Driving An Elephant.
This is the story of how I drove an elephant, albeit for a few steps. One day, long ago somewhere in the American Midwest, the carnival came to town. It was a small town and it was a small carnival, but this carnival had ELEPHANTS! Not just one elephant for display, but a small herd of them, probably the owner’s cherished pets as they seemed contented if a little bored. I paid my fare for an elephant ride, and climbed the mounting platform which was much, much higher than that for horses. The mahout packed four of us into the dingy red and yellow ride box that was strapped up on the beast’s back. I noticed that it had only a tattered saddle pad to cushion the box, and I wondered if it hurt the elephant. I went in first, gingerly trying not to rock the little wooden ride box and sat cross-legged in the center. Without asking my leave, the mahout manhandled me to the top of the box until I was hanging just above the elephant’s head. While he packed in the other riders, I gingerly put my legs out of the box to make room for them. My feet touched the top of the elephant’s head. The animal did not smell, or if it did smell it was the agreeable fragrance of a hairless horse. I was simultaneously terrified and enchanted. I wanted to know more, much more about this elephant. As soon as we were all packed into the ride box, cheek to cheek so to speak, the mahout began leading the beast around a circular track. I knew that the ride would be five minutes at best and that everything I wanted to learn about elephants must be done immediately. I leaned over the ride box railing and touched the elephant’s head. It stopped. The mahout called it forward. I had noticed the elephant’s head was very coarse, deeply wrinkled, in fact my hand could push down into the elephant’s head for several inches. I wondered what the elephant thought about that, about me. I pushed left, did the elephant move left? I pushed right, did the elephant move right? It definitely felt my probings. The elephant’s massive trunk moved back and forth, up toward me, then found me. It delicately touched along my hand, sniffing humidly at my scent, trying to sense who was this small creature on its back that poked into its head? Then the mahout caught wind of our precious little interaction, and re-commanded his elephant to walk straight on the narrow track. He told me to stop pushing the elephant or he, or possibly the elephant, would throw me off the ride. I was duly chastened.
Elephant On The Loose.
An elephant has a rack gait, meaning that the two feet on one side of the body move together, then the two feet on the other side of the body move together, with two feet remaining on the ground at all times to support its impressive weight, and giving the beast a rolling, rocking stride. One would not want to be in the way of a rampaging elephant because it could not stop quickly, even if it wanted to. After my first, and only ever, elephant ride I took a walk toward a quieter edge of the carnival to savor and calm my overly excited feelings; and I found a temporary pen that had been set up to pasture baby and yearling elephants. Lucky, lucky me! Still charged with adrenaline, I ran a few steps toward a darling baby elephant. It was not much taller than I. It whirled in my direction with the speed and grace of a healthy, young animal and quick-walked to meet me, as if there were no fence. I was startled but delighted. I trotted right up to it, waving my arm like a trunk in front of my face in greeting. When we met at the fence, we turned and ran together along it. A carny roustabout saw the baby elephant runaway, and called out an alarm, “Elephant on the loose.” Then seeing me running with the little beast, he called out again, “Human on the loose.”, with laughter in his voice because he realized we were not running riot, just running for the fun of running together. All too soon we reached the end of the fencing, ending our public display of exuberance.
Elephant Runs Amuck.
On my way out of the carnival, I swung by the circular track for one last look at the elephant I had ridden-driven. I settled on the grass under huge elm trees on the side across from the mounting platform. The mature elephant stood twelve feet high at the shoulder, with its massive head looming well above that. It probably weighed ten thousand pounds, equivalent to about three cars. As riders were disembarking from the ride box, I had time to look around and I realized that the circular track was actually a large pony ring, with waist-high, vintage fencing. It was a very pretty setting, probably the venue for many years of picnics and social gatherings of all sorts. Then I realized that the elephant had left its “station” without its passengers, the little ride box swayed empty as the elephant strode purposefully on its own around the circular track. As it rounded back by the mounting platform, the mahout called and motioned to it. The elephant majestically, dangerously ignored him. I and everyone else in the area were immediately on our feet, struck dumb by the spectacle. We followed the lead of the mahout, who stepped back from the track and pretended to relax in an exaggerated manner. Independently, on the second loop around, and the next, and the next, the elephant seemed to undergo a silent, self-controlled berserk. I have never seen an elephant run amuck before, and I was mesmerized in place. Then as quickly as it started, the beast calmed down and stopped near the mounting platform. The mahout collected control of it, and took it away to shelter from further excitement.
Not until decades later, did it occur to me that the adult elephant was tall enough that it might have see me running with the baby elephant on the other side of the carnival, and become agitated, and expended its frustration in a race with itself around the track. If so, I repent of it, especially as I love them so. I meant no harm.
Caption: We Dare To Dream Of Elephants Sharing The World Together Happily,
by Annmarie Throckmorton, 2015.
This was my donation to The Nature Conservatory’s elephant protection project.
Annmarie (left) and Maureen (right)