

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