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The Elephants’ Playground

As soon as we beached on this island I named it the elephants’ playground… Dozens of tall, regal, royal fan palms dot the place, evermore dotting the ground with their fruit. I tasted this palm fruit today, which lived its life high off the ground, tucked away between its crunchy outer shell and the large ball of vegetable ivory within. As I write this, the trees that surround me are shaking the as elephants ram them to bring down these bittersweet morsels.

Two nights in a row now we’ve slept with the elephants near. Today I ate their fruit. Tonight I ponder if they will come visit me here. Last night they had already past when my head hit the pillow… but before my tent was up I had been with them like never before.

The images are clear in my mind… I will never forget, thus yet again I can relate to my elephant friends. The herd of fifteen-odd adults and adolescents with their two wobbly-trunked younglings in tow had just passed by our camp as the light became golden. I found a perch atop a standalone turret, a sandcastle built up by termites for years. I was hoping to watch the herd crossing the river en route to the flats near Jao Village, Djedibe, the place that made me think this afternoon that we would not see any wildlife this evening. From upon my tower I watched them turn towards me.

An elephant’s moment is longer than others, but to them it must have felt like an instant as I slowly felt my heartbeat picking up as they grew closer, tree by tree. Through the zoom lens of my camera I had watched from afar as they brought down a tree for the babies to eat from. At this point the naked eye was plenty to capture this larger-than-life moment… they were standing right in front of me.

The matriarch had given me her blessing. We had been making frequent eye contact as I focused my intention on peace, love, and respect for the herd. These emotions undeniably mingled with fear… what if the villagers nearby had been in conflict with these animals? Or if a young male in the herd had been spited that day? Or a mother grew defensive, or her mate had a toothache? But consciously I focused on peace, love, and respect. Any negative visualizations must pass by as glimpses, not to be focused on.

But even when a youngling stood less than two meters below me, it’s trunk reaching up for a leaf near my dangling foot, and was startled to find me there, spreading its ears out and stumbling back, the mothers that surrounded me stayed calm. A significant look here and there, a bit of a head shake, perhaps a raised trunk. We were sharing the space. I was granted a point on the plane. For a moment, even less than an elephant’s instant, I could feel like a part of the herd. As the sky became dim, they moved on. Their wind tunnel breathing and near-silent footsteps that were filling up my ears had grown distant the moment the matriarch pointed her trunk in the direction they had come from. Only two of the herd were nearby when she pointed, but as one they all departed. An ultrasonic rumble of the stomach was the real cue. The herd had moved on through the trees, but our mother remained there with me, locking eyes for an eternity. I raised my hand. She raised her trunk and went.

On assignment for The Conservation Music Project and Cross Okavango Delta Expedition. Follow @crossokavango and @intotheokavango for more stories like these.

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