There isn’t a lot known about Cindy the elephant. Born in Thailand, she was exported to the US at a young age (likely too young to be away from her mother), bought by this person and that, and eventually wound up at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, WA.
Somewhere along the way, Cindy developed a foul personality. She could be sweet and compliant with those rare keepers with whom she developed a relationship, but with everyone else, she was fractious. Roger Henneous once described her as “the most dangerous elephant in America.” She may have been born with this inclination due to birth trauma, or it may have become cemented into her personality over time based upon how she was treated.
In any case, she eventually wound up at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, WA. In an effort to work with her in a way that would keep both Cindy and her keepers safe–what is now known as Protected Contact–PDZA renovated their elephant enclosure. During that time, Cindy went to live in California at the San Diego Animal Park. Later, when they could no longer handle her and PDZA’s facility was not yet finished, she lived at the Washington Park Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo) in Portland.
Fast forward to 2022:
Encouraged by my book ELEPHANT SPEAK, my friend John Houck (former Deputy Director at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium) is penning a memoir of his life as a zoo worker (keeper, curator, deputy director). I’m lucky enough to be one of his beta readers, and his manuscript is an extremely honest look at life behind the scenes among the animals.
Recently, he sent me a couple of chapters about elephants (my beloved Hanako once lived at PDZA). Among the footnotes was this link. Lest anyone believe that elephants are merely docile “big gray dogs” (as one keeper ironically said to me), they can also be dangerous. This video of Cindy on the rampage was caught by an onlooker. WARNING to those who are easily upset: This is chilling in the extreme. (You’ll have to paste this into your browser, as I couldn’t get it to cooperate.)
And the hits keep coming.
I just received word that ELEPHANT SPEAK (and I) have been chosen by the good folks at Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, OH (http://www.loganberrybooks.com/) to participate in one of their three Author Alley gatherings in August.
August 6 highlights BIPOC authors. August 13 showcases fiction. And August 20 offers up non-fiction (that’s me) and illustrated lit. Each day runs 12pm to 4 pm and offers up to 30 different authors.
If you’re local (and even if you aren’t), I hope you’ll make a point to come out for one of those days to support Northeast Ohio authors and Loganberry Books.
After more than two years of feeling fallow, I’m beyond delighted to share the news that my short story “Nothing to be Afraid Of” has been accepted by The London Reader, http://londonreader.uk/. Publishing Date TBD, but I’ll certainly keep you posted.
I am incredibly blessed, and deeply grateful.
On June 5, I received an email from Sharon Glaeser at the Oregon Zoo. In part, she wrote:
“I have a tribute to Roger to share with you. We finally published our long-term study on our bulls … In our long list of thanks over 25+ years, Bob and I wrote this for Roger:
Heartfelt thanks to Roger Henneous, whose devotion and compassion inspired generations of elephant care professionals to observe their animals more closely, to listen and to learn from them, and advocate for them.
With my grief journey settling into simply missing and appreciating, I finally felt ready to read your remarkable biography of Roger. Boy, I laughed and cried and smiled and sighed, and many times simply held my hand to my heart. I am so grateful to you and Roger for sharing his story. What courage that took.“
The courage was all Roger’s…and I thank you, Sharon and Bob, your team of researchers, and all those who continue to advocate for elephants across the globe. Thank you for remembering him and acknowledging his contribution to the field.
Roger never tooted his own horn, and often felt he’d done too little for the elephants even when he’d done everything humanely possible. Truth is, following in the footsteps of mentor Alvin Tucker, he raised the barre of elephant care.
If he were here, I’d know he’d give out with one of those low-throat growls of his and mutter, “You all need to have your heads examined.”
A couple of weeks ago, we had several days worth of work done in our basement. This was not a project to finish the lower level into a workout area or make it cushy for television and movies, or even to set up a workshop (that’s coming in the future, although not a tricked-out variety). No, this was so water would stop coming in.
I’m not talking major flooding, but enough water to be of concern; an old issue that no former owner had addressed. And it needed addressing because that sort of thing only becomes worse over time.
This job involved jackhammering a trench inside two walls of the basement to create a drainage area into which outside water will trickle and be drawn away from the foundation. (Several rainstorms later, I’m pleased to say that it works.) The woman who lived here before us had installed a complicated water-softening system which had to be disconnected and moved away from the wall so the workers could do their thing. That my husband did…but it meant we would be without water for a few days until things could be hooked up again.
No worries. We’ve been in situations (hurricanes, nor’easters) where we’ve been without water for up to a week. We could do this. We filled big industrial-sized buckets and every jug and soup kettle we own. We were ready.
And we were. But the need to do it, the need to haul water as required, to heat it on the stove for washing dishes or washing ourselves made me thoughtful. Those of us privileged enough to have ready access to fresh water don’t often think about how blessed we are. We don’t consider what it must be like to have water in our pipes that can sicken us (think Flint, Michigan). We don’t ponder having no water in our homes at all, ever. (Having also experienced a well going dry one year, my husband and I are poignantly aware of those feelings.) We don’t contemplate having to walk miles with empty buckets to a communal well, or trickling stream, or a lake that’s drying out, and then walk home with the weight of that life-giving, life-affirming fluid dragging at our arms and shoulders.
We don’t think.
We need to think. Not just about how lucky some of us are with regards to water, but we all need to learn how to treat it with respect. How not to assume it’s ours to use as we like and for however long. To treasure each drop as precious, because it is. Water is survival. A human being can live for up to two months without food, but without water? Three days.
Think about that the next time you let the faucet run or take an overly-long shower.
I was reading the autobiography of an actor, a book I picked up for a buck at a library sale. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading to the end; even picked up a piece or two of so-called “wisdom.” But then he mentioned a quote by author E.M. Forster (Howard’s End) that sent me in search of the entire piece:
“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”
Oh my God.
Because that’s it, isn’t it? That’s what writing–what life–is all about. Only connect. Me to you. You to me. Person to person to animal to plant to friend to enemy to stranger to ocean waves. These shells in which we’re clothed, this weak matter soon gone to dust, doesn’t matter. Our differences? Those should matter only for the ways in which they draw us together, make us curious about one another, bring a moment of sharing, an instance of time when–BAM!–connection happens.
This is what I seek in my writing, the moment when a reader says YES! Yes, I understand. Yes, I’ve been there. Yes, you get me. Yes, I get you.
This is how I begin most mornings — cat, quilt, book, and cuppa.
The picture doesn’t do justice to the rag quilt, a Christmas gift made by my dear friend and heart-sister, Bev Henneous. Remind me and I’ll post a better photo, one that shows off its amazing colors and workmanship. Spreading it across my lap every morning is like receiving a hug from Bev (who gives the very best of hugs) and reminds me of sitting together on her couch in Bend, OR sharing her own version of this quilt while we talk.
Ruby, of course, thinks the quilt belongs to her, and lets me use it out of the extreme goodness of her heart, and because I (not always willingly) get up early to feed her whenever Her Majesty’s tummy feels empty.
My drink of preference is black tea, and mornings just aren’t the same without it. I prefer Yorkshire Gold, Barry’s Gold, PG Tips, or Smith’s Portland Breakfast or British Brunch. I brew it strong and add only enough milk to color it without losing the heat. I can do coffee in a pinch, but it has to be what the wife of a friend once called “Baby Coffee” – meaning, lots of milk and sugar. (Might as well be eating coffee ice cream by the time I’m done doctoring it.)
If I’m lucky, I’m left to myself that first hour of the morning. It gives me time to wake up, time to read in peace, time to order my thoughts for the day ahead. In warmer weather, I cheat Ruby of her lap-time and sit outside to watch the sun come up and listen to the birds. (We have a particularly loud cardinal who perches at the tip of the tallest tree and sings as if he’s celebrating the dawn of time.) Most days, though, I’m in the easy chair near the fireplace. We’re new to this house, so we haven’t had a fire yet, but I’m already looking forward to crisp fall mornings and shivering winter nights.
This cat, though. She’s something else. She came into our lives and took the place by storm. She’d been found on the streets of Hartford – emaciated, four legs covered in tar, with a suppurating uterus, and an immense rodent ulcer on her top lip. Go head and Google “rodent ulcer” and scroll through until you find the grossest picture you can, and that was Ruby. Those who rescued her nursed her through the worst of it, then we took over and dealt with reoccurrence until we finally beat it. (Knock wood) Then she became diabetic, which we also got her through. (Knock wood). Did you know that cats can experience a one-time reversal in diabetes? We didn’t, but that’s what the vet told us and, praise be, that’s what Ruby experienced. Since then, it’s been pretty easy sailing. (Knock wood; is three times the charm?)
The day we took her out of her carrier to meet her new canine sister, she hissed at Holly….who, being Holly and world’s most perfect dog, shrugged a “whatever” and walked away. Twelve hours later they were curled together on the couch, and remained inseparable until sweet Holly died in June 2020.
But this cat, this Ruby, this gem beyond price…she kept me going through the onset of COVID, through the loss of Holly, through the deaths of so many people we loved over the past two-plus years. She’s been a small purring bundle of love beside my head, against my back, behind my knees, in my lap, perched on the back of the couch. She’s been a constant no matter what’s been thrown at her. She is all about the love.
And, yeah, there are times (like 1 am) when she decides she’d rather have me up and about because I know how to open those flip-top cans of Fancy Feast, that I don’t particularly care for her…but then she climbs into my lap after every meal to say “Thanks, Mom” and head-butt me, and curl up in my lap to watch TV. (And she does. She loves The Great British Baking Show, and any program with animals gets her immediate attention.) And of course I cave. Who wouldn’t?
Sometimes that’s all it takes.
I have some really great friends. Two in particular come to mind, both writers, both having written fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Good people. They’ve experienced challenges in their lives, like the rest of us, but both contain a generosity of spirit that allows them to nurture someone else who’s hurting even in the midst of their own travails. They’re an inspiration to all who meet them, and if I manage to return even a bit of the kindness they’ve given me, I will do it without question or reservation.
At any rate, I’ve written here about the effect the past couple of years has had on my ability to write. A lot of people rallied round and rah-rah’d, assuring me that I’d come out of the malaise, that my words were waiting and I just needed to knuckle down and try (as though I hadn’t), but these two particular friends built a nest of eider around me; not to protect me from life’s hard knocks (nothing does that), but to give me space to hurt and mourn, because that’s what I was doing – mourning not only the loved ones lost, but the cherished occupation I could no longer access. These friends were gentle and encouraging, and when the time was right (notice of open submissions to Tupelo Quarterly) they encouraged (not nagged) and put on just the right amount of pressure.
Yes, I must have been ready for it, otherwise no amount of encouragement would have made me submit somewhere I didn’t want to, or didn’t feel I ought. And though this submission comes with a bit of uncertainty, well, hell, don’t they all? We never know when we’re going to be published. (At least most of us don’t.) So, yeah, the girl has picked up the gauntlet again…with a sense of relief I can’t quite express.
But as for these friends — John and Shifra — you’re lifesavers and I love you.
…to the staff and patrons at Estacada Library in Estacada, OR for the opportunity to be the kick-off presenter for the 2022 Adult Programming. I appreciate all who attended, eager to learn more about my friend Roger Henneous and his remarkable elephants through my book ELEPHANT SPEAK. Special thanks to Library Director Michele Kinnamon, and especially to Adult Services Librarian Leslie Pearson who first contacted me about the possibility of participating, and who then served as my contact person, as well as my Zoom Guru for the event. I could not have done it without her.
I received the following response to my post “New Year, New Attitude” from Andrea Buka:
I am coming to the same realization as you about cumulative grief. It is overwhelming sometimes.
Last week I came to the realization that I cannot abide spending a third year just waiting it out. Waiting for what? I need to find practices that are healing and counteract the grief and depression. For me this is a resolve to get more exercise and to make things. Cook again, sew again, journal again. And less time in Facebook and more in real books.
I know exactly what you mean when you talk about the dark feelings taking over. I think they sucked away the last 2 years of my life. Thank you for sharing your writing about the dark and the light. It makes me hear your voice, both when I am reading it and later on, too, when I need it.
Thank you, Drey.
It’s an unfunny reality about bad feelings that when they first begin, we often work diligently to try to dispel them. But over the long haul (at least in my experience) they can wear us down, eroding our belief in the light, battering us until, when light does emerge, we sometimes turn away from it, unwilling to believe in the reality of its existence, or that it will endure, that we can trust it. Instead, we wind ourselves deeper in darkness like burrowing beneath the bedclothes because that’s what we’ve come to know, and we hate it, but it’s now our normal and it feels safe even as it’s sucking us dry.
I can’t speak to Andrea’s experience of the past two years, but that’s where I’ve been. Initially, it was too much all at once…too many disappointments, too much loss, and too much sudden change. I’ve never been good with change. I like it (sometimes), but I prefer when it’s initiated by my own hand and comes on at a pace with which I can cope. (Good luck with that; it’s not in the nature of change to be so accommodating.)
The change that (for us in the US, at least) rumbled in the distance in 2019 and landed in our laps in 2020 was sudden and crushing. If you looked closely (assuming you could bear to), you’d find it was faceted, this weight, and each facet mirrored further change, further turmoil and loss. We cowered in our caves in fear of what was outside, because now an invisible monster stalked our streets and whispered at the window, crept in under the door, lodged beneath our fingernails. The monster kept us from those we love, from those who we offer strength, and who offer us strength in return. It cut us off at the knees. Its light illuminated our best nature (consider all those who worked to feed the destitute, and every frontline person who risked their own lives laboring to save the ill) and shone harshly on our worst. (I’m put in mind of the woman who was quoted as saying, “Why should I care about strangers?”)
I envy those who found purpose early on. At the beginning I thought Shelter in place? I’ll get so much writing done! And I did…for awhile…until one psychological blow after another shut down my resources. I felt drained of all vitality and emotionally battered, unable to persist in the exercise I knew I should do, unable to make myself sit and work, to be productive, unable to even make a dent in the stack of books beside the bed.
I’m still trying to understand that time. “That time” makes it sound as if it’s over. If only it were. But it’s ongoing…and changing, had you noticed?…but what I’m discovering with the beginning of this new year is a reemergence, in myself, of a warrior spirit. And she’s fairly well pissed off.
Not at myself. (There’s that, at least.) I can, and must, forgive my own inertia these many months. I can, and must, honor the grief I’ve experienced, the many deaths, some very personal, others those strangers that woman spoke of, because how can any Human Being not shake at their core by the knowledge of over five million deaths (and counting) across the globe. It’s like contemplating the stars; your brain can’t contain the immensity.
But now it’s time for me to move toward the light again, to find it, and to create it if I can’t find it, because I need it. Northeast Ohio, where I currently reside, is not a place renowned for sunlight in the winter. Days here (weeks on end, sometimes) are cloaked in an undifferentiated gray (what my husband’s cousin has dubbed the “Kent Cloud”) without nuance or texture. On those rare days with a peek of sunlight, I will bundle up and stalk the neighborhood, or one of the area’s many walking trails, and turn my face to the light.
Coming in late yesterday afternoon from one such walk, I stopped and marveled at a tiny speck of yellow in the grass by our front stoop. It was a dandelion; closed, yes, but only just, waiting for any brief moment of warmth, of sun, to stretch wide and reach toward the sky.