“It’s self-discipline,” Tuku said, in describing how music allowed him to escape his impoverished upbringing. “You are the only way out.”
In 1974 the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge was established to “to protect the delta and its diversity of fish and wildlife habitats.” It’s a beautiful and, at $3 per vehicle, inexpensive way to spend a day exploring the delta’s rich variety of animal and plant life. There are several trails traversing the refuge, including a two-mile long boardwalk with several covered viewing platforms that allow visitors to watch the tides come and go directly underneath them, along with the wildlife that follows.
Back in Chiang Mai from our stay at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, we had a little over twenty-four hours left in this wonderful city before flying out to Hong Kong for a few days on our way back to the States. Instead of returning to the U Chiang Mai hotel in the heart of Rachadamnoen Road, we opted to stay a short distance away at the Rachamankha; a beautifully appointed hotel whose well-heeled, mostly aging European, Polo shirts and sockless penny loafers guests unfortunately lacked the same style that the hotel’s décor wore in spades.
It was an interesting contrast coming off a four-hour bus ride from Sukhothai on a coach containing mostly working class Thais and soldiers on leave. The down side of the bus ride? Broken seats, no air conditioning or toilets, and zero idea if, when, or where we’d be stopping so we could use a bathroom and grab a bite to eat. “Next time we’re upgrading to the $15 bus!” I told Kim. The upside: stopping at a random roadside market where we finally were able to relieve ourselves, grabbing some random food, and enjoying an unexpectedly delicious bag of chili and sweet basil chips.
Even before the truck came to a stop we were completely surrounded. Backing up towards the start of the pathway I was worried for the worst should we unwittingly hit one of them, and I wasn’t sure what to expect once the doors opened and we stepped out. They were an anxious lot, and there was nowhere to go but straight into their ranks. Would we be greeted as friend or foe? Welcomed warmly or despised? Hoping for the best, I took a deep breath, opened the truck door and stepped out. That’s when the mob surged forward.
The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That’s the essence of inhumanity.
-George Bernard Shaw
When I came to my clothes were soiled with their dusty prints and my face wet from their insistent interrogation. But we had survived. Satisfied with our answers we were allowed on our way while they dispersed in various directions. Rossanne back up to plant herself in the middle of the roadway, Hugh to the main house, Honey and several of her young siblings accompanying us up to our cabin. We had passed the litmus test and could finally meet the elephants. The dogs of Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary considered us part of the pack.
Each morning while we were eating breakfast, Wassana, Lotus, and Pang Dow, aka the Gossip Girls, strolled past us on their way to eat the banana feast we had gathered for them earlier that morning. When these three lovely ladies get together there is much squeaking and trumpeting because, like all close girlfriends, they enjoying sharing secrets, laughing, and doing a bit of gossiping while they eat a great meal together. The only thing missing were the martinis and cosmopolitans. But life was not always so blessed for these three best friends.
The most important thing in your life is family. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.
-Carrie Bradshaw, “Sex and the City”
Many people strive to make their home a sanctuary and Katherine Connor, founder of Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, has achieved this concept both literally and figuratively. BLES is a truly beautiful and serene haven where Katherine lives on-site with her husband, one of the mahouts at BLES, and her three (soon to be four) children. But the spirit of family only begins there. All of the staff, from the mahouts to the housekeepers, along with a dozen dogs and about thirty cats, compose one large tribe whose lives revolve around eleven rescued elephants that have been given a new chapter in life free of abuse and surrounded by love and respect.
Elephants, they see you. They see everything that you don’t want anyone else to see. The things that you’re trying to hide from the rest of the world? They see that. And I think that, whether it’s subconsciously or consciously, I think we are aware that they see it. They make us feel vulnerable and that attracts us to them.
The alarm goes off at 6:30am and after another ten minutes of faux-sleeping we splash some water on our faces and brush our teeth while looking for elephants through the floor-to-ceiling glass wall of our en suite bathroom. We throw on some clothes and head out the door of our guesthouse, and as we step onto our deck we might see a dog or three that has been keeping guard overnight. If not, we will certainly be greeted by first one, then two, then ten dogs and several cats while we wait for the truck to take us on a daily 7:00am banana run. A little bleary-eyed without our morning coffee, riding in the open back of a truck in the chilly pre-dawn air will serve as a substitute wake-up call. The scenery is stunning as the mist swirls around the bright green jungle-covered hills as we drive past crops of corn, mango and papaya while at least a few dogs chase the banana truck as far as their break-of-day energy can take them.
When we return wild animals to nature, we merely return them to what is already theirs. For man cannot give wild animals freedom, they can only take it away.
You’d be hard pressed to come up with anything cuter than a baby elephant, except maybe three baby elephants! There’s been a baby boom at Elephant Nature Park in the past year and we’d been excitedly following news of the births as we were planning our trip. Female elephants are extremely family-oriented and maternal, and a new baby is cause for celebration amongst the herd. It takes a village, and the competition for senior and junior auntie positions can be fierce. There can be jealousies, one-upmanship, and unsuccessful probation periods. But eventually, a hierarchy will be established and all will do their part to nurture and protect the calf as if it were her own.
I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world.
Mae Perm quietly lifts her trunk to caress Jokia’s face. Touching the stream of tears that constantly fall from Jokia’s blind eyes she gently places her trunk in her friend’s mouth, letting Jokia taste them. It’s a small, almost imperceptible act of intimacy that would otherwise be missed if you weren’t paying attention. As I learned during our time at Elephant Nature Park and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, to understand elephants you have to move at their pace and within their framework of time. Busy yourself at the blurred speed of humankind and you’ll miss much of the beautiful gestures and language these gentle giants use.
“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.