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

Toenail Sun

Morula Sucking Trunk

An Excerpt from my Book:

Morula drowses, lying on her side, falling asleep in the sun.  She catches the tip of her trunk in her mouth, as Doug rubs the bottom of her front foot.  Her eyes droop and her mouth slackens with pleasure.

As Doug continues to rub, the tip of her trunk slips from her mouth.  Her eyes nearly close.  She drools a bit.

I kneel down next to her.

Morula’s legs are folded together, bent at the ankle and knee, the same way I fold my wrists and elbows together in sleep.  She’s strangely voluptuous, even Rubenesque, with her rounded belly and nipple peaking out from underneath her right leg.  Her ear drapes like a leather cloak over her shoulder.  From this angle it’s easy to see how her right tusk pierces her upper lip.

People often mistake an elephant’s ankle joint for a knee, since it seems far away from the foot, but the locations of her ankle, knee and shoulder are clear from the way her legs are bent.

Except for their gray color, Morula’s toenails look pretty much the same as mine do, only bigger and thicker.  Human and elephant nails are made of tough, insoluble keratin, a semi-transparent protein that is the major component of hair, hooves, horns and quills.

Morula’s toenails grow at a rate that might be expected from an animal that walks twenty or thirty miles a day.  They are also highly polished from walking through sand.  In captivity, an elephant’s nails must be constantly trimmed, often on a daily basis; otherwise they become infected and ingrown.  And without the opportunity to walk long distances, the pads on the feet of incarcerated elephants thicken and grow hard, and must be frequently pared down.  If they’re not, the displacement of their gait will cause joint problems later on.

I take a photograph of the sun mirrored on Morula’s highly polished nail.


Morula's toenail b&w


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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