Saturday, February 11, 2017, Topanga California
At the very end of December 2016, I returned to Africa with Cynthia Travis and Matt Meyer to meet with the Elephant People who teach us so much by who they are individually and as a species. Understanding the connection they and I have forged over seventeen years comes slowly, if at all, like light approaching from a distant galaxy, from the furthest end, which means the beginning, of the universe. The personal and the cosmic appear to be one: we have been blown apart from what we once knew.
Today, three weeks after our return, I am beginning to grasp something: the very nature of the Elephant herd may be a template for what is being transmitted. It is as if we, humans and Elephants, fell together into David Bohm’s implicate order, a field of being where past and present, dreaming and the manifest, the living and the dead, human and non-human are in dynamic co-existence. This is the real world and we were invited into it.
Friday, January 6th, 2017, Chobe National Park, Botswana
Epiphany: A sudden manifestation or revelation of the divine. There are two aspects to epiphany: first, the revelation of the sacred and, second, being mysteriously drawn to such a vision over time and space. Epiphany implies a spirit-based field of consciousness, a kind of visionary plasma, in which distinct beings with precise histories, join with awareness in acts of creation.
A group of us experienced Epiphany in this way on January 6th 2000 when the Ambassador Elephant first appeared to us at the place we call the Chapungu (fisher eagle) Tree in Chobe National Park, Botswana. That meeting is central to us as we are travel together once again in Southern Africa.
In 2000, I had had an inchoate hope of sitting in Council with Elephants, though I had no idea what that might possibly mean. Now, I title this essay, Beginning Awareness: Approaching the Elephant People. This is the sixth time I have returned to Chobe as on a pilgrimage. To what purpose? How might another meeting and its consistently unpredictable nature serve the natural world and the future?
After the original meeting there were others in 2001, 2005, 2011, 2016, each distinct, each astonishing. My return is always prompted by urgency though afterwards it seems that an essential insight is eluding me at the edges of experience. The Elephants have always come to us in Chobe at the same place at the same time at the last hour of the last day. Each time, we have been met by them in ways that both challenge credulity and assert the awesome beauty of true exchange. In 2008 and 2016, Cyndie and I traveled to other reserves to see if our initial connections, non-locally inspired, might occur in places other than Chobe. And we were met in Tanzania at the beginning of one trip and in Damaraland, Namibia on the last hour of the last day of another.
This afternoon, we are joyous with the new beauty that has arisen in response to the generous and continuing rains. It has been raining in California after so many years of drought, and the weather there is mirrored by the weather here.
There is an abundance of water and green. When we arrived, we took a boat ride just before a storm drenched us and came upon a massive herd of several hundred Elephants. Then coming to the Chapungu tree two days later, we passed another monumental gathering. Despite poaching, increasing loss of habitat, drought, the plains and savannahs of southern Africa, resplendent with the abundance of birds and game, have intermittently looked like paradise. This time, I am thinking, “Restoration.”
Aware that today is Epiphany, I am trying to temper my hope that Mystery may unfold again and we might find ourselves gathered once more into an inexplicable connection with the Elephants. There is nothing we can do to further this possibility or determine anything about its nature, but we can appear at the appointed place at the appointed time and wait.
We park the truck at the tree as we have in the past, happy to have returned and to spend a few hours in silence watching. We are graced with an unimpeded view of the extended river plain, which has in my memory never been so green, so lush with blessed waters.
There are animals in the distance, antelope and hippo, a few Elephants oblivious to us, who remain far away and my hope begins to waiver as I continuously remind myself not to sully the moment with expectation and longing. It is five o’clock. We will have to leave at six as has been necessary in the past.
But … the two distant young bulls who have been exuberantly scuffling with each other seem to be approaching. Oh this moment – joy and terror! It is fearsome when Spirit makes itself known. The sound of a young Elephant trumpeting penetrates us as a small herd gambols down the closest path from the ridge. They seem not to notice us as they come down but by being here at this exact time, they make it clear that they know we have returned and are offering their respects. They engage with the river and each other.
The two young bulls stop near our truck, the young ones who came down from the ridge play excitedly, the older Elephants refresh themselves and drink from the water. All in all, there must be twelve or more Elephants congregating here from several directions – and nowhere else that we can see. All arrived at approximately five o’clock and then by 6, they are gone. It is so ordinary on the one hand.
