Good Bye Earth

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read if you want to watch the K-drama “Good Bye Earth.”  My advice is not to have such aspirations. Some of the story doesn’t make sense and isn’t well explained. Most of the characters are flat despite their backstories. And the backdrops had the full moon on the same horizon as the sun. 

“What would you do if you only had 177 days left?” asked GF, because I mentioned that there were only 177 days left until the asteroid impact in the Netflix K-drama “Good Bye Earth” that I was watching. It’s a fair question, but I didn’t have an answer.

In “Good Bye Earth,” things go to hell in bits and pieces. All the evil people hang out at nightclubs and gambling halls, while all the good guys hang out at a church: depravity or kumbaya. Prisoners escape. They abduct children for nefarious purposes. People stop working. Supplies dwindle to nothing. The military holds out, but dwindling ammo limits their effectiveness. A child dies of a fever because there are no antibiotics. You would be lucky to survive long enough to experience the end of days. 

Interestingly, “Good Bye Earth” seems to fall short on reconciliation and long on betrayal for those who abandon others to save themselves. It is short on forgiveness and long on revenge. Why should bad people live to see the end? They need to go now while we have the satisfaction of killing them for what they have done. Rest easy, for revenge is not on my list of things to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few people I would like to have kicked in the balls over the years (men and women alike), but I think that kind of satisfaction has to happen in the moment unless some damn white whale has bitten off your leg. 

Doing whatever it takes to survive the last days is the realistic answer, but it misses the intent of her question. Implicit in the 177-day question is the assumption that all hasn’t gone to hell and one still has some agency. It’s a bucket list question about what you’d like to do if you had to decide, with the bucket list on a short leash. Also implicit in the scenario is the futility of a long-term legacy. If the Earth is going bye-bye, there is no need to worry about the world the children will have to live in. There won’t be one. We can burn off a tank or two of gas without any global warming guilt.

So, how would I find gratification if the world only had six months to live?

Our plan for the day was a hike on Ladder Trail in Painted Canyon on BLM land outside Mecca just north of the Salton Sea by way of motorcycles. It was six months since my last ride. The oil line was up to where it should be, but was the oil any good after six months of decay? The front tire looked low. Chris said not to worry. I trusted his judgment. Sunny skies were in the forecast after a few morning clouds. It was supposed to be nice inland but hot in the desert.  

The whole day was weather-diverse. We rode in a fifty-five-degree marine layer that was taking its time burning off. We emerged from the clouds on the S-79 outside Santa Isabel, but it stayed chilly at altitude. That changed quickly as we dropped nearly four thousand feet in altitude to Borrego Springs from fifty-five to eighty-five in less than half an hour. At the first gas stop of the day, we shed layers in front of the fashionable club of Ducati riders. I can’t imagine they planned much more riding in the desert heat wearing their thick black leathers. 

Mecca is a taqueria for hungry travelers who skipped breakfast. It’s also a tiny town on the north side of the Salton Sea.

From Mecca, we drove ten miles on an out-and-back graded dirt road to the Painted Canyon trailhead. The overly cautious sign warned that the road required a four-wheel drive, high-clearance vehicle. The road was hard-packed and well-graded, with only a few sandy patches. Deep sand is one of the things I hate the most on a ride. I’ve managed to topple over about five or six times, but never at any significant speed. I watched Chris wobble through one, instinctively extending his legs for balance, which is probably an excellent way to break both legs if it ever came to that. Even the best riders struggle in the sand on heavy bikes that aren’t made for it.

Painted Canyon was a pleasing juxtaposition of color arrangement from the outside with green creosote in the foreground, beige, brown, and red hills, and a blue sky in the back. It’s a maze of trails on the inside. Ladder Trail veered off the main canyon and disappeared into a crack in the wall face. Three short ladders provided access to the slot’s entrance. The slot canyon rivals “The Slot” in Anza-Borrego, with high walls and a path just wide enough so you don’t have to force your way through or turn sideways. The trail emerges onto the roof of the mesa, providing a panoramic view of the canyon and the mountains beyond. Jacinto towers to the west, snow patches still visible on its flanks. 

Once on top, we were exposed to the heat and the sun. My water bottle had leaked over half its contents on the ride out, leaving us to share a half liter of water on a five-mile hike, a cause for concern but nothing we couldn’t handle. At the farthest reach of the hike, we dropped back into the canyon and headed downhill for the trek back. Desert bushes were laden with pollen-saturated yellow catkins. The ocotillo plants had leaves indicating recent rain. Wildflowers proliferated in their sparse desert way. Black and yellow birds scattered too quickly for a photo capture. Every bend seemed like a new picture. We descended to the lower canyon trail using an essential rope and ladder before returning to the trailhead and the road.

Mecca is a taqueria for dehydrated hikers who challenge the desert heat with a pint of water. 

