Recent events, including some news I got just this morning, was the inspiration for this post. It’s dedicated to the elephant few people are fortunate to to see. I don’t mean any particular elephant – not a tusker, or some performer of odd tricks. I mean the elephant who is not raiding a crop. The elephant who is not injured by a train. The elephant who is not being shot at, or bombarded with flames. The elephant who is not charging, or fleeing, in terror. The elephant who is not trying to hide in the bushes at the first scent of humans. The elephant who is not grieving its lost calf. In short, I mean the elephant at peace. That elephant.
In Uda Walawe, as in few other places, the Asian elephant can be seen at peace. A herd drifts by in the tall grass, rustling and rippling in the breeze, as they glide smoothly like a small convoy of ships. An ear flaps with the thud of a sail unfurling. There is nothing but the sound of the wind, the birds, and the munching of many mouths.
Eventually they will reach a tree. Perhaps they will choose to pause there, perhaps not. Perhaps a calf will get sleepy and rub its eyes with a curled up trunk. Perhaps it will get hungry and reach for a drink, holding its trunk off to the side while the elder obliges lazily, continuing to chew on her own meal. They will all crowd around what little shade there is like little piglets beneath their mother. As the shade moves, a few will delicately pick their way over the slumbering mass, avoiding accidents with great care. They may wind up on a different side of the tree altogether, as they try to remain out of the sun. Eyes half closed, ears still, occasionally they shift their weight. At first they will all be standing, but one by one – the young ones first – they will collapse in a heap. From afar, they will resemble little gray boulders. They’ll sleep with their trunks curled beneath their chins, like babies sucking their thumbs. Hours will pass. If it is particularly quiet, even adults will lie down. From afar, it would be impossible to know there was anything hidden in the grass at all.
At 2pm, the wind picks up more strongly. It’s dry and cooling. Someone blows. Someone else bounces her trunk. They urinate and defecate (must take care of the toiletries at the start of the day). One hungry spirit rouses itself and ventures forth. Just as gradually as they assembled, they will move on. Within a few minutes, they will be gone, leaving behind the well-trampled earth.
Watching them like this is almost a meditation. Any troubling thought melts away, if only for a few hours. I wish there was a way to share this meditation with the rural poor, who have so many more troubles than me, and for whom the peaceful elephant a daydream and a fantasy.