However, the view of a great bull, an old Elephant walking down a path at six pm is a sight both unsettling and confirming.
So unremarkable a scene for Chobe– a few Elephants at the river. But for us, yes, nothing remarkable but that they appeared, materialized, at the last hour of the anniversary of the day we met the Ambassador. And when the hour was over, they disappeared. This is not an ordinary event.
Did the Ambassador (herd) come?
We are in a field of consciousness that we cohabit. A field that changes us even as we co-create it.
Like two particles, once connected, are affected by each other, irreversibly into the future we, the humans, and these Elephants, relating eternally, have become kin.
Friday, January 6th, 2017, Chobe National Park, Botswana
For the first time in our coming to meet the Elephants, we began elsewhere. We have come here from Thula Thula where another story unfolded. Here, we were also met by the Elephants or we were all immersed with each other in mystery and while this confounds me, it supports me: the irrefutable Presence of Spirit sustains me in dark times. And these are the darkest times.
Cyndie and I are all too aware that we will return to the United States while Donald Trump is being inaugurated. Yes, I was young during World War II, and yes, I became aware of the Holocaust, and yes, I made a pilgrimage to the Death Camps in 1989, but I have not been concerned about the government and the future as I fear them now.
In November 2016, Cyndie and I, and others, went to stand with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock. Native Americans have known the fist and the gun, have known systemic violence, genocide, for five hundred years as have African Americans and other people in this country. And now such brutality is being installed in the White House. Being in Africa, we know the entire world is alarmed, as are we. And yet, the Presence is here. How do we carry this seeming contradiction or explain it?
Saturday January 7, 2017, Chobe National Park, Botswana.
A day later. See if you can create the image that I was not able to photograph, the distances being too great. We have arrived here at the end of a drought and it has been and continues raining today and so it is unlikely that the Elephants will come down to the river. We are at the Chapungu tree again. A narrow band of marshland, with some birds, a hippo and an alligator, is between us and the river. Directly across the waters is a bull Elephant who arrived just after we did and stayed until we had to leave. At the edge of the marsh, are the skull and rib bone of an Elephant who died last year in the drought. The Elephants have a profound relationship with their dead so this is a holy site and here we have an alignment.
We watch the lightning descend everywhere around us, hear the thunder and know that rain is coming. It might be daunting. But I must stay here, no matter the conditions. Such an appointment is a sacred trust.
We are being enfolded into a story that is happening now, outside of linear time though including it, through a remarkable alignment of human and Elephant, living and dead. It is also a story of the five other such meetings, of a journey that brought me to Chobe in 2000, of our original encounter with the Elephant Ambassador, of the third meeting when we, Cynthia Travis and myself and others were thrown a thigh bone of an Elephant ancestor – the most precious and unlikely gift an Elephant might offer – of a unmistakable dramatic narrative through which the Elephants tested Krystyna Jurzykowski and myself, of a dream of a Radical Elephant Movement which calls us to save the natural world, of the unmistakable meetings that have taken place when Cynthia Travis and I have traveled to other places to meet these Elephant People, a Story that will include and integrate each encounter we have and may still have in these three weeks in four game parks in three different countries. The future, including but beyond the next two weeks in Africa, is already here in this still moment of time as is the spirit of this ancestor and the bird who walks so easily alongside the dead one.
It is one living Story composed of so many particulars in alliance, like a herd itself, a single humming mind incorporating thousands of beings, living and dead, in a song as piercing as the Elephant’s trumpet and as still as the great animals tread on the holy earth.
Saturday February 11, 2017, Topanga, California
Over the years, we have been met by the Elephants. We have interacted. We have gazed into each other’s eyes! At the core of each event is indisputable connection; we have been drawn together over great distances of time, space, geography and history, notwithstanding the equally great differences between species. Each day, Cyndie and I wonder why this is occurring, why we are being called to the Elephants in these most difficult and tragic times in world history. We pray that we might discover new ways to protect the lives and wisdom of these People of another species. And being desperate and sometimes despairing regarding the US political debacle, we wonder whether these beings reaching toward us might reveal ways for humans, whose fate they unfortunately share, to emerge from the thrall of death and violence that characterizes these days.
At this moment as I ask these questions in Topanga, California, a platinum light breaks through the clouds after days of blessed rain following five years of drought, and everything is starkly illuminated; once more, I cannot doubt the Presence.
