Among Elephants

Nalini MacNab
Jul 25, 2018 · 9 min read
my iPhone: objects in this photo are closer than they appear ;)

I had, as a child, imagined standing face to face with a bull elephant, unflinching. My imagination was fired by Kipling’s The Jungle Book and, later, by films like The Power of One. To stand face to face with a bull elephant and remain in a calm heart-centred presence, seemed an ultimate act of courage to the small child that I was.

I never imagined I would be graced with the presence of not one, but several such bulls, all within a 48 hour period. Graced is the appropriate term, I assure you. The photo above was the first bull to present himself, face to face. This bull stopped, responding to the energy of my internal query and to his family group’s need for a peaceful crossing from their evening watering hole.

The group crossing the road in front of our vehicle protected two younglings. Little did I know that I would witness even smaller ones, nursing, but I am getting ahead of my story.

Two of the mothers in this first family group stopped and faced the car, letting their infants cross behind them. Gentle, defiant protection was etched into every line of their bodies as they calmly and confidently placed themselves in what might have been harm’s way, then turned and resumed their progress along with the rest of the group.

This, my first face-to-face bull, stopped a respectful distance from our car, looking me full in the eyes. My friend who lives in the area whispered, “Open your heart. Fully open.” I had thought it was. Tears began to run down my face. First, in amazement, then in simple gratitude for the gift being given. This first encounter lasted perhaps two minutes. Then, the herd continued on its way. There were a few more elephants, towering over us as they crossed the road a few feet in front of our forward bumper.

Then came the last bull. This one was almost completely dry. His thick and wrinkled skin further creased with dust, he looked dun-colored compared to the infinite greys of the others. While the group drank and bathed, this male stood carefully by, observing from a slight distance. Was he a scout or guardian? It seemed rude to ask. Bringing up the rear of their exit procession, he stopped full-on in front of the car.

A photo was impossible. Not only was he so positioned that there were windshield components in the way, but his presence commanded full attention. SILENCE. A vast and encompassing gamma-wave presence. The kind of meditative consciousness some humans aspire to and very few achieve. There he stood, for five breathless minutes, as we looked into each other’s eyes and hearts. I can only pass on the transmission. Better writers than I might do the experience justice. This writer must simply pass on the wonder.

We pulled into the Talamati camp, {whose name means ‘full of water’} intending to check in and return to our explorations. While my friend dealt with a slight problem with our cabin door (one wants to make sure of things, as the baboon population is “very naughty”) I strayed out to the fence line, near to the viewing blind facing the watering hole. Ten minutes before, there had been little activity. Now, the place was bustling. Another small herd of elephants had arrived for their pre-dusk ablutions.

my iPhone, while there was light enough for contrast

A few of the young ones came to the edge of the watering hole, the larger members preferring the tank built for their use. Easier to drink and spray themselves with room for the whole family! One baby knelt down to reach the water with its little trunk. Another wandered over, dipped its head to drink and nudged into the baby. “Let’s play!”

I watched the scene unfold until my friend nudged me, our play including one last quick venture onto the roads before dark. We did see water buck and kudu, impala and what might have been wildebeest off in the distance. As the dusk thickened, we headed back to camp, noticing what looked like an intercontinental freight train of elephant marching along just under the treeline.

We pulled into camp just ahead of the setting sun. The first thing I noticed was more people at the viewing area. Deep rumbling noises filled the chilling air. I wondered who would start up a lawn mower in a place like this, or what might have been making that racket. Then, I saw it.

Three or four family groups of elephant had merged and were taking their turns at the tank and watering hole. The rumblings were coming from some of the adults, presumably directing traffic. There was also a fair amount of trumpeting and squealing coming from the various parties.

I envied the enhanced lenses of the photo pros among us. I’ll bet their pictures were incredible! I tried a panorama shot of the entire area, a once-in-a-lifetime memory of sixty to a hundred elephants all in one place! All of them collaborating, all sharing the resource and having fun in the process. One family group enjoyed the water, then, with much trumpeting and rumbling, another would take their place. As what looked to be four distinct groups flowed in and out, the dusk deepened and even more elephants appeared.

The big bulls tend to be solitary, I found out next day. This evening, even they headed toward the water for their share of hydration and play. One or two at a time, they would trumpet their arrival while others made respectful space for them.

