If you think there is nothing more frightening than coming within inches of a lion in the wilds of Africa, you have not encountered a frisky bull elephant looking for love in all the wrong places.
It was our sixth safari outing so we believed we had seen it all. My husband, John, and I were feeling comfortable nestled in our vehicle, feasting our eyes upon the beauty of the land and all of its animal inhabitants. With each subsequent leopard and lion sighting, the adrenaline eased a notch or two and we lost ourselves in the unfolding drama of survival that enveloped us.
This ease evaporated with a shock the moment we took an unexpected turn and found ourselves confronted by a towering mass of tusks and tree-trunk limbs. This bull elephant was looking for a love connection and we were not it. He redirected his amped-up mating energy towards us in the form of using us for entertainment.
Up to this point I found our elephant sightings to be equal parts fascination and tranquility-filled. Other than the occasional burst of defiance from a youngster attempting to assert their ‘dominance’ over our Land Rover, elephants kept to themselves meandering at a pace that would make a snail puff up with pride. Their deliberate movements made everything they did seem transcendent. Watching something as simple as a lift of a trunk slicing towards a leafy branch could make your breath slow as it pointed your heart towards remembering all action is meaningful if you pace it right and pay attention.
I came to know these elegantly lumbering beasts as my wisest and most true mindfulness teachers. So, to be squared off with an apparently aggressive, agitated male, my brain short-circuited in fear.
Per my usual coping ritual, I turned my attention to our tracker, Rob, and our ranger, Bruce. Observing them helped me know if the danger levels I felt were real or imagined. Rob, being on the trackers seat, may have been understandably nervous. I felt this and I respected his possible nerves. Bruce stayed calm. His steady voice called out, cutting through the air, commanding the bull’s attention.
This elephant was apparently not in the mood to listen.
The bull started to dance. One step forward, two steps back, grunting in disgust, taunting us with his size. He turned and almost brushed the back of our truck. Thankfully, John and I were towards the front, but one of our unfortunate, lone safari-mates sat hovering in that elevated third row. He leaned forward with eyes that grew to the size of dinner plates as the elephant rumbled past us.
The bull decided he was not done playing yet. He showered us with kicked up dirt. Throughout this experience, John kept encouraging me to take photos, but my arms remained locked at my sides. John managed some shots with his phone, but fear made my camera too heavy to lift.
An instant before the elephant lost interest in us, my arms and hands began to respond to my wilful intention to get a photograph. This was the only photo I was able to snap.
As the bull started to back away from us, Bruce expertly and with great care, navigated us to a safe distance.
Collectively, it took a good while until our heart rates and breathing returned to normal. We all chattered in excitement, processing through the experience. The high lasted for hours and if I am being honest, still touches my heart every time my memory revisits it.
For fear is the price of adventure.
Courage is what allows you to persevere, and if you are lucky like we were, leaves you with long-lingering exhilaration and maybe a photo or two…