Blog #3

Blog #3

What can be fun, in writing narrative nonfiction—and perhaps blogs—is “collecting” memories on a single theme. Wasn’t it James Barrie who said that memory is a means to “have roses in December”? And because the Elephant Contest is presently under way (check it out!), I’m going to gather my roses this week on the subject of elephants.

Coming from Nebraska, I never “knew” an elephant (up close and personal) until I was an adult in my thirties. We lived in Thailand, and I “met” adults when I went out on week ends to the Crocodile Farm near Bangkok. One could rent a seat on a howdah, and certainly the huge animals were healthy and in good condition. However, this was a commercial venture, nothing one on one.

But then I visited an elephant farm in Chiang Mai ( northern Thailand). The mamas, and including the very young babies still nursing were “teaking” up in the forest. But staying at home were the non-nursing youngsters—mature enough to eat independently but not yet “trained,” the older ones still at home on the farm, the eldest of these only now being carefully matched (for life) with a mahout. A hot day, I wore sandals.

And up came a little juvenile of perhaps five hundred pounds to make my acquaintance. I talked to her. She rumbled. Then she put one of her feet atop one of mine, the bright eyes watching me closely. Next she gradually and deliberately increased the pressure until I pulled my foot away.

“We” chatted some more before she put her foot back on mine, again incrementally increasing pressure. I decided to leave my foot there, discover whether she would ultimately release it before damage was done.

Watching each other, me talking to her softly all the time, she rumbling her response, I hung in until it seemed obvious that she had no intention of letting up.

I yanked my foot away!

I can’t say that she laughed. Only that she stood there for a moment, eying me, before she turned and trotted off happily, her little trunk swaying from side to side. A game of “chicken,” Thai style. She won.

These are thinking creatures! They have a sense of humor.

It was in the Terai Strip of Nepal and at fantastic (still!) Gaida Lodge that I met Sultana—my soul mate, if such is possible between one human and a couple-thousand-pound mammal. We understood each other. What can I say? I never felt safer in any wild and unfamiliar place (Thai, Sumatran, Sri Lankan, Nepali, African) than I felt sitting on a piece of canvas tied onto Sultana’s back. She was old (dating back to tiger-hunts at the time of the Raj); she was wise; she was affectionate; and she was loyal. And now, at this writing, she is gone.

But my stories involving Elephants I Have Experienced are told in Volume 1 of Here, There & Otherwhere. Read those if you care.

I have read many times, over the years, that the digestive system of an elephant is “very inefficient.” Meaning, the creature “uses” very little of its gargantuan daily intake averaging about 600 pounds of vegetation (give or take 300 pounds). But the whole process seems to work well for the elephant . . . and in natural elephant terrain within Asia and Africa, whole ecosystems are built around the massive and only-partially-digested (and therefore very rich) elephant dung.

Now—and bearing in mind the foregoing—how would you like some exotic and delicious coffee? As many coffee lovers know, “coffee beans” are the seeds of coffee cherries. And it is of course these beans processed from various (warm and humid) climates around the world which end up whole or ground in the cans you purchase at your grocery store.

Elephants, however, love to snack on coffee cherries. Their digestive systems get rid of the seeds, following a trip of perhaps twenty feet of processing in the large intestine. And an enterprising young Canadian named Blake Dinkin invested some $300,000 up in the Golden Triangle beginning in far-north Thailand to develop—Elephant Coffee! It’s all a matter of plucking, cleaning and processing—and it is said by those who can afford to consume the result that this Black Ivory Coffee is smooth, caramel-tasting, and worth every penny of the $50 cost for a single cup.

Tomorrow, you’ll want to go to a high-end grocer to pick up your very own pound of Black Ivory Coffee for $500. Call first, though, to be sure they have it in stock. . .