Sunday, 28 February 2010

Elephant in the Room

“And remember, an elephant never forgets!” – Colonel Hathi, The Jungle Book
Elephants may be well known for their top-notch memory capacities, but what may not be as readily recognized is overall, the elephant’s personality and sociality. For centuries, the wondrous arch great, the elephant, has been looked to as the animal embodiment of human emotion, socialization, and complexity.
Elephants are an extraordinary mammal, and mirror human interaction through highly complex and cooperative social relationships, remarkable intelligence, unusually good memory for individuals and environments, communication, self-awareness and empathy with one another, especially in death situations. Similar to humans, each elephant displays a strong individual personality that affects how they interact with other elephants, how other elephants perceive them and how well they are able to influence members of their group. In other words, there are popular, well-liked, distrusted and grumpy elephants as there are likewise, the same types of people. Elephants also live in tight groups within a social structure hierarchy, much like that of humans. The foundation of elephant socialization is rooted in the family, which eats, sleeps and travels together, forming the closest-knit bond and observable by the “greeting ceremony” family members perform upon meeting, according to The hierarchy extends up to bond groups, which are groups of families that live and travel together, clans, which are elephants that share the same ecological home range.
Unique to elephant existence are their long lives, anatomically big brains and social intelligence in which they have been long considered the most socially intricate and emotionally complex non-human species in all of nature. They have been observed to anticipate the outcome of certain actions, working well in a group with minimal instruction, guarding the bones of dead loved ones, recognizing both human and elephant individuals they have been exposed to and providing comfort to stressed individuals. According to, for almost two thousand years biologists and philosophers have even viewed elephants as quasi-moral agents and many tribal communities still look to the elephant as a communicator from the gods.
In an article published in Orion Magazine titled, “Gray Thunder: Listening to Elephants,” author Cyril Christo breaks down the human/nonhuman divide by revealing some of the tales from mythic times of when humans and elephants lived symbiotically. Much of the lore of the human/elephant relationship came from the early Ndorobo tribe in Kenya and detailed the dependent nature between man and elephant. One tale recounted how the tribe received milk from an elephant cow during drought, and in turn, the elephant clan received honey from the tribe, signaling their inclusion as part of the family. Today in Kenya, the Turkana hold the elephant in high revere, believing it to be next to God and utilized as a communicator between people and God. In believing the elephant to be lord over the land, the Turkana believe that elephants sense when rains are coming, a signal of relief for the tribe that frequently experiences times of drought. The Turkana explain that when people lived in harmony with elephants, without hunting them or invading their territory, that there would always be rain. Since the decline of elephant species and the restlessness of the remaining populations, the Turkana claim to see more of elephants when rain is expected to come.
The Samburu and Maasai use the word tenebo to explain the coherence of elephant family dynamics, using elephant socialization as a model for human interrelationships, according to the Orion article. Psychologically, elephants have been observed to be nurturing, compassionate and attached to what is comfortable and familiar, according to These psychological traits have also been shown to bring out the worst in elephants. After thirty years of elephant poaching and territorial invasion, elephants have displayed the human psychological traits developed after intense stress situations. It has been determined through research and studies that remaining elephants can and have developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being pushed off their land and seeing clan members killed by hunters. Recent events have seen elephants acting out in rage, much like the irrational actions of humans, by killing villagers, raping rhinos and destroying their environment.
An elephant conservatory has been created for some of these elephants suffering from post-traumatic stress in Hohenwald, Tenn., called The Elephant Sanctuary. Founded in 1995, The Elephant Sanctuary is the U.S.’ largest natural habitat refuge developed purposefully for endangered elephants, according to The Elephant Sanctuary’s website. It operates on 2,700 acres with two main goals: to provide a haven for sick or needy elephants in a setting of green pastures and forests and to provide public education about the crisis facing these endangered elephants.
Elephants are considered a species that has evolved along with humans. After years of exploitation, and the violence displayed by elephants today, these creatures need healing and respect from those who have terrorized them. The human bond with elephants that reaches back to the beginning of time should be relied upon once again in pursuit of the discovery of who we were and are as a people.
“Today, humanity needs to reach out to elephants and hear a singular voice, a mind that has evolved with us and influenced us biologically, culturally, and mythically, for our entire evolution.” -Cyril Christo

