“We always burned out land late in winter as all smaller life forms were hibernating and thus safe underground. Burns are done in selected blocks usually defined by roads and rivers which act as natural firebreaks. They are called controlled burns, which is a misnomer for I’ve yet to see a fire that could safely be labeled ‘controlled’…Dead growth is burnt off and the land is reborn as green shoots take root among the fertile ashes.”
“I had at last grasped that the essence of communicating with any animal, from a pet dog to a wild elephant, is not so much the reach as the acknowledgement. It’s the acknowledgement that does it. In the animal kingdom communication is a two-way flow, just as it is everywhere else. If you are not signaling to them that their communication has arrived with you then there can be no communication.”
“Every wild thing is in tune with its surroundings, awake to its fate and in absolute harmony with the planet. Their attention is focused totally outwards. Humans, on the other hand, tend to focus introspectively on their own lives too often, brooding and magnifying problems that the animal kingdom would not waste a millisecond of energy upon. To most people, the magnificent order of the natural world where life and death actually mean something has become unrecognizable.”
“But perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.”
-Lawrence Anthony – The Elephant Whisperer
Returning to South Africa for the first time in four years on Friday, and in reading the Elephant Whisperer this past week I’ve been inspired by Anthony’s fight for conservation and peaceful coexistence with all creatures great and small, very often in the face of immediate and fatal danger. I never thought I would return, to any of the many places I’ve traveled, but SA’s drawn me back to reintegrate with a culture and history that since my first introduction have absolutely amazed me in it’s ability to create ashes and then fight to find stable ground on top of them. A beautiful metaphor for a place where land reform and ownership has plagued its history and its people from initial colonization to present day. Beginning with the mining for resources, the subsequent Boer Wars and more recently the land redistribution following the end of apartheid in 1994; all circumstances that constantly force people to reforge futures after what was previously theirs has fallen prey to a scorched earth policy. This adds insight to Anthony’s statement and this post’s title; “In Africa today elephants are simply competitors in the race for the land.” Coming from a true conservationist this is case for far too many creatures whose habitats now fall prey to a more subtle scorching of the earth we’ve enacted for our own comfort (not need) and privilege. For endless resources and the ability to toss them aside when we’re done without concern for where they come from or where our waste will go. All for our own sake, without regard for all that might reside or rely upon what we want; “They are called controlled burns, which is a misnomer for I’ve yet to see a fire that could safely be labeled ‘controlled.’”
How often do we find the ashes in our lives fertile, do we too frequently want to cast them aside in hope of finding greener pastures elsewhere? Or just disown them completely? In the animal kingdom not only the potentiality of greener pastures in these ashes is obvious but that which they can immediately provide in nutrients is too. Animals can be seen feasting on ashes after a burn. When and how can we feast on the ashes in our lives and find or create small stepping stones out of our missteps.
In contrast to my Life Unexamined post, Lawrence and his herd of elephants are a reminder of the balance we must strike between internal and external focus. For when we bring our attention inward we cannot bring in unnecessary stresses that then do psychological damage when overly dwelt upon. Some level of attention must be focused outward assessing what threats actually need to be addressed from a true understanding of the context within which we reside. The elephants, Anthony finds have a very specifically sensed and measurable boundary surrounding them (outside of which all will be ignored and inside of which all will be charged) are experts at strictly setting this boundary and acting upon it. The concept of which is now a beautiful precursor for the post I will be working on in my time away on homeostasis, the natural boundary and balance between external and internal forces.