This is Haki. He was a gift that arrived one Christmas twenty-five years ago. Since then, he has lived everywhere I have. From time to time, I rub him down with ointment (he is covered in thick leather) to keep him shiny and soft. He is sturdy, weighing about 40 lbs. He can deal with toddlers to five-year-olds with no problem. He was a gift from my wife, who knew of my abiding affection for elephants.
I have no idea why I have a particular affection for elephants, or for that matter, wolves, dolphins, owls, otters, and lately, honeybees. Maybe wolves entered the picture because of a book I owned at age 13 that followed a wolf pack for years. Otters are cute, but so are the chipmunks that live under the tree trunk in the backyard, but I have no special affection for chipmunks. Owls are a long-held affection, so I am very pleased that a barred owl took up residence in the 60-foot tall pecan tree that used to be in my neighbor’s yard. Although the tree is gone, I still hear the owl just as night is settling in and the moon is high enough to see over the houses.
Dolphins seem obvious, but why not whales? No idea. Honey bees are new. Having made peace with bees, it’s clear honey bees are good neighbors and not the least bit mean. Plus, honey! I marvel over the swarm that appears in the salvia each summer. I make sure that water is near should they (and other bees) need a drink.
I once rode an elephant at the Ohio State Fair, a favorite place to visit since fourth grade. However the elephant ride happened much later, in my 40s, with my daughter, who was five or six at the time. It was an odd experience; the elephant was so solid and sturdy. It felt as if the earth were moving–slowly, almost imperceptibly—much less jarring than a horse. I doubt I will ever want to ride an elephant again unless, of course, one invites me. A few times in the 1990s, our family visited the San Diego Zoo, and I took plenty of pictures with the elephants. I’m standing there with my daughter, HUGE smiles on both our faces.
Recently, I briefly considered visiting the Atlanta Zoo for a similar photo-op, but decided I did not wish to see the elephants being held there. Although I have visited many zoos, increasingly, I find they disquiet me—a change for which I both blame and thank BBC animal documentaries. Elephants should stay with their families so they can wander about the land and have reunions.
I have always appreciated the diversity and beauty of life, human and otherwise. As I get older, my awe and appreciation of life continues to deepen. Even so, the animals on my list elicit an additional measure of affection. Why? I neither know nor care. But elephants stand apart. In my eyes, elephants are people too.