Do these meetings have to be connected to world events, must they have purpose? There is no imperative, but we are being shown that interconnection over time and space is the absolute nature of the universe. We are in a hologram and so connection is implicit.
Events gain meaning within a field of consciousness. We may experience them as autonomous, think they exist independently of each other and that they can be understood individually, but this is an illusion. Events gain their true meanings in relationship to each other, to history, personal and global, also to the future. Events assumed to be unchanging and fixed because they have already occurred are also dynamic systems, transfiguring as their contexts alter through interaction with other events. There are no borders between events, no walls as, in fact, there are no borders between time, space, or individuals “but thinking makes it so.”
Sunday, January 8, 2017, Chobe, Botswana
Computers allow us the ease to move back and forth in time and space while writing. Before we returned to Chobe, Cyndie, our guide, Matt Meyer and I visited Thula Thula, a nature reserve established by Lawrence Anthony, author of Elephant Whisperer, Babylon’s Ark and The Last Rhino. I wanted to visit this reserve as Anthony had a profound relationship with a herd of Elephants to whom he had offered sanctuary. I wondered whether their liaison was intrinsic to who they were, or whether over time, they had created a field of consciousness and whether others could enter it. If we, if others, could partake of their rare association, what assumptions, orientation, qualities would be necessary?
In order to put the events in perspective, I have to begin this section with an excerpt from “Becoming Kin – Becoming Elephant”, (Dark Matter: Women Witnessing, Issue #4, September 2016) about meeting the Ambassador and his herd once more in 2016:
We are left with the original unfathomable events. How do the Ambassador and his people know we are coming to Chobe? It may be that Elephants, who are most probably more intelligent than we are through their capacity for unparalleled empathy, can read the heart across vast distances, unimpeded by species barriers and send out subliminal communications which I / we receive and respond to by coming to meet them.
I was reading The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony when flying home from my 2011 visit to Chobe. Anthony had had a remarkable relationship with Elephants based on intimacy and proximity. One might even say the Elephants engineered their transfer to his reserve in order to create this relationship. I wanted very much to meet him but he died suddenly before I returned to Africa. Then stories emerged of the Elephants coming to his Lodge when he died and then every year, for three years, on the anniversary of his death. How is this possible? What does it mean? What do the Elephants want us to know?
In the last years, we have been allowed to be very close to the Elephants. But this connection has not yielded answers to the essential questions: How and why are they communicating with us? What do they want? How can we meet their call? Perhaps in Thula Thula, we will be able to immerse ourselves in the herd. Perhaps they will speak to us. Perhaps we will understand more than before. I am praying that the Elephants will take us across another barrier.
The following words ended the essay “Becoming Kin” written before this pilgrimage to Southern Africa and the Elephants 2017. In November before we left, we went to support the Native American Water Protectors fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, North Dakota. If this journey reveals anything, it is that everything is, indeed, related to everything else. Easy to write these words – difficult to understand if one is not born into a herd or an Indigenous tribe. And yet, this is the essential understanding given to us for these times.
On Tuesday the 27th I will return to Africa for almost a month to be with the Elephant People. Until November 8th, I thought I knew why I was going. But since then, I am uncertain, except to be in alliance and heartbreak with the Elephant people who know the dire consequences and agony of Imperial and Colonial mind.
I hoped to be able to spend time within the Elephant herd, to be among them, to be of them. But now I believe my purpose as an Ambassador from humans to the Elephant people and the other animal people, is to say, “I am so sorry.”
…We have elected as President, the father of a family of big game hunters. We may soon all literally know what it is to be hunted for profit and greed. Perhaps this knowledge will help us be more determined in our activity to protect the wild and all living beings.
I am going to Africa to stand with the Elephant People in ceremony and prayer. I want to apologize for us and then to find ways to say, sincerely, “I have, we have, your backs.
As I didn’t know what it might mean to sit in Council with Elephants in 2000, I don’t think I really knew what it meant to speak of the Elephant People when I wrote those words above. I am certain that I don’t fully understand. I have made this journey six times wondering if the Ambassador would come to meet us. This question no longer serves. New questions might be: Were there appearances or connections that reveal the nature of a common field of relationship? Do these manifestations have intent or is intention implicit in the new perspective?
Did we meet the Elephant people? We did.
Did we apologize? We did.
Were we immersed in the herd? We were.
Was there Epiphany? I believe there was.
Thursday, January 26, 2017, Topanga California.
