I like ideas. What they can do. Anytime an idea grows into something that makes a tangible progressive impact, even if only on an individual basis, it makes me proud. From abstraction to completion. As a filmmaker, the proudest moment is when the idea leads to something that has a life of its own, that will continue after you die.
He’s an award-winning filmmaker whose documentary work has taken him to, among numerous other places, the Middle East to follow his subjects, into the Deep South to investigate Ku Klux Klan members and their involvement in decades-old racial killings, and to the outskirts of Ontario to confront suspected child murderers. His investigative work has resulted in cold-cases being reopened and murderers being convicted, and at one point put him down the road for what many thought would be a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
But when I first met David Ridgen he wasn’t chasing murderers in search of justice, he was sticking his camera into a truck full of watermelons that several of us volunteers were emptying out at an elephant sanctuary in Northern Thailand and generally getting himself in the way. A bit of posturing and a few grunts between us and I still wasn’t sure what he was up to – unless it was work on a sequel to one of the all-time great watermelon films – but over the course of the next several days we warmed to each other and spent a fair amount of time discussing conservation, motivation and, of course, gear fetishism. That is, when he wasn’t insisting that I randomly shovel dirt into a wheelbarrow for his camera as some means of replicating the wholly inaccurate notion that shoveling elephant poo is romantic. It’s not. Elephants, however, very much are.
While the details of the announcement were unsurprising, the news was still unwelcome by those who’ve been petitioning the zoo and the City of Seattle to close its elephant exhibit and retire the elephants in it to a sanctuary, and it goes against a growing body of evidence that says the earth’s largest terrestrial mammal – extremely intelligent, shown to be self-aware, and who by nature would live out their normal lives in tightly bonded matriarchal herds – fare poorly in confinement. Woodland Park Zoo’s decision to expand its elephant exhibit also contradicts a growing trend among other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Twenty-seven other zoos have already shuttered their elephant exhibits, or have plans to do so.
“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”