Footnote: Awe and humility, interspecies relationship – big brain v. big body.
It is impossible for me to feel confident in the world these days. The natural disasters alone will set most any thinking person on edge. Add the political instability, of which the US president is a primary source, the ongoing racial, religious, and economic development conflicts, renewed nuclear threats, the mass destruction of the remaining wild places, unprecedented extinctions, the demise of clean water, climate change, and the pillaging of natural resources in places that were thought inviolable and there is enough to stop your heart from beating.
We have big brains. How can we be so utterly ignorant and stupid?
I have a sense of how insignificant I am in the grand scheme of things. I am but one person. If I don’t answer “urgent” phone calls, emails, or texts, emergencies will be resolved, decisions will be made, and the world will go on. No matter how famous, infamous, rich, or important I may become, all trace of me (except my plastic legacy) will disappear in the blink of a geologic eye. In totality, and geologically, human beings are not of much greater significance.
We evolved big brains that allowed us to domesticate plants and animals for food, turn metal into tools, create art and music, and to send men to the moon. If we are not going to use our brains for the collective good of the human population – not to mention the Earth as our only sustaining home – then I can only hope that the whole of humanity is found to be evolutionarily insignificant and passes the way of the dodo. Which, not incidentally, was wiped out by humans.
I took this photo to record the awe and humility I felt simply stepping into an elephant’s footprint in its native African home. If we cannot appreciate the magnificence of the world around us and rally our collective intellect to better sustain us and the resources we depend upon, we deserve to be nothing more than an archeological footnote to a more evolved species of the future. Perhaps something with a big body rather than a big brain. I hope it’s the elephants.
Happy Winter Solstice!
All the best and brightest for 2017!
Spring trees after morning rain. Beartown State Forest, Massachusetts
Yampa River valley, cottonwoods, snow, and afternoon light. Colorado
Fern aliens. How can so many shades of green live in one place? Mount Baker, Washington
Sea alien – A.K.A. anemone. Deception Pass State Park, Washington
Paintbrush in lichen-laden sagebrush. Steens Mountain, Oregon
The road through Candy Land
Fall color against red rock. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Super moon set. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Kalahari Milky Way. Botswana
Zebra-belly nap face. Moremi National Park, Botswana
Personal grooming is important in maintaining superiority.
Elephant knees and toenails and a little one tucked under the trunk. Chobe, Botswana
Lilac-breasted roller. Moremi National Park, Botswana
Paradise Found, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Emerald-spotted wood dove, Moremi National Park, Botswana
Whoa, amazing butt balance.
midnight stars, Maun, Botswana
Stealthy elephants. Note elephant number five cleverly disguised as a tree. Moremi National Park, Botswana
Our lives are full of noise. Endless beeps, twitters, and rings. Traffic, jets, refrigerators, air conditioners. Ubiquitous cell phones, microwaves, TVs, and tablets. Each pinging, humming, and demanding attention. Gratuitous noise, the tv or radio turned on and then ignored, or worse, talked over loudly, has long been a pet peeve. Car keys left in the ignition, leaf blowers (^%*^%$$ leaf blowers), car alarms (see leaf blowers), and every cell phone/ATM/POS card reader with keyboards that indicate, by sound, every letter entered.
For some, like me, it’s exhausting. Our brains process all that noise, whether we actively recognize and acknowledge it or not. We filter out the sounds that are unimportant, we acknowledge those that have an impact on us, we scan for those we are expecting, and more importantly, for those that threaten us. This is the natural process of evolution. Hearing allows us to tune into the world, to alert us to danger and opportunity, alike. Modern humans have piled on so many extra layers of noise that we barely hear what is necessary anymore.
Enter, the elephants. Elephants are bigger than your imagination can conjure. They eat plants, roots, branches, leaves, and stems. Their dexterity, for not having an opposable thumb, is remarkable, but still, tearing limbs off of trees and roots out of the ground is not a quiet pursuit. Elephants, like humans, leave an impressive imprint wherever they go. And yet, if they were not pulling branches from a tree, you might not know they were there.
They are silent. They walk without noise. They move through thick brush and low trees silently. An entire herd of elephants can sneak up on you. They materialize out of the shrubs one by one as if they are vapor suddenly swirling together to create a house-sized, gray phantom. And then they swirl away again back into the trees, one by one out of sight.
Scanning either side of a road, while politely waiting as an elephant crosses, there are no more to be seen in the brush. Searching low for legs and trunks and high for ears and backs, there is nothing but brush. Before the first one is across, though, there is another, fresh out of the shrubs. You look again. Nope, definitely no more hiding in there. A big female with a calf comes strolling through; a couple of teenagers horsing around follow her. Now you’re sure that’s the last of them… What at first appears to be a lone animal turns into an entire family group taking shape out of the bush and dissolving back into it.
They rumble. You have to be close to hear the bass, almost cat-like purr, more felt deep in your chest than heard; it does not travel far. Elephants also use infrasound, below our audible hearing range, to communicate across long distances.
I wonder, is their world as noisy as ours?
Do they say, among themselves, “The impalas are sooooo loud!” Or, “I hope the hippos keep it down tonight.” “There go the hyenas again. They always go blaring off when someone walks by.”
Are there teenage elephant infrasound parties that keep the whole neighborhood awake? Do they make infrasound noise just because it brings them joy? Or do they remain silent in their elephant way, only rumbling and speaking when necessary? Is the baseline noise of the savannah exhausting enough that they choose silence?
In what is perhaps a romantic view, I see elephants as intelligent and humble, rumbling when content, and otherwise staying quiet simply because they are listening. Because adding their voices to the cacophony isn’t necessary, because there is more to learn from mostly remaining silent. I could learn a lot from elephants. Rumble more.
A different kind of snake in the grass. Okavango Delta, Botswana
Come on, Baby. You knows I love you. Moremi National Park, Botswana
Kudu, who do? Moremi National Park, Botswana