When I travel to the animals, I try to stay empty, without expectations that might shape or distort the possible experiences. Certain mysteries persist – the Elephants meet me/us in entirely unpredictable and persistently enigmatic ways. We do not understand the Elephants any more than we understand the true nature of the world. But these meetings are seemingly outside of animal nature or beyond human-animal interactions, and yet, they occur with enough frequency to suggest that they might be within animal nature. If so, then the nature of universe is essentially enigmatic and yet, given the times, the need to try to fathom it is urgent.
Let me be honest here, with myself, and with you, to whom I am writing. There is nothing personal here – something is being communicated and we happen to be the recipients. The Elephants who engage in the dramatic narrative that cannot be dismissed, do not enhance themselves. They participate in a decipherable theater piece but are simultaneously simply being Elephants. The rapid shift or conversion from one state to another and back and again, is dizzying and unnerving. Perhaps human disorientation is necessary so that all certainties and assumptions fall away and we more capable of discerning the shape or intent of the mystery.
I have been accompanied each time I have traveled to the Elephants with new questions. The questions have been my ground even though there have not been any definitive answers. Still each question constellates a field of possible understanding so that I can proceed to hold the next questions.
Sunday, January 8th, 2017, Chobe, Botswana
Traveling to Thula Thula, keeping an appointment I did not know I had made, I found myself saying publicly “I am going to the Elephant People.” Pondering the need to be so forthright, I began to feel another question formulating when I entered this new territory, one I had not fully considered before: If Elephants are people, are a People, and if I am approaching a new people, what are the rituals and protocols that need to be observed?
The question opened a door. The day after meeting the herd at Thula Thula, I asked our guide, Andrew Murgatroyd, if we could, without intruding, place ourselves in closer proximity to the two Matriarchs so that I could offer respect, speak to them of my/our intentions, and ask permission to be with them, perhaps to be within the herd. Nana, the older matriarch, fifty-four and tiring, has been giving over her responsibilities to Frankie who is ten years younger, the two creating a model for the benevolent transfer of power while retaining deference, respect and honor for the elder for the full length of her life. Both had been present when the oldest bull, Mabala came to the truck the first day, singling out our guide, Matt, exploring his camera case with his tusk and suctioning Matt’s foot with his trunk. An anomalous event or deliberate activity? We didn’t know. Mabala couldn’t have chosen a better subject for his investigations – couldn’t have found someone more comfortable with such an approach.
The next morning, we came upon the Elephants at a muddy pan. Both Nana and Frankie came in late and left before all the others, the young bulls remaining to cavort and tussle with each other in what mud was left. It was exciting to be alongside them, witnessing their group frolic, but our relationship to Elephants had changed over the years and now we were visiting another People not observing animals. This shift in awareness required a different approach. We were also cognizant that there was little water for their sport or to drink.
We had detected tensions at Thula Thula that took a while to fathom. At lunch, we learned that a water truck had been hijacked on its way to Lodge. The government had promised water to the people in the surrounding settlement. Water and the infrastructures to receive, distribute and protect it. But that promise, like so many other ruling party promises, had not been kept.
Before we had left California, we had read that rains were expected in southern Africa. We were prepared for thunder showers but at the time of our arrival, little of the promised rain had fallen and everyone was tense, including the animals.
So it was when we went out that afternoon that I asked Andrew, our local guide, if we could stay with the Matriarchs for a short period of time so I might contact them. What would he think of such an opening request:
“Can you imagine that the Elephants are a People?” I dared being considered foolish or mad.
He answered, “Oh yes,” without hesitation. “They are a People of individuals, each with their own character and personality.”
“If this is so, then they have social structures with their own hierarchies, laws, protocols,” I added quickly. I was aware that we would soon have to tell Andrew the story of the Ambassador so that he could support our hopes and intentions.
The telling of the story of the Ambassador to a new group of people is always complex for it requires the listener to consider animals in relationship to spiritual agency. It undermines human hegemony. Guides and rangers spend their lives in the bush, practicing exact and skilled observation of the animals, sometimes knowing individuals from birth or through particular encounters or incidents. Though the term ‘whisperer’ – one who communicates with animals – is making itself known, it is not generally acknowledged. Few imagine, or admit, that they, themselves, might have such a gift, or that the gift might be common in the ways it once was for Indigenous people. The breach between humans and animals, or humans and the natural world, grows increasingly larger as humans inhabit a manufactured world, living progressively within the artifice of corporate intelligence and cyberspace. To accept the possibility of intelligent, responsive relations between humans and animals, requires humans to step away from the elite conceptions of mind that assert human dominance, superiority and privilege.
