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Close Encounters of the Big Gray Kind

(Page 2 of 2)

We wound our way back through the forest. The stress of knowing that stealth elephants were all around was wearing on me. I heard distant trumpeting and mentally noted all potential elephant-protection trees. Uh-oh. We were coming to the river. No trees here; it's all sand and mud. No trees here. No....

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Lost in my thoughts, I bumped smack into Rick. Up ahead, Julien and Modigbe had halted the procession and were motioning for us to wait.

Rick craned his neck to see and whispered the dreaded "E" word: "Elephants!"

I clung to his back.

"There are two bull elephants drinking at the river. This will be a really good opportunity for you to see that they're more afraid of us than we are of them. As soon as they catch our scent they'll take off. You'll see. Any second....

When they did not tremble and flee, Rick assured me that it was because we were downwind. They couldn't smell us.

"As soon as they know we're here, they'll take off. Any second now. Any second...."

Up ahead, Julien was clapping his hands and yelling "Allez! Allez!" as if he were shooing flies off potato salad rather than addressing four-ton mega-mammals.

"... Any second.... " Rick intoned.

The large ones were not impressed.

"... Aaaannny second...."

Several things happened at once: The ground shook, the air split with a terrible trumpeting, and 14 kids with eyes as big as Ferris wheels came streaking by me in a blur, bare feet kicking up mud as they stampeded by and disappeared into the forest. A mountainous gray mass was thundering toward us flapping its ears, waving its trunk, and making an alarming hullabaloo. A cold rush of adrenaline surged through me, and my legs took off in a spring, but it was like a bad dream. Rick had grabbed the collar of my shirt and was holding me back; I looked like a cartoon character starting to run - a lot of foot action but no speed.

SUDDENLY, everything was quiet. The bulls mumbled a few parting snorts and ambled off into the trees. Somewhere through the din in my eardrums I heard fragments of Rick's voice:

"... Told you ... more afraid of you ... proud of you ... didn't run...."

Didn't run? No thanks to you! I thought.

I watched the amazing vanishing boys rematerialize, the same kids who had lectured me on "our friends, the elephants." Straggling back from all directions, they chided their friends for being afraid, for making them run. By the time we started moving again, they were full of bravado, miming fantasies of the next encounter when they would stand their ground and intimidate the elephant to retreat.

Numbly I mucked through the swamp, waded across the river, and stumbled back through the last bit of forest. The boys were completely recovered, and even though I didn't understand their language, their swaggering steps and blustering tone spoke volumes.

On the way home, Rick allowed that it had been a vivid experience. But now when I tell about being charged by an elephant, he reminds me it was really only a bluff charge, and I would be exaggerating if I alleged anything else. Since I wasn't trampled, this will serve as my only disclaimer, should the Elephant Charge Certification Board ever decide to check out my story.