On Encountering Caged Elephants: Hope Lives Where Faith Has Fallen Away
From the Emergence Magazine Podcast
Emergence Magazine is a quarterly online publication exploring the threads connecting ecology, culture, and spirituality. As we experience the desecration of our lands and waters, the extinguishing of species, and a loss of sacred connection to the Earth, we look to emerging stories. Each issue explores a theme through innovative digital media, as well as the written and spoken word. The Emergence Magazine podcast features exclusive interviews, narrated essays, stories, and more.
For Chickasaw novelist and poet, Linda Hogan, hope lives where faith has fallen away. During an encounter with caged elephants, she experiences a wave of profound and startling love in the presence of beings so very different from—and so very like—ourselves. In her essay “Ancient Root,” Linda reflects on how these beings embody a terrestrial intelligence akin to our own.
From the episode:
I think of elephants as those with the ancient mind. They are the old root of intelligent life. Their brains are known to be more convoluted than ours, implying minds with a greater knowledge. Their animal being and presence is old and intelligent.
Some of this intelligence takes the form of love and kinship, even with other species, a care we may someday learn. They are loving with one another, and even with other animals they care for, including our own species. They have learned much more than our own systems of knowledge.
With skin old as history, these enormous creations are maps of ancient worlds and other ways, not those with boundaries drawn tight as our contemporary minds. They are not those with notions of powerful ownership and with borders such as the fences or walls that keep them from traveling to places they’ve known from the long past, locations they need for survival, locations for often-used water, food, shade, or the medicine plants they have used for centuries. All these are now in territories no longer available to them. Yet their presence is necessary in these places. In thick forests, for example, elephants create openings that allow smaller animals to find sustenance where the light has entered.
Old root of our lives, they are solid-footed, unhurried travelers with destinations recalled from their blood memory. At different times they have been on other continents in numerous forms and shapes, as mammoths, mastodons, pygmy mammoths, but always living amiably with other animals, until recent attacks by humans.
These old animals have been our teachers, with their special knowledge of land, and with the strength of compassion and the tender care they have for their young and one another. Tribal people in the past were shaped by this empathy.