We are watching “elephants,” true enough. But I realize, embarrassed, that I know nothing of how these beings live, of who they are. I scarcely know what it means to be “watching elephants.”
Cynthia Moss knows, because she’s been here, watching, for forty years—more time than any other human has ever watched elephants. “When you look any animals around here—lions, zebras, elephants,” Cynthia offers, “you’re seeing just two flat dimensions. But once you know them individually—their personalities, who their mother was, who their kids are—you see added dimensions.”
One elephant in a family, she explains, might seem regal, dignified. Another will seem shy, perhaps gentle. Another a bully who will be pushy to get food in sparse times. Another as “flamboyantly playful.”
I watch the elephants. Their rumbles roll through the air like approaching thunder, rallying families and friends from the hills and rivers, sending among themselves greetings and recognitions and news of where they have been.
“The realization of how complex they are took me about twenty years,” Cynthia continues. “While we were following Echo’s family—she was about forty-five years old at the time—I saw that Enid was incredibly loyal to her, Eliot was the playful one, Eudora was flaky, Edwina was unpopular, and so on. And slowly I realized that I’d begun knowing what would happen next. I was taking my cues from Echo herself. I was understanding her leadership—as her family was understanding it! It made me realize how totally super aware they are of what we’re doing.”