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art by Wi Waffles


David G. Uffelman is a lawyer living in idyllic Sherwood Forest, a community on the Severn River in Maryland, a short swim upstream from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. He is a longtime fan of Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Doctor Who. Encouraged by an English friend who is a professional free-lance writer, Mr. Uffelman decided to try his hand at writing science fiction.

Mr. Uffelman has previously published several legal articles, primarily in the field of labor and employment law, and several of his cases have resulted in reported decisions, but he takes the Fifth Amendment as to whether any of his legal briefs constituted fiction.

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."
The herd followed obediently across the savannah, the lush grasses waving invitingly. The young ones needed a rest every few hours, and they leaned against their mothers' forelegs, signaling that they wanted to nurse. The Old Mother indulged the young mothers, pausing to allow them to nurse their calves. The whole family grazed lightly, for this too was a good place to feed. The march was important, but this was not a time of danger. There was sufficient time for a short break.
As they rested, the Old Mother listened with her feet for more seismic vibrations. The other group was on the move again. Doubtless, they sensed that the Old Mother was moving to join them. The Old Mother now strained wide her spinnaker ears for the infrasonic audio vibrations that could carry more news than could the seismic vibrations at her feet. "Yes, we are getting closer."
The family lumbered through the night, across the verdant savannah, over the streams that provided fresh water, and toward the rumbling sounds of the other family. Shortly after dawn, the Old Mother picked up their scent, and her pace quickened to a trot. Her family trotted behind her, the little calves moving their shorter legs as fast as they could.
"Where are we going, Mommy?" she heard one ask.
"We are following the Old Mother," the young mother replied.
"She knows what's best."
The other family was now in sight, and in a short time, the Old Mother was able to greet her counterpart. They stroked each other's trunk, ears, and mouth, and rubbed together their gleaming white tusks. In the language of elephants, the family greeted the other herd and received their welcome.
Soon the news was shared. They had lost a friend, a good friend.
"It is time to show respect. Time to mourn. Time to grieve." The Old Mother nudged the eldest daughter, as if to emphasize the point. "This is why we came here. A lesson you must learn."
Someday, the eldest daughter would show similar respect, exhibit similar grief, when the Old Mother no longer had the strength to walk the savannahs. When it was time to lie down in the graveyard and join her ancestors. When it was time for her eldest to become the Old Mother.
The two herds walked slowly together toward the village where the human had lived. Members of other herds joined them, thirty-one elephants in all. Solemnly, silently, they walked in reverent procession past the house of their friend. Together, they remembered his kindness, his efforts to protect them from poachers. They remembered the nine lives he had saved, fed, nursed back to health. They remembered his efforts to earn their trust. His patience. His understanding. He was not one of them, but he was not separate either. He had honored the interconnectivity of sentient life.
The Old Mother bowed her magnificent head toward his house in mourning, as did the others. For two days, they stood silent vigil, without eating, expressing their heartfelt grief. Even the calves remained silent, although they were too young to understand.
With a trace of moisture in her large, brown eyes, the Old Mother turned slowly to her eldest daughter.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 1st, 2013

Author Comments

This story is a tribute to Lawrence Anthony, conservationist and author, who died on March 2, 2012. He personally rescued a group of nine elephants who were about to be shot, having escaped from their enclosure in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. He rescued these elephants by attempting to communicate with the matriarch through tone of voice and body language, earning him the nickname “The Elephant Whisperer.” He dedicated the later years of his life to the rescue of elephants, rhinos, and other endangered species, and to their preservation and rehabilitation from the effects of hunting and habitat encroachment. He led and coordinated efforts to suppress poaching and the ivory trade. He established The Earth Organization, a conservation group, leading to the establishment of several wildlife preserves. In 2003, he came to worldwide attention when he bravely rescued endangered animals from the Baghdad Zoo during the American invasion of Iraq, as described in his book, Babylon’s Ark. His work with elephants is chronicled in his second book, The Elephant Whisperer.

- David G. Uffelman
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