Posted in Africa, Elephants, Nature, Nonfiction, Photography, Travel, Writing

Deja Vu

Jabu & the tree b&w


It’s an ancient feeling, this memory of a moment I’ve never had before, this exact smell of scuffed dust, this slant of light, the slightly spicy taste of sand, the warm brush of sunrays across my cheeks, the squint my eyes adopt as if they’ve always looked into the African sun.  It’s the way my bones melt, the acceptance in my mind and nerves that tells me not to run when a monster materializes from a clump of brush and moves to an arm’s length, breathing so quietly I wonder if it’s sleepwalking, I wonder if I’m sleepwalking, because everything that is happening, this monster, this place, my fog of serenity, must be made from dreams.

The monster moves closer.

A familiar monster.  One with a shape.  One with a name.

His eye, a huge topaz oval, stares down at me.  He’s motionless, concentrating.  I can’t even hear him breathing.

Like us, like all mammals, an elephant’s eye has one large lens, its aperture always open, except for a blink, or in sleep.  Like us, like all mammals, Jabu’s round iris controls the amount of light that enters his pupil.  And like us, the lens of his eye focuses light images on his retinas, where they convert into chemical and electrical impulses and whisk along the optic nerve directly to his brain.

What would it be like to think without words and recognize shapes without names?

Both of us, human and elephant, witness only a small portion of what is out there to be seen.  Francolins, mambas, tsessebees, zebras and lions – everything that crawls, swims or walks – witness the world in ways I cannot even imagine.

Even in the womb the eye of a fetus moves through its amniotic dreams.  Does it dream about the glories of a life to come?

“Hello,” I whisper.


The light from his eye just now reaches mine.




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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