Awash 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.
I 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.
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.