Creative Wordshops December 2017 Writing Newsletter

STOP PRESS (see what’s on) Pringle Bay: Elephant remembers a journal retreat Sun 19 Nov The Rough Writing Road A 16 week self-directed Online Journaling Course Zen Pen Temenos 23-26 Feb 2018

Dear writer, storyteller, reader, traveller, lover of words, images, silences…

Elephant Remembers And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail, but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park, (William Stafford ) Elephants capture our imagination – their habits, dimension, being, their matriarchal society. Female elephants communicate in some forty ways within their herd, as well as with fellow elephants in a larger radius.(Ian McCullum, Ecological Intelligence) An elephant evokes memory too. Elephants feature in many tales and folkore. In India Ganesh the elephant god, befriends scribes and writers and removes obstacles.

In an oft-told story, six blind men argue about what an elephant is like, for each has touched a different part of the creature – tusk, trunk, ear, side, foot, tail. When I worked for Gondwana Collection in Nambia, we reworked a legend. Here is an abbreviated version of The Generous Elephant.

Long ago when the Earth was young, and the breath of creation had not yet cooled the animals ate each other, devouring flesh and scattering bones. Soon there would be no animals left.

One morning, after a night of hunting, they gathered. Elephant, gazing over the hills into the far valleys, came up with a plan. ‘When I am dead I will be a mighty spirit. My legs and trunk will become trees, my tail the branches, my tusks the roots. My ears and tendons will become plants that will spread across the earth to grow melons and wild cucumbers. My hide will become grass.’

After Snake had bitten Elephant, her promise came true. Some animals ate the fruit, leaves and grass while others still preyed on other animals. And so our world was shaped. Each living thing depended on the other and co-existed in harmony and balance. (based on ‘Versamelde Boesmanstories, GR von Wielligh, 1922) Other cultures tell similar stories.

In one Elephant helps a starving tribe in a hostile environment. Elephant, lifting up trunk, points the way to a crystal lake with lilies and lotuses near the mountainside. “Once you reach the lake and slake your thirst , near the mountain, you will find the body of a dead elephant. Take the flesh as nourishment and use entrails as waterbags.’ They do so and find it is the same elephant. The story work also involved a trip into Etosha to observe how a game guide told stories.We parked near an elephant. He told us how much an elephant eats and how much it weighs. I don’t remember. He the told us ‘You get white elephants. He laughed at our quizzical looks and responded ‘in the dry season the elephant sprays the white Etosha dust onto its body.’ Then he added “Grass grows on the back of an elephant. It sprays mud from the waterhole onto its back, the mud dries and grass grows.’ (We remember stories rather than facts)

Recently I read two novels both featuring the trunked pachyderm, both set in the 1500’s, both bouncing off history. Here is an extract from The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago, Portuguese Nobel prize winner: It is said, once Tolstoy had said it first, that all happy families are alike… It would seem that the same is true of happy elephants. One need look no further than Suleiman. During the two weeks he spent in Bressanone, he rested, slept, ate and drank his fill, until he could eat no more, demolishing something like four tons of forage and drinking about three thousand litres of water, thus making up for the many enforced slimming regimes imposed on him during his long journey through the lands of Portugal, Spain and Italy, when it wasn’t always possible to replenish his larder on a regular basis.

Dec 2017 letter