Friday, September 5, 2014

elephants...in maine

Note: A few days after writing this post, tragedy struck in the Hope Elephant barn.  Dr. James Laurita, the co-founder of Hope Elephants, and the man pictured here working with, caring for, and moving with such tenderness and coordinated movements with the elephants, died while performing routine care for them.  Our thoughts are with his family, the foundation, and particularly the elephants, Rosie and Opal, in his care.


Did he tell you about what happened when he saw Rosie again for the first time in years? one of the volunteers asked us during the tour.  She then told us about how Rosie had come to him, opened her mouth, and wanted him to pet her tongue.  A true sign of the elephant's memory of him, memory of his kindness toward her.

He will be missed.

* * *

I kind of fell in love with Hope, Maine a little bit last week.  


This is small town Maine, rural and coastal-ish all at the same time.  This quiet town and its exquisite sandwiches combined to make me very happy.  Our store bought honey comes from Hope.  And these crates come from Hope.


And also?  In Hope?  There be elephants.


We visited Hope to celebrate Elliott's birthday.  And what better place to take a boy who has a special way with and love for animals than a place that has woven itself so strangely and perfectly around the barns and old apple trees and winding roads to nowhere?

 



On this property, a state of the art elephant care center has been created, complete with an enormous barn.


Its walls decorated with the community's elephant inspired art.

 

And behind, an outdoor paddock area.


To provide a home for, and care for, two retired circus elephants.  Asian Elephants, Rosie and Opal.


I found myself completely taken by these massive animals.  By their skin, their movements.  By their eyes and the quiet intelligence evident behind them.


By their childish playfulness.


And by their relationship with each other.


But I was equally moved by their caretakers, and by the home that this family, this community, has made for two beings so far from their natural home.  A home they needed solely because of previous human interests and priorities, because of decisions that led to Rosie and Opal's being here among us in the first place, among people, rather than among others of their kind.

This fact, their displacement, is difficult to grapple with when talking with children.  Difficult to examine within ourselves, these choices we make about how we move and act upon our world.  And how other creatures in the world are affected by us.

Yet there was a gentleness, a mind toward education, a passion that was palpable from the people at Hope Elephants.  In their telling of these elephants' stories.  In describing their care.


Allowing us to appreciate their size.


Their amazing bodies and capacities.


Their intelligence.


Their understanding of humans, their ability to connect with the human world, and to form relationships with us.


And for us to see how these creatures, after years of entertaining our world, are -- just as we would be -- in need of care, physical therapy, exercise, healthy food, and peace.  




Not to mention, for those of us who enjoy all things body function, to learn about the seed dispersal provided by the elephant dung.  There goes a watermelon!


To see how humans who care, who follow their passion, can come in contact with the most extraordinary creatures and make such an enormous impact upon the lives of just a few.  Can get to know them so intimately and, through them, allow us to get to know them, too.


For us, the visitors who experience this choice, who witness the intimacy and the relationships they have created.  It is inspiring.  It is extraordinary, yet eminently doable.  

The keepers have taken action, created a version of home for the elephants that Rosie and Opal are now, working with the elephants' histories to provide what they need today.  It brought these animals to Hope.  And it brings us to Hope.


As visitors, we also experience the possibilities, we reflect on our own choices.  And perhaps reflect a bit on how we move about our world and the course our lives will take.

There is something particularly poignant about this all happening here, so close to home for us, and so very far away from home for the elephants.  In an enclosure behind a completely typical weathered Maine barn and nestled between the rows of a very New England looking apple orchard.



It holds so much...possibility.


As we left the center, I glanced over into the grove of trees next to our car.  Now I was seeing the leathery weathered skin of elephant legs everywhere.


Elephants in Maine.  Asian Elephants in North American Maine.

Yet whatever the distance, the incongruities, the closer we get to these creatures, and the more we bring anything that requires human care close, the more we do this ourselves, and touch the natural world within our own spaces, in our own backyards, hopefully, the more we will want to protect them.


Both here.  And very far away.
You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.
Jane Goodall

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