art by Wi Waffles
by David G. Uffelman
The news first came to the Old Mother through her feet. She leaned forward to rest more weight on the cartilaginous nodes within her padded front feet to create a solid connection with the earth, the better to receive the seismic signals that traveled through the bedrock beneath the gentle rolling grasslands of the Highveld. A muscle in each of her large African ears constricted, dampening the acoustic signals carried by the soft winds, allowing her to concentrate on the vibrations below. Through the rich earth, she sensed the steady movement of the other elephant family, the other half of her bond group. They were on the march, a full day's journey from here. Although she could not hear it at that great distance, she knew that the other family's Old Mother must have trumpeted her distress. Nevertheless, the ground vibrations did not resonate fear or alarm. No, it was grief.
"You must join us. We have lost a friend."
The Old Mother's larynx emitted the softer infrasonic rumble that signaled "we must go" to the other members of her herd. A response of surprise came from the Old Mother's eldest daughter. "Why are we leaving? The grass is lush and sweet, the leaves are tender. The lions do not stalk our calves."
The Old Mother repeated the soft rumble, with more insistence. "We must go. Now." Far from being annoyed, the Old Mother noted with satisfaction that her eldest daughter was showing more assertiveness. She had already developed the skills that would make her a good successor to the Old Mother. Wistfully, she remembered how her own mother had taught her what was important. "That's our way. We remember," the Old Mother thought. Indeed, she was the primary source of memory, the important things. The others could remember too, but none had her depth of experience.
The eldest daughter fell into place behind the Old Mother, and the rest of the herd began to fall in line, too. There was no thought of resistance to the Old Mother's command. She had served the herd well, even in the times of danger when the humans were near. The Old Mother had faced more danger than most: poachers would often target an old mother, and her large tusks, first. She did not hate the humans, no more than she hated the lions, but she pitied their lack of understanding. "The humans appear to be intelligent," she thought, "but they have little sense of beauty or wonder. That was true, at least, for most of them."
The two calves still wanted to play, so the young mothers had to prod them into line, and the baby bull required a small trunk-slap of discipline. "He is young, and he will be leaving the herd in a few years," the Old Mother thought. The calves followed their mothers.
"You must tell me sometime why you decided to leave this place, Old Mother," the eldest daughter said, tugging softly with her trunk at the Old Mother's tail.
"Follow me. You still have much to learn."