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

Underwater

Trunk tip 2b&wAwash in a sea of scent, Jabu curls his trunk and samples wave after wave of odors breaking at his feet.  Redolent tides wash in, wash out, a floating realm populated with aromatic citizens.  Schools of scents cluster at his feet, swimming through the grass at the bottom of an ocean of air.

Sixty percent of his brain is dedicated to smell.  Jabu can distinguish between a million or more separate odors in the daily news that floats by on warm currents.  Just a few molecules bring him history and current events: stories of who was here, who is there, how long they stayed and in which direction they went.  Jabu can detect fellow elephants ten miles away.

He reaches out and flattens the tip of his trunk over a wet spot in the sand.  Eyes half closed, he stands completely still, as if lost in memory, his brain sorting through the various scents tumbling up his trunk.  He samples the air thoughtfully, as if listening to a quiet conversation, as if storing it, word by word, in those huge frontal lobes of his.

Flehmen flat trunkI remember that elephants see the world in yellows and blues, like color-blind humans.  I fasten a yellow filter over my camera lens, then a blue one.  Jabu turns aquamarine.  From far, far away, he snaps a branch from a shrub the color of kelp, chomps, munches, drifts closer.  His slow motions make perfect sense underwater.

I wade into a lagoon of grass.  Ankles, knees, waist, chest, neck.  Some of the grass stalks bob over my head.  My hands, my body, my thoughts, move slowly.

Immersed, my ears fill with a pure hum.  The sound of my passage whispers in seashell voices.

As Jabu drifts by, undertones of blue and gray shimmer against his flanks, reflections of seaweed and kelp.  I follow, sub-aquatic, at the bottom of air.  Carried by the current of my imagination, I am about to tumble downstream. Jabu aslant b&w

Then the breeze kicks up, feels as if it comes all the way from the bottom of the Kalahari, feels red, feels gritty, feels dry as a hundred-year-old skeleton left in the desert.  It sucks every bit of moisture from under me and lands me beached and gasping.

I lower my camera.  Red invades yellow and the world greens.

Author:

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.

11 thoughts on “Underwater

      1. Thanks. It’s always a mystery to me. The stats on WordPress help some – they will tell me search phrases, countries, etc., but I’m always curious as to how people find me. I’ll be posting a link to an online magazine article soon and hope you enjoy that, too.

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