Friday, 26 February 2010

The Sound of Silence

“Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and it’s alright.”
Paul, John, George and Ringo knew and felt the comfort that comes with the peeking sun after a thunderstorm. The rays of light breaking through a grey day. The illuminating light of that rising ball of fire. They knew that behind something as naturally functioning and routine as the rotating sun, there was this deep human connection to earth, untouched by man-made words, hands and manipulation. Anything worthy of speaking, shouting, whispering was trumped by the unspeakable feeling of comfort and hope surrounding this old as time process.

Why is it time stops with the slightest absence of sound? Why does daily routine consists of the noises of an industrial world that are never shut off, never turned down? People say they are uncomfortable with silence, that the noises of our world keep life going, but I would venture to say that silence is the solace to our souls and that we haven’t discovered its place in our lives because we have tuned or existence to the constant thrumming of technology, advancement, busyness.

Ohio University junior, Lindsey Distler said that she thinks a lack of silence in our world is a problem because it shows how industrialized we’ve become without any regard to where we came from, any backward glances to our natural world.

“I think we should set aside more land in preserving silence,” she said.
Fortunately, awareness has been raised and efforts have been made in this very area of preserving both nature and the silent beauty it provides. One organization, One Square Inch, is working for just that and igniting a passionate revolution around the country in fighting for the very few places left in our world where complete silence can be achieved without the disruption of man-made noise.

One Square Inch is not only the organization fighting for the country’s virgin forests but also the name of a particular spot in one of America’s most preserved old-growth forests, Olympic National Park. It’s here that complete silence has been found and is being actively shielded by the organizations and others who realize its value.

One Square Inch is currently the quietest place in the United States, located in the Hoh Rain Forest at the park, above Mt. Tom Creek Meadows. The spot is marked by a small red-colored stone on top of a moss-covered log and is visited by people seeking out the quiet serenity of the spot, there to work out the constant noise that drives their minds. Even more than that, visitors realize that there is something special about this place of solace- something that is rarely found in today’s world.

The area was designated on Earth Day in 2005 with the thought that in working to preserve this one place of true peace, action to preserve more quiet places will integrate with the fight for silence and for more preserved forest designations to house silent peace. The organization’s hope is that this simple method of “soundscape management” will prove to be an effective resource tool for conservation efforts. The site was chosen for its diverse natural sounds and prolonged periods of natural quiet, something that gives that particular area its transcendent quality.

“Silence is like scouring sand. When you are quiet, the silence blows against your mind and etches away everything that is soft and unimportant.”

Founder of the One Square Inch movement, Gordon Hempton, explains to writer at Orion Magazine, Kathleen Dean Moore, how to strip away the layers of life’s demands and come clean in the presence of silence- a type of natural quietness that sheds light on truth. And truth is exactly one of the reasons many hike the miles to One Square Inch- in search for a truth that’s difficult to find amidst the noise that permeates everyday life.

At the site is the Jar of Quiet Thoughts, a bank of notes that has been left by visitors. Most of the notes are written logs of quiet thoughts from each person, a product of a quiet place.

Ohio University senior, Pete Finney discusses his ideas on the importance of incorporating routine periods of silent time into daily life. He said that without spending time in solitude and being able to tune out everything in the world but your own thoughts, you begin to mistake your own thoughts and feelings for those of the world’s and begin to slowly deny your true self.

“Silence helps you to clear away the noise and discover what thoughts and feelings are truly your own,” he said.

The few places left in the world like One Square Inch become a beacon of light for not just environmental preservation but also preservation for the quality of life. If it’s these meaningful moments of silence taken in nature that reaffirm our human existence, connecting us to something bigger than ourselves, then the destruction of such areas proves to be somewhat of a crime against ourselves- our peace.

“But silence? Silence creates an opening, an absence of self, which allows the larger world to enter into our awareness. Silence is not the absence of sounds, but a way of living in the world- an intentional awareness, an expression of gratitude, to make of one’s own ears, one’s own body, a sounding board that resonates in its hollow places with the vibrations of the world.” -Kathleen Dean Moore