While a general audience might be thrilled by stories of human/animal relationships, guides and rangers are less likely to be impressed or convinced. Yet, as our latest itineraries depended upon guides, we had to have their collaboration. Telling the stories did not guarantee such; ultimately everything depended on sharing experiences. Matt had experienced the connections in 2016 and now it seemed Andrew was open to our hope that another kind of interaction between Peoples was possible.
We spent the afternoon looking for the herd. Because of the little rain, the waterholes they frequented regularly, while muddy for cooling off, were without sufficient water to drink. The Elephants had some remaining sources, deep in the forested valley and up on the ridge, places we couldn’t reach. Cyndie and I entered our quiet and persistent rituals of prayers, offerings and gratitude … and hope. It was late in the day that Andrew and Matt spotted the herd moving and we drove to a plateau where Andrew guessed they might appear. We parked the vehicle and waited. If we chased them, we would not catch up to them. Waiting was the only alternative and it is also our desired practice to find a herd and position ourselves so that the Elephants could choose if and how to interact with us.
In a short time, the younger Elephants were coming toward us, as they continued to do from them on, fearlessly and with curiosity, as if our prayers had already been received. Soon Nana appeared some distance away with the very little ones following her and then Frankie with her son Brandon, as always, in tow. We stayed still and I offered my respects as I would have done to any Chief or Tribal elder, asking permission to observe them, be among them for their sakes, I hoped, for the sake of the Elephant people everywhere though I did not know what might result from our connection. “Still,” I added, “I believe I /we have been called here and if that is true, and if common Spirits inhabit a potentially common field of interaction, might we not be called to make ourselves known to each other? The habit of human domination through will and violence is legion; my hope and intention is to yield to Sprit and to you as best as I am able.”
I don’t recall if I spoke directly in my mind of wishing to be within the herd, but it was in my mind that it would be most possible at Thula Thula with its one herd that was particularly familiar with human beings.
The three goals I had articulated before I came were also present:
To be immersed in a herd so as to gain the wisdom they might want to impart,
To apologize for human behavior that was threatening their lives, all lives, the earth,
To find ways to stand with them.
To find ways to stand behind them would mean to support their understanding and actions however transmitted to us. Needless to say, Standing Rock was in my consciousness as the Sioux had designated themselves as Water Protectors. And here we were seeking water.
Were our offerings and requests received? Or were the Elephants following a thread of their own, when Nana and Frankie and then the others veered suddenly toward us, leaving the path they had been following?
They walked past us in their slow and majestic manner though the narrow corridor in the brush was no wider than their bodies, and the field beyond us was fully open. Our proximity to each other was deliberately negotiated; we were in the force field of their presence, as we would be for the days that followed.
Prayers were heard and received and reality reconstituted itself. The Elephants had responded to us. We were contained in a field of conscious co-existence. For the days we were at Thula Thula, the Elephants greeted us and played with us whenever we met them.
We had had lunch that day with Francoise Anthony who, determined to run Thula Thula after her husband’s death, alluded through a variety of stories to the metaphysical nature of the herd. Francoise was not explicit in her interpretations of the events she shared, but Cyndie, Matt and I understood as if we were conversing in a secret code. Not only did she confirm the Elephants coming to the Lodge on three separate occasions on the anniversary of Lawrence Anthony’s death, but described other events. For example, Nana had, most deliberately, with her trunk, undone all the latches on a boma (enclosure) where captive antelopes were being held prior to being relocated for breeding purposes, while the capture team watched aghast.
The next day, we went out with a new confidence. All of us, including Andrew were involved. At the same time, we were watching the few pools of water become mud and the mud pans thicken and become dangerous. On New Years Eve, an Inyala (antelope) who had fallen into a mud pan was rescued by a group returning from a game drive. The guide and guests had gone into the pan themselves, covered the antelope’s eyes to help him relax and had pushed him to stable ground.
Anthony, our guide, could never be certain where we might find the Elephants as they were desperately seeking water. On our third day, the pool of water in which they had frolicked so jubilantly was entirely dry.
