Posts Tagged With: The Elephant Sanctuary

Tarra & Bella: Love Conquered All

In the olden days (the 1980s to me), I imagine people played records, maybe even cassettes to fully engulf themselves in an emotion. It’s easy to entrench ourselves in despair by cueing up music, that’s universal. There are movie titles that are guaranteed to stir up the quality of weeping reserved for weddings and funerals (Beaches, Fried Green Tomatoes, Love Story). Some books can trigger laughter, but, more easily, melancholy (The Art of Racing in the Rain, Marley & Me—okay, any book about a dying dog).

Sometimes we want to find that emotional rock-bottom place, and dwell in it. We put Jann Arden on repeat and watch reliable broken-heart movies like Out of Africa or Love Affair on Christmas Day. It’s easy to encourage sadness and hopelessness. Rain helps too, a lot.

Now we can go a step further, and instigate crying jags instantaneously with the help of viral YouTube videos.  Who hasn’t found themselves in a sporadic sleep pattern, typing in the words “Christian lion reunion” or “Damian and the gorilla”? How about “orangutan & dog best friends” or “dog and dolphin”?

If you have watched any of this sob-inducing footage on repeat, surely you have also put “Tarra and Bella” on your “I feel-like-drinking-more-wine-and-having-a-good-cry” list.

Masai Mara National Park, Kenya

 The relationship between a stray dog (Bella) and an elephant (Tarra) at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee found instant fan fare on YouTube. If two species, divided by size alone, could embrace each other, what was our problem as humans?

Tarra was one of the sanctuary’s first elephants. Her devout canine sidekick, Bella, found her comfortable place in Tarra’s shadow in 2003. They were inseparable and appeared like lovers from another lifetime.

The viral video that had viewers wiping tears from their necks showed a distraught Tarra, grieving for the company of her dear dog who had suffered a spinal cord injury and was unable to walk. As Bella was recovering in the sanctuary office, Tarra kept vigil for three weeks, until her best pal was carried down to her enclosure. Tarra’s exuberant trumpet, and her trunk gingerly touching and reassuring injured Bella was heart-splitting. I have probably watched the video 30 times.

Today, my friend Karen sent a link about the tragic news of Bella. Tuesday morning Bella was missing, and sanctuary staff initiated an immediate search that continued until Wednesday.  Her body was found near a barn that Tarra and five other elephants share. The Sanctuary’s vet, Dr. Scott , determined that Bella was a victim of an animal attack, most likely coyote.

But there’s more.

Due to the extent of Bella’s injuries, staff believe it would have been impossible for Bella to be found where she was, without any evidence of struggle around the area. Tarra’s trunk had blood on the underside, which led sanctuary personnel to wonder if she had found her friend and carried her back to a safer resting place.

There are parts of the story that will never be known. Did Tarra witness the attack? Did she arrive too late and in her desperation to protect Bella, carry her from the awful scene? I can’t imagine how heavy her heart felt. The anger she would have in herself for not saving Bella. The rage she would have that a precious life and friendship could be severed so unexpectedly.

Concrete evidence exists that elephants mourn. They experience debilitating sorrow and have their own funeral rites. National Geographic has documented elephants in Kenya as they discover matriarchal bones by a water source. Silently, they created a defensive circle and then elaborately touched the surface of the sacred bones before them, every crevice and notch. They held the bones in their trunks and touched them gently with their hind feet.

Similarly, a BBC documentary showed a herd that happened upon an elephant corpse. It was as though they were paying homage to the deceased with closed eyes and complex thought. They fondled the bones in a way that indicated they were fully aware of not just life, but death.

Tarra was given the opportunity to pay her last respects to Bella, but showed little interest. This is why staff suspect that she may have already said her goodbyes, having endured the night with the knowledge that her friend had passed on to another world.

Their relationship is a confirmation that regardless of our species, we are intimately connected. It would be ignorant to think that only humans could experience the crisis and hollowness of a life lost.

Dog, elephant, man—we are sharing a fragile planet. Our relationships to and with each other define us. They evolve and present a continual opportunity to change, and be better. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, remarkable things can happen.

Bella’s life should be a reminder of just that.

Categories: Into and Out of Africa, Polyblogs in a Jar, Things with Fur and Feathers | Tags: , | 3 Comments

On the Verge

Yesterday in New York, Times Square was plugged with tourists and locals eager to put their bad memories of 2009 through the shredder at the third annual “Good Riddance Day.” There was a $250 windfall to the person with the most creative item to be shredded. Twelve-year-old Alissa Yankelevits of Los Angeles shredded the memory of her school counsellor who was featured on America’s Most Wanted and pocketed the prize money.

Age 13? Thinking I am so hip it hurts with this hair.

It will come as no surprise that I’m not the shredder-type. Those who have followed my blog have read uncensored excerpts from my pathetic teenage diary entries. Facebook friends have seen an array of very poor haircut and colour decisions, all proudly displayed in albums of self-mockery. I have all my love letters, valentines, syrupy hand-printed song lyrics and haikus since Robert LeBovic swept me off my Sperry Topsider-feet in grade seven.

For those who have seen Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the idea of housekeeping love-gone-sour memories for Clementine (Kate Winslet), was the perfect solution for erasing any glimmer of Joel (Jim Carrey). Clementine hired a New York firm, Lacuna Inc., to remove all memories of Jim and their relationship from her brain. When Joel learned what Clementine had done, he decided that this would be his salvation too. Until he realized in his unconscious state, that he wanted to hold on to the memories of her after all.

(Though the concept of “targeted memory erasure” in the film is fictitious, scientists have recently successfully erased selective memories in lab mice.)

