Come, my dear. Let us take a walk. The sun will not set for a little while, no. There will be plenty of light. And if you walk with me, you need not fear the noises in the grass nor the haunting notes of the bird calls.
Walk with me, I want you to see something.
Ah, this is a beautiful evening, isn't it, little one? The warm air just barely moving, you can feel it tickling the hairs on your skin, can't you? Just like the tops of the grasses, so long and green, waving just a bit. Oh, the grasses are so green this season. We can be grateful to the rains for the verdant colors in the grass. Feel how lovely this grass is! Roll around in it! Stomp your feet! See how it springs right back into place? Try a bit. A mouthful is moist and crisp. These grasses are good. You've not yet eaten the brown grasses of the dry season. Those bites are brittle and powdery. They aren't tasty, and you will never feel satisfied. Hunger is the constant companion of the dry season. But that is not what I wanted to show you today. Come along with me.
Ah, here come the oranges and purples of twilight. No, it is not time to turn around yet. Listen to the birds calling to one another. They are still singing their daytime songs. yes, I do notice that the birds accompany us when we walk! I think our voices and footsteps make the bugs of the earth curious, and when they pop up to see us, the birds feast! No, I do not mind when the little birds alight upon my head and shoulders. Birds are good company, sometimes it is good to have their voices in your ear. Besides, the birds can see quite far across the grasses and sands. They are excellent travelling companions.
Ah- you have found the watering hole! Did you know that your aunties and I made this place? When I was quite young, I came here with my mother and my aunties, and we played and stomped in the dirt. The mothers encouraged us to roll around and scrapple in the hollow each day and then one day we woke to a wonderful surprise! It was raining! And in the hole we'd made with our feet, the rain collected and made this lovely pool. It was a cool place for drinking and splashing and bathing in the hot sun. This watering hole made the dry season bearable. We were happy to share this place, too. The fleet brown gazelles, tan as the summer sand, would come drink here in the twilight. The long necked birds gracefully arrived. When the lions would come, though, we would allow them to have the pool all to themselves. Not one of us much liked sharing with the lions.
Do you see how the grasses are longer and greener around the edges of the watering hole? How these trees grow, spreading their branches out thickly at the edge of the water? Even in the dry season, these grasses and trees are fortified by this hole that we've made.
Come here, nearer to the trees. This is what I wanted to show you, little one. Do not be afraid.
These bones, here, are the bones of my mother, your grandmother. you may touch them. You may pick one up. Here. This was once her leg. She walked many, many lengths on this leg. It is okay. It does not hurt her for me to pick up her leg. She does not mind it. In fact, her bones have stories to tell. That is what I wanted to show you. Every time I come here, to this watering hole, I visit her bones. I pick one up, and listen to the story she wants to tell me. Today her leg bone is telling me a story about how even though she walked many lengths on this leg, and she has been bones for many seasons, these bones are still strong. I have the same bones in me, so I need not worry about growing weary on our next journey.
Yes, it is getting darker. We will turn back and return to your aunties soon, for a good sleep. But you need not fear this place! Do the bones of your grandmother frighten you? Ah- you are frightened of the other bones- those that do not belong to your grandmother?
That is true. There are other bones here. But look! They are all bones like us. What cause have you to be frightened? Do you think that we have come here to die? Do you think that we must now become bones because we have visited this place? Oh, little one. This is not true.
Your grandmother did not come here to die. Neither did any of the others here of our kind. Look around you! What have you noticed today? This is a place of life! There is a watering hole. There is lovely green grass, and strong, shady trees. There are birds, and friends. There is life here. During the dry season, you will find that sometimes life contracts to this point. Dry, summer grasses out on the plains are brittle. My grandmother did not come here to die. She came here to live. Each one here came to live, but could not. That is a cause for sadness, yes, but not for fear.
It seems that is the story grandmother's bones are telling you, little one. Seek life. Do not fear it. Do not fear death, either, as long as you are seeking life.
Author's note: An elephant's graveyard is often used in literature as a metaphor for a scary place where large things go to die. Researchers initially believed that elephants would go specifically to one place to die because often, multiple elephant skeletons were found in the same location. Now, however, researchers believe that elephants are merely traveling to the last known place of affluence.
In addition, elephants have been observed mourning a fallen elephant, standing vigil over a recently deceased elephant, or even carrying elephant bones around with their trunks.
Clearly, we have a lot to learn.
Photos taken by Deb McCaslin (my MOM) in Zimbabwe, 2011