Two babies played at the edge of the water, entwining trunks, wrestling a bit, raising their trunks on high and squealing, then chasing each other back and forth. A few youngsters (guesstimated by comparative size) ran back and forth from group to group, trumpeting all the while. I never would have suspected elephants could move that quickly! Nor could I have imagined this scene in my most vivid dreams. I always wondered about the inspiration for those tapestries depicting herds of elephants. They felt faked, somehow. This experience was anything but.

Through the thirty to forty-five minutes of observation, that same profound presence was palpable. Not quiet this time. Profoundly, ear-shatteringly noisy, but SILENCE all the same. Elephant dreamtime is the stuff of myth and legend, and on this night, I understood why. It was newly-applied creosote that finally moved me from my rapture. “I’m getting a headache from the fumes” said my friend, nudging me ever-so-gently. It was only then that I realized, so was I.

The rumblings, which really do sound like a lawnmower starting up, and the trumpeting, continued on into the night. I wish I had recorded those sounds! In that presence, capturing any part of it was the furthest thing from my mind.

All the next day we saw elephants, one family group after another. We almost literally ran into one lone bull munching away at the side of the road. We stopped to give him his space, and, after a few minutes he politely turned and walked off a bit to give us ours.

We found another loner in the middle of the bush, demolishing a young tree. He must have wanted something crunchy for breakfast! First he pushed against the trunk with the flat of his head, then twisted and turned with his own trunk until the tree came up by its roots, providing fresh fodder for his grazing. How strong these gentle giants!

In yet another clearing, three mature bulls were grazing. They stood in a triangular formation, their backs to one another. We moved quietly on, not stopping and killing the engine as was our normal practice. They seemed not to want the intrusion.

On our return loop, that would ultimately lead us out of Kruger Park, we noticed a game drive vehicle stopped to the side of the road. That always means a sighting of some kind. It was another bull elephant! This one was massive! He towered over the three-storied open-air viewing vehicle! Its driver was cautiously keeping her cadre of tourists quiet.

We stopped well behind them, killed the engine and opened our windows. The bull continued to pull up grass and chew as he slowly stepped toward the road. My friend whispered, “They’re afraid. See how close he is and they don’t understand.” She started our engine and backed off a bit more, hoping he would take that as the sign of respect it was meant to be and that it was safe to cross the road. Without seeming to notice, unapologetic and unafraid, he moved close enough for the game drive occupants to touch (thankfully no one tried), turned and walked off, only a few feet from our car.

He was our last lone bull of the day. I had stopped counting at six but we may have seen seven or eight, not to mention the many family groups, most with infants in tow. When we finally made it to the nearest dam, another small herd was playing in the water. An endearing infant, larger than I am, nursed quietly. Screened by the others, who kept themselves between mother and child and all possible predators, he calmly drank his fill.

"I will remember what I was, I am sick of rope and chain–
I will remember my old strength and all my forest affairs.
I will not sell my back to man for a bundle of sugar-cane:
I will go out to my own kind, and the wood-folk in their lairs.

What have we done?

And to these sacred beings, whose presence is truly sublime?

Kruger National Park, a protected reserve roughly the size of the State of New Jersey, is home to an infinite variety of wildlife. I witnessed a herd of cape buffalo, several herds of impala and zebra, water buck, kudu, guinea hens, several groups of giraffe, and a few warthogs. This is not to mention the amazing birds! The Lilac-Breasted Roller and I have a thing going now.

lilac-Breasted Rollers kept landing near or flying in front of the car, their turquoise beauty making me and my iPhone gasp every time!

A ranger friend calls Kruger the “most sacred place on the planet”. I have heard that he cites each blade of grass as holy, as “…it has been, by now and for ages, gestated in the tummy and/or presence of one of these beasts…”.

All too soon it was time to head out. I wished I had made plans for a longer visit and yet… “I’ve never seen this many elephants in one place and over such a short time!” my friend exclaimed, as we sighted two more “ellies” in the Timbavati reserve, on our drive back toward Hoedspruit.

These beings do not only hold Sovereignty of Place, they are its embodiment.

The re-invention adventure has taken interesting twists, as is inevitable, one might say. What I can say, with no reservation whatsoever, is, if you want to learn to mediate spend time among elephants.

To you and to my immensely present friends…
~Namaste~

PS — Thank you, Victoria, for organising the adventure and being as in love with Presence as I am.

***

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Wishing you elephants, one and all!

all photos are from my iPhone

Nalini MacNab

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I live, learn, write, create and share the experience of embodying HER Infinite Love. @chaliceofwisdom.com.