I don’t want to shred any bit of my life. Even the sloppy barstool kisses, heartache, dying dogs, crappy haircuts and appalling fashions of yesteryear.  And on the verge of 2010, another year becomes condensed into the film footage of my life’s pivotal memories.

They say those who fail to plan, plan to fail. (Who said that anyway? Do we even know what that person’s plans were?) Well, I never planned on being in Jinja, Uganda for New Year’s 2009, sipping Amarula under a mosquito net. And I didn’t exactly plan on spending a month in the Congo with chimps swinging around my neck, but that happened too. I also wrote a book in 29 days, but that wasn’t planned either. I went to a one-day workshop with my writerly friend Johanne on “How To Write a Book in 40 Days,” and decided to test-drive the instructor’s theory. It wasn’t a plan, it was a challenge, and I started it that very night with no outline, no character sketches and absolutely no plot. And it worked—even faster than the bargained 40 days!

I didn’t plan on being back in Toronto, or quitting the best job that I ever had. But I have given up the notion of climbing the corporate ladder.  Most people have an extensible ladder. Mine seems to be collapsible. Just when I am about to take firm hold of the top step, the ladder is collapsed again. I laugh to think that I continue to make less and less money each year, despite being in the same career. Every move, I take another pay cut, but you know what? My contentedness meter seems to compensate. I spend more time volunteering than actually working, but regardless of my income, I still find myself in remarkable places, and in a niche that makes me feel alive and inspired.

But sometimes we need to hear someone else say the things we are thinking, out loud. Spoken words gain weight. A few weeks ago I was walking up to my friend Blaise’s coffee shop at Yonge and Eglinton. I poked in and out of shops along the way and bought some enormous blackberries just because I love that we can buy Peruvian fruit in December.  I ate them with gloved hands because of the biting cold and stopped in my tracks. There was a clapboard sign advertising a Psychic with an open palm and a crystal ball. I had to do it. There was no plan for that either.

I knocked on the dodgy door and stared into the house off Yonge with carpeted steps the colour of oatmeal. A woman appeared with a long braid, a gold ring on every finger, and a mystical look. I asked her how much it would cost to have my palm read. She informed me that I needed my Tarot cards and crystal ball done too—otherwise I wouldn’t know my lucky number or colour.

“How much for all that?”

“For you? Today? Right now? Eighty.”

I scrunched up my nose and asked how much for just the palm.

“You can’t do just the palm. But for you? Today? All three for forty dollars.”

I went for it.

That very morning I had seen my dermatologist who kindly told me, that as long as I continued to massage, I would always itch. Somehow I had become allergic to my profession, intolerant due to overexposure to massage oil . It now makes me feel like I am full of poison ivy. Part of me wondered if the psychic lady would know what was next for me.

I pulled off my winter layers and joined her at the kitchen table with her stack of cards and crystal ball. She asked me to make a fist and hold it tight, then release. She examined my palms and asked why I didn’t have a dog, because I loved dogs. She asked me why I was no longer painting, because I loved that too. (Had she been talking to my mother?) “All your talent is in your hands. You work with them a lot. And you write, don’t you? You will soon be doing this more.”

She told me to close my eyes and ask a question. I didn’t know if the question was supposed to be out repeated out loud or not, so I asked her, hoping it wouldn’t interfere with my crystal ball or karma. “Yes, ask it out loud.”  Then I was to wish for something, but not say it out loud. Lastly, I could ask her anything I wanted. “Everyone asks about Love, honey, you can too.”

With a furrowed brow, she told me that I would win a prize, not of monetary value, but of something related to my writing. I would travel overseas. I would go to Montreal. I would have another short trip. I would win a small amount of money (I checked a lotto ticket my client tipped me with after my visit with her and won $20).

“I see you in your current career for maybe six more months, but no longer.” And I’m supposed to surround myself with red. When I pressed her for more information on my career direction she asked if I would like her to meditate for me that night.

“For $40 I will meditate for you each night of this week. You will sleep better.” I informed her that I slept like a dead pig and she sighed. “You need this. Let me meditate for you. You worry a lot.” When I refused, the marketer in her overpowered the mystical and her earlier friendliness turned curt.

But I left with a busy head. There’s a sanctuary in Montreal for HIV-positive chimpanzees. I thought of overseas locations. Why didn’t she see Africa? Why in the world did she see one to two children in my future? I actually asked her for clarification to make sure they weren’t dogs. “No children. And you won’t marry. You’re very independent. VERY independent. But, your soul mate is in your world right now. You have met. It will unfold.”

Murchison Falls, Uganda

At Christmas my aunt Jackie started reading me too, while we ate pistachios and thumbprint shortbread. She saw me with a copper-skinned woman who I knew from another life. Somebody with zest who sees the texture in everything. She saw me painting again too. But I needed to surround myself with royal blue. And this copper-skinned woman had a pet elephant in her previous life. Jackie was surprised that she kept seeing elephants, which led me to believe that 2010 will find me at the elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

A month ago a massage client told me my answers were in Peru and Guatemala. I was thinking more along the lines of Portugal and Venezuela, maybe Zambia, but– I would certainly be willing to go in search of these answers.

Mila--World's Greatest Dog, died August 2009

What I do know for sure is that all our memories and changing directions are vital shape-shifters to our very being. And when I remember 2009, Mila will be there wagging her tail. I will see fragile Ikia, the chimp we couldn’t save due to governmental red tape in the Congo. It will be the uncertainty of another move across the country and readjusting to a new skin. I’ll revisit a random road trip to Nashville, time in the mountains with my sister, a lapsed love, a new army of friends and the familiarity of change.

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” –Anatole France

I’m excited for 2010. I hope you are exactly where you want to be—or on your journey there.

Trailer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

The Elephant sanctuary:

For Mila, The Very Best Dog in the World post:

Categories: Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

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