I flew to India on New Year's Eve, 2000. My purpose was to study Alternative Healing Methods as practiced by a physician in the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry. (The story of how that even came about is worth a novel.)
I spent nearly a month in the ashram. And through the people and the city of Pondicherry, I fell in love with India.
That is where I met Lakshmi. She dutifully stood outside one of the many temples and for a few rupees, she would bless you with her trunk. I'm pretty sure her presence was to generate the "giving" by pilgrims and tourists. I didn't care...I could have stood for hours handing Lakshmi my rupees.
The tip of her soft trunk would deftly pluck the rupees from the palm of my hand - just as if it were fingers. After swinging her trunk behind her to deposit the money into a pot, she would place her trunk on the top of my head. And, if I didn't bow my head quickly enough, her trunk would whisp across my face. Did you know that elephants have short, bristly hairs? Yes, they do.
She looked into my eyes and I looked back into hers.
I saw it.
I felt it.
I was looking into the eyes of another sentient being.
The people I worked with at the ashram laughed at me. "Haven't you ever seen an elephant?" they asked. "Not walking down the middle of the street", I replied.
When is a coincidence only a coincidence?
My recent weeks have been filled with coincidences about...elephants.
I don't know about you, but I figure if something shows up repeatedly in a very short period of time...maybe I should be curious.
There might be a message for me... (Hello, Amy Shumer and "The Universe"!)
First, one of my photography mastermind colleagues shared a photo of an orphaned baby elephant being cared for by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. You may have seen their work highlighted on 60 Minutes. Several of us verbalized our dreams of serving as photographers documenting the work done by Elephant and Wildlife Reserves.
Then, while driving about, I listened as Terry Gross of Fresh Air interviewed an investigator/author from National Geographic. His heart-breaking report was about how the trade in ivory is being perpetrated to support terrorism in Africa. You can find his article online and the print copy of National Geographic will go on sale at the end of this month. You can also watch the documentary "The Warlords of Ivory" here.
And this past Monday, in a "you-can't-make-this-stuff-up" moment, I clicked into Krista Tippet's podcast, On Being. It was a repeat interview with Katy Payne, the biologist who learned whales sing and elephants communicate in infrasonic frequencies. (Also on 60 Minutes)
Listening to the interview with Payne was especially painful after having heard the National Geographic Report.
Art and Photography?
What can I do...outside of traveling to Africa to work at the Sheldrake Wildlife Trust?
What can I do to support the efforts to save elephants with my art and photography?
Holding the Bones
I have started a personal photography project, "Holding the Bones".
In this project, I am interviewing & photographing women over the age of 60 - asking them to share one piece of wisdom they have earned over the years. (If you've lived 60 years or more, you have earned your wisdom!)
It occurred to me there are parallels between an elephant community and the community of mature, wise women. The elders in both communities hold the knowledge of how to survive, they hold the memories of the best paths, they hold the importance of relationships. Their knowledge comes from long, lived histories.
And while elephants are hunted, mature wise women are often invisible to those in their own families, neighborhoods and societies. Neither may be seen for the value they bring to their communities, or to the world.
The loss of the elder (elephant or human) and the wisdom she holds is a detriment to the heart and soul of the community. The loss of the elder is the loss of that very energy and wisdom that elevates the level of consciousness in a community. The loss of the elder begets younger generations that must "start from scratch" or "flounder" while trying to navigate new roads and new experiences.
I have decided that a percentage of the profit from the "Holding the Bones" project will be donated to certified elephant reserves.
I know it is only a small drop in the proverbial bucket - but at this moment - this is what I have to give.
And may my drop be fruitful.
I will close on that note for this week.
More information about "Holding the Bones" will be presented next week. I invite you to stay tuned for the project.
Expect the best. Anything else is an adventure.
I look forward to your questions and comments. And, please share on your social media.