On the ride back through the desert to Borrego Springs, a steady wind blew snaking sand ribbons across the highway. Deep sand is the only thing I hate more than gusting winds on a motorcycle, but gusting winds are potentially more lethal. I’ve been blown five feet by wind gusts before, enough to push you into the oncoming lane or off the road if you are ill-positioned. The winds were strong enough to fatigue my neck muscles but not so strong to knock me off my line. 

We pulled off the desert road to take stock of the weather. Nothing in the forecast prepared us for what we encountered. The blowing wind kicked up a sandy haze over Clark Dry Lake. The marine layer of clouds peered over the mountain wall to the west, which held back their ambition. The dark edge of a black cloud crossed over the desert floor from north to south at about Borrego Springs. The ominous cloud had two cyclonic-looking formations underneath. I’ve never seen a formation quite like it. It reminded me of the final scene in “The Terminator,” when Sarah Conner was standing at a gas station, heading off into the lightning-struck mountains of the Mexican desert. 

As far as I know, these clouds were not harbingers of the apocalypse. I think they were lenticular clouds because of the layering visible at the edge of the front. According to people who keep track of such things, lenticular is from Latin, meaning shaped like a lentil. Take a look at a lentil for yourself. It’s a plausible explanation. The word was first applied to lenses that have the shape of a double-convex lens, curved on both sides.

Lenticular clouds are a standing wave pattern formed when winds blow over a fixed structure like a mountain. As humid air is pushed up and cools, it condenses into a cloud. The cloud dissipates as the air sinks back down and overcorrects by dipping lower than its original path. Layers of hot and cold in the stream give the lenticular cloud the pancake look. I have only seen these clouds in isolation, looking more like a stack of pillows than tornado breeding grounds. I speculate you get this unusual formation when combining a storm front with a standing wave pattern.

We were filling up for the motorcycle ride home at a gas station in Borrego Springs. The marine layer told us we were heading back into the cold, and we geared up. The fifty-two-degree temperatures confirmed our expectations.

What would I do with 177 days left? I want a few more days like this in the 177. With time short, I wouldn’t worry so much about kicking the bucket in a wreck. Kicking the bucket might even be a blessing in an actual apocalypse scenario. My usual thought when I leave the house on the motorcycle is to make it back alive. I wouldn’t have so much to lose if one of those cyclonic cells dropped out of the sky and swept me off to Oz. There is something exhilarating about surviving the ride, witnessing grandeur in the big and the small, and hiking through narrow slots and up and down ladders. I’m not sure it is something you can plan for. Maybe that is the source of the exhilaration. Put a few days on that list where you head out with a minimalist plan and see what happens. Take a pass on the kumbaya and depravity.


Reading Time: 5 minutes

Lisa Cron’s books, “Story or Die” and “Story Genius,” should be right up my alley, as she offers brain science suggestions for improving one’s writing. She has helped me realize why my stories are flat, but her suggestions have blocked me more than empowered me. This piece is to work through my issues. I apologize for the nitpicking. She has two quality books. 

I get hung up on the word misbelief. As Lisa claims, the protagonist has a misbelief that prevents her from achieving her goal. A story revolves around the protagonist’s struggle to relinquish this cherished misbelief in the “aha” moment. The external events that force this transformation are the plot. So what is the problem?

Misbelief makes it sound like the protagonist has the emotional IQ of an idiot. Lisa suggests that the protagonist is a proxy for the audience. In my head, I have formulated this syllogism: If the story’s protagonist is an emotional idiot and a proxy for the reader, then the reader is an idiot. 

My readers are bright and emotionally intelligent. They don’t identify with someone who holds on to stupid beliefs just because that is their backstory. They can argue and defend a mental model but can change their thinking without an existential emotional crisis when presented with new information that improves their understanding. 

In “Story or Die,” she uses the example of a Water is Life ad with a two-minute video about a four-year-old Kenyan boy who doesn’t have access to clean water. The NGO created a video about helping him complete his bucket list to get the waterworks flowing from the potential donor’s tear ducts into the boy’s village. In this example, the implicit protagonist is the viewer who can save the day with a donation. I have a problem with her analysis. Here is Lisa describing the misbelief of the viewer:

“The misbelief: Drinking water is safe and plentiful, and of course, a four-year-old will live a long and full life.”

I don’t believe the problem is naivete. I, for one, as a viewer, know damn well that not everyone has access to clean water, and people, including young children, suffer because of it. It’s not a misbelief. It’s not that I don’t care, either. I know it’s a tragedy, but I have not donated to that cause. My takeaway from brain science is that the brain, above all else, is a filter for extracting meaningful information from noise. Like many other good causes, this one got lost in the noise.

I question her interpretation of brain science. Yes, I have read that we evaluate things emotionally. However, