When I was a kid and trotted down the road with my sister for Zoo Days! Joy the Elephant was always there, taking account of the kids hanging over the fence that kept her in and kept us, presumably, out. This one might turn out alright, she could have told us if we looked closely enough. This one, hard to say. That one, the one with the ridiculous look on her face and some fool name like McCullough on her nametag, oh brother. You don’t even want to know.
She looked tired. At some point in the history of the Zoo, they switched from giving kids peanuts to feed Joy to handing over some kind of cardboard cracker jack for elephants that no kid in his or her right mind would consider woofing down, even to avoid the ham and cheese all of us had melting into the depths of our Zoo Days! bookbags.
At the time, the meal plan seemed reason enough for Joy’s distant eyes.
Now that the black-market for ivory is picking up, the facts of the elephant are coming into the spotlight—a dim one, a wavering one, but a light nonetheless. What with being the largest land-bound animal alive, elephants are the last breath of their order Proboscidea, a gathering that used to include the likes of mastodons and mammoths that you might have heard about and things like stegadons and Welded Beasts that I certainly haven’t. Out in the savannas and the Sahara, they flap their massive ears to release heat from the thousands of blood vessels making maps out of their ears, crossing here, paralleling there, perhaps tracing the lines they have walked in their lives if we could read them. As the only one of us here on earth that can boast such a trunk, they use it to bench press almost eight hundred pounds, snorkel and hold hands.
When their loved ones die, elephants often refuse to leave the body for days. Calves nudge their dead mothers as if to wake them into laying their trunks across their shoulders once more; mothers stand watch over their dead young as if this will bring their babies back to be that which needs looking after.
Water leaks from their eyes, and some human onlookers risk calling these tears. Others say we ought not anthropomorphize.
Joy died a month ago in transit from the zoo back home to a zoo in Colorado, where she was being taken to join a cohort of female elephants that her keepers hoped could help her recover after her friend, Ladybird, died at the zoo I grew up going to. Reports have it that after Ladybird died, Joy piled all of Ladybird’s toys in a corner and stood watch over them and did not look into the eyes of the children holding that cardboard across the fence anymore.
The name of this blog came from the cartoon, Elephant Souls, that I drew after hearing about Joy's loss and remembering a loss of my own.
As for the blog itself, it's about searching for souls the size of elephants.