Posted in Africa, Elephants, Nature, Nonfiction, Photography

An Afternoon Nap

An excerpt from my book, Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants

My eyes tired from a day spent looking into the sun,  I drowsed in a Land Rover beside a waterhole in Chobe National Park. Only a few yards from our vehicle, a single-cylinder pump drew from the water table beneath the sands and sent spurts through a pipe to a square concrete trough. The bachelor elephants of Savuti congregated around the trough as they waited for spring rains and the return of female breeding herds.

The steady sound of the pump, chugga-sputter, chugga-sputter, chugga-sputter, lulled my eyes closed. They opened, closed, opened half-lidded, closed again.

“Here he comes,” someone whispered and my eyes flicked open as a huge bull strolled past. I picked up my camera.

His enormous tusk splayed out almost sideways. I focused on his great head, nodding downward with each step, as he trudged past. A thirsty pilgrim in a parched land, his trek to water was nearly finished. The clicking and whirring of our cameras didn’t alter his gait.

Savuti male b&w
photograph by Cheryl Merrill

 

Through the viewfinder I marveled at his tusk. It was easily four feet long, stained and chipped on its end. Because of the growth pattern of his tusks – out, rather than down and up – he seemed a much wider elephant than he really was.

Mid-drink, he curled his trunk into his mouth; head tilted back, eyes closed. Extending his trunk into the waterhole, he blew bubbles before curling his trunk again and again to hose several gallons at a time down his throat. With each swallow went samplings from all the animals that drank here – zebra, wildebeest, warthog, ostrich, hyena and the occasional furtive flavor of lion.

I tried to imagine the bouquet garni of the waterhole and how its myriad fragrances might seep into the crevices of an elephant’s mind, form pools of scent they recognize, year after year, the liquid memory of Africa. Perhaps that old bull was memorizing the stories in that trough, paragraphs of taste and smell, twists of plot and character and fate.

He retraced his steps to where we were parked, and stopped close by. His skin was the color of seasoned cast iron. The waterline on his body rose just past his belly. Spatters of mud stained his ears and back.

Ellie asleep b&w
photograph by Cheryl Merrill

 

After several long minutes, his eyelids drooped and his mouth slackened. Under the hot sun he fell asleep, lulled perhaps by the narcotic of a long, slow drink. The tip of his trunk coiled like a magic rope on the ground. He slept with his weight on three legs, resting a hind leg, occasionally rocking back on it as if he dreamed of his trek. Drool from his trunk slowly seeped into the sand.

I matched my breathing with his, and drowsed once again, sedated by the sun.

The giant beside us rumbled soft snores in his sleep. Other elephants shuffled by quietly on their way to and from the waterhole, as if they didn’t want to wake us.

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 “An Afternoon Nap

  1. Poetry in the guise of prose. A love poem … a motion picture of an extraordinary universe that I can observe through your eyes. Thank you for this. Beautiful.
    Charlie

      1. I’m doing fine. Thanks for asking. I passed along you’re your post with a note: “If Cheryl wrote about cow dung, I’d want to read it.” Working on next issue of The Hummingbird Review, theme: Bios and Memoirs. Also writing articles for a national ostomy magazine … my newest passion … no, I don’t have one … but a friend does.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s