I am not sure why, when I first saw this photo I was so moved. I woke up early this morning not feeling quite up to par. The house was silent, more so than is usual. KBJ had already left for NC to work and the dogs were out int the play paddock. The day is overcast, the air heavy with moisture, which seems to expand the silence around me.
I am heading to NC later today as well, so I am eager to get moving and enjoy the early part of the drive through the mountains. However, some days you feel almost obliged to slow down and take things as they flow. I decided to sit, minus my usual single cup of orange flavored coffee, which is my only cup of the day, and try and catch up on emails, and as as the morning hours give way, hoping that I find myself feeling a bit better. I came across this beautiful photograph and was immediately struck by how powerful it was to me. I both saw myself as that little girl, the one who was called the Pied Piper because when I stepped off the school bus, or walked home from school, all the dogs in the neighborhood would come running to greet me, and because I saw my now older self in this clearly adult animal. When our neighbors had a dog MIA, they knew it was probably with me. But unlike this little girl above, I never had an elephant greet me, and so I looked at the photo with wistfulness that such an event had never been so for me as a child, even that it may never be for me as an adult. You see, I have always loved animals, and within the wild kingdom I have always loved elephants. I have read everything about them I could ever lay my hands on. I was introduced to them first in a beloved children’s book, Babar the Elephant, and then of course on TV, and live at a zoo in my home town. The zoo was in a big park along the river, and there, was also the pool where I used to swim and eventually compete from. In between pool diving sessions I would race to the zoo. I was drawn to the elephants (all the animals really), but there was something about the elephants that I found particularly fascinating and a little bit mysterious, and always thinking that they should be free to be in their native habitat. I instinctively felt there was so much more to them. Looking into their eyes, I felt that there was a deep intelligence, despite their repetitive motions, the kind only a too small enclosure allowed for. Later, I began to follow the story of Echo, the African matriarch elephant studied for decades, and recently deceased. PBS Nature did a documentary about her after her death, and I couldn’t watch it. I already knew her remarkable story, and I felt like I had lost a familiar animal friend, one that I had longed to meet in her native Kenya. I have a couple of books written about her, and have reread them over the years. So as I looked at that photo, seeing perhaps a missed opportunity, I also sensed a wisdom in the elephant. Now perhaps, I can relate to her in a different than I did as a child, knowing I have lived through many incredibly enriching experiences as well as challenges, experiencing deep losses, yet having come away with a bit of wisdom that carries me through to whatever comes my way, just like Echo. The photo also reminds me of how trusting a child’s nature is, and how a small child was drawn to an elephant without fear, offering the gift of a treat, while the maternal side of the elephant, known for their tenderness towards their own, gently accepted the offering. It’s a reminder about retaining the innocence and curiosity of the young tempered with just enough wisdom to keep one out of trouble.
For me, photographs like this are truly art…they move us, ask us to allow ourselves to feel whatever we feel gazing at a particular image, and to think on it. Yes, a song in every silence, particularly on this Sunday morning.