I was filled with anxiety and dread as I feared what might happen if there were no water at all for the animals. I could determine the Elephant’s concerns by the response of those in the settlements. The people who had hijacked the water tanker had closed all the roads and were rioting. They had made barriers of burning tires so no one could pass. It was a strange variation on the road closing by the DAPL police to isolate the protestors and prevent supplies from reaching them despite the fierce snow blizzards that were dropping temperatures to well below zero.
Still, on our fourth day, we found the herd delighting in the sweetness and abundance of just ripened figs in a grove of sycamores. When we arrived, we were surrounded. It was an answer to my prayer that I might be immersed in the herd.
After half an hour, Frankie who had been alongside us, alternately grazing and investigating us and the vehicle.
was leading the herd away, but stopped and looked at us with what Andrew deemed a belligerent expression. “She is like that,” he asserted.
But I heard something different. She asked me, quite clearly and deliberately, “Do you understand how hard it is to be the Matriarch when I cannot find water? Do you know what it means when the younger ones in your charge have no water to drink? Do you know what will happen to us if there is no water?” That said, she turned and walked away.
Immediately, I knew that she understood, despite having been given refuge on this reserve, that we, the humans, are responsible for her plight and that of her people.What had seemed like a blessed enfolding into the tribe of Elephant people in pursuit of sweetness with a very young bull, toddler age, suctioning the hood of the vehicle with his trunk and the others, young and old eating grass alongside us though Andrew remarked that there was plenty of grass around and their proximity was, therefore, by choice, had suddenly become a briefing on the perversity and danger of human beings.
I reached for my water bottle and then Matt’s and offered what water we had to the earth in prayer. “In the pursuit of water in limited supply,” Matt said later, “it is always the people who win, though we are quickly coming to understand that this is a very short sighted view.” Especially limited activity by the people in power, I thought, thinking of Standing Rock. The fate of people, the earth, the animals, the same.
The next morning we could not find the Elephants, except briefly, when a tiny bull snorted at the waters of a drying pool and went off disgruntled and thirsty. To dig another bore hole would take months and could well endanger the aquifer even more and threaten the careful natural balance of earth, stone and fluid. As we were driving back to the Camp, we heard that the Elephants were coming down as well. It was feared that desperately thirsty, they might break, as they had at another time, the main water pipes to the Lodge, which cannot be buried. This time they didn’t, but they stood silently by Matt’s tent as, perhaps, they had stood silently at the Lodge to honor Lawrence Anthony.
Predicted thunderstorms brought sprinkles that night but didn’t alter the situation. Maybe water would have to be trucked in. The thirst and need of the Elephants is enormous. An adult Elephant can drink 50 gallons of water a day. There are 30 members of this herd and countless other animals. The reserve is fenced to protect the surrounding villagers. The animals are imprisoned; they have no way to find water elsewhere. We were witness to a crisis of great proportion.
In 2009, I had seen photos from CNN and Save the Elephants of villagers confronting mud-covered bodies of desert Elephants who were dying of thirst.
“Reaching desperately for drops of water, they had lowered their trunks, toppled in, remained trapped and died in Mali’s scorching heat.
“The “last desert Elephants in West Africa “have adapted to survive in the harsh conditions” they face, Save the Elephants said Monday. But now, the group says, conditions have gone from bad to worse, and they are living “on the margin of what is ecologically viable.”
Anguished, again, eight years later, I remembered a journal entry based on a dream on May 25, 2009.
I pray for a dream to show us a path out of the horror we have created. I pray for a dream to show the way to restoration. I pray for a dream though I have never received a dream in answer to such a request.
I have put out a call to gather those who carry sacred and magical powers. Women are coming together in a rectangular room that will allow each of us enough space to sit in a circle together. Spread out on cloths, kangas, lappas, prayer rugs with ritual items around us, we prepare to do ceremony. I have some trepidation about my ability to communicate the beautiful importance of this gathering. Indeed, we are failing to gather in the way that meets the call. We are losing the energy of what we might accomplish, finding new ways of meeting the current danger. I had imagined we would form ourselves into a sacred community, devoting ourselves to supporting public activities on behalf of healing the earth, peacebuilding and restoration. We are being called into alliance. Combining political, spiritual and ritual activities offers the best chance of success. This is a call for on-going ritual and ceremonial work in support of pragmatic social, political and environmental activities. Our situation is dire: Many are being driven to violence, brutality and cruelty. The animals are being victimized. We are deeply concerned with the plight of Elephants, polar bears, wolves. The earth, air and waters are highly polluted. Global warming is real and is having disastrous consequences.
I try to begin again, but everyone is distracted and I don’t know how to gather them together. A young, dark skinned woman with long black hair lying on a low couch raises herself on her forearms, as in a cobra yoga pose, and begins chanting in a foreign language. The young woman’s voice is deep and resonant and the song gathers us to attention and creates the field in which our mandate, for it is a mandate, can be accomplished.
Writing the dream, I accept that I have received spiritual instruction that can help accomplish our deepest hopes for the future if we make these activities the very core of our daily lives. This is the labor that calls to each of us even as it entirely transforms and refocuses our definition of work. It is not only that we are called to do this work together in a group but that we are each, in the way we are trained, called to it as our primary activity. Each of us, devoted and alongside each other. The very definition of work and making a living is altered by the requirement to put ritual activity and prayer first before our work, before our personal concerns and lives.
At Standing Rock, the Elders said, the way to effectively protect the waters is through Prayer and Ceremony.
On the last day at Thula Thula, the rains come. The long lucent call of Burchell’s Coucal, the rain bird, has been realized. Wearing rain ponchos, we seek the Elephants and see them on a distant ridge we cannot reach. Then we cannot make our way up the wet road and slip and slide until our open vehicle is stuck in the deep mud. There is no other vehicle which has the capacity to help us and we are many miles from our camp. Stuck in the mud in a similar way in Liberia with everyday gandhis, Cyndie and I met the rebel, General Leopard, who then gave up his intention to become a mercenary and joined our NGO. It takes a long time and much effort to reverse our direction, go to the bottom of the steep hill, reverse, and with as much speed and power as can be mustered, make our way over the rim and back to camp. Covered with mud ourselves, we are exuberant.
That night we sleep and wake to the rhythm of thunder, lightning and rain. It is our last morning. Because of the mud and rain, we not know if we will see the Elephants. We pass ponds filling with water and I am relieved. Andrew says there is enough for a few days. He continues driving, taciturn, as is his nature. We climb a road that our little group hasn’t traveled before. At each juncture, we fail to see the Elephants. Coming to a turn on a precarious road, Andrew announces that we have come to the very end as there is no other turn-around.
But … “Look,” says Andrew. On the far ridge, in silhouette, Frankie and Brandon and a few of the others are grazing. We watch them until they disappear on the other side of the hill to join the rest of the herd.
Had we come a few minutes later, we would not have seen them. This is, as it has been and continues to be at Chobe, the last hour of the last day of our pilgrimage.
After our return, Francoise Anthony communicated to us that the rains continued at Thula Thula and the streams and pans were filling: “We have had beautiful rain after your departure and nature has come alive! miracles do happen. I am getting a geologist to come and check our land for water so that we can be prepared for the future.”
Thursday, January 26, 2017 Thula Thula photo by Vusi Gumede
Sunday, February 11, 2017, Topanga California
We are in a Story. I have been in this ongoing Story since I determined to be in Council with the Elephants. Who or what was orchestrating this moment and the other moments over the last seventeen years when I had, inconceivably, yielded to and followed a call for connection with another species for their sake, may always remain entirely mysterious. Still, I pray that our strange and unpredictable connections might influence the restoration of the natural world and the vital future of these People who are keystone to us all.
My notes to the dream of 2009, said: “Such collaboration between Native American elders, medicine people and younger Native American activists has recently turned years of failure of achieving goals into success.” These words written in 2009 are the current perspective of the community of Water Protestors at Standing Rock. They have not moved from this position though Trump has extended permission for the Dakota Access pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners to dig under the sacred lake. Perhaps they are the words we all need to meet our global crisis. What are the Elephant People teaching us? What do we learn from being gathered together in this Story?
There is a Story told here through Elephant language of activity and visitation, a story of relationship, connectivity, spiritual awareness and ethical considerations.
There is a Story told here of the Elephant People who have spiritual agency and with whom we can collaborate.
This is a Story about the possibilities offered through dream, ritual and prayer.
This is one Story and many stories. The Stories themselves are visitations. They teach us how to live. We are living these stories and they, in turn, are alive in us.
A field of consciousness gathers us into itself. Events arise out of the field’s essential nature. We are of that field and enfolded back into it.
This Story is told in a universal language. This Story is an act of creation.
If we let ourselves fully enter this world, the future is possible.
Let us meet in this field of wonder: