Our safari guide spots the creature’s enormous bobbing head from a mile down the road in the heart of Kruger National Park, about four and a half hours from Johannesburg. We’re cautioned to stay seated inside the jeep at all times: an elephant is easily capable of killing a human. I have a healthy respect for nature’s awesome power, but this elephant with lined eyes, protruding slightly under their heavy lids, reminds me of a wise, old gentleman. I decide I’ll call him Walter.
Walter’s movement toward the watering hole is slow and measured, but not lumbering. As we approach, he pauses mid-step. I’m suddenly aware of the tiny beads of sweat coolly evaporating from my forehead. I suppose I expected this once-in-a-lifetime experience to involve an element of danger. I wonder whether he will freeze, or leave, or even charge at us. But Walter does none of these things. Immovably balanced on three legs, he moves his free front foot forward—ever so daintily touching the tip of his toe to the ground—then backward, then forward again, like a jaunty tap dancer’s soft-shoe, before he continues to amble along.
The guide, three other passengers, and I are so quiet that we can hear Walter’s ears, thin and frayed at the edges, beating ceaselessly like great butterfly wings. His tail is also in constant motion, instinctively shooing away pests. Walter has made it to the pool’s edge, yet he contemplates the water for several minutes before ladling some into his mouth with his dexterous trunk.
I suppose that I’m more interested in him than he is in me. Untroubled by the swarms of tiny flies, gawking onlookers, or seemingly anything at all, he parks himself sideways under the shade of a sprawling tree. But as we begin to pull away, trying frantically to snap one last photo, he gazes knowingly at me with his left eye, his ear occasionally beating across it like a blinking eyelid, spying from behind the thatched tree branches.
About the author of this post
Jennifer Roberge is a ponderer and prose-maker getting her bearings in northern Canada. Her current challenges include bringing out her inner world and confidently designing her life to meet her values. Much of Jennifer’s productivity occurs between long periods of hibernation, as a lifetime has not adapted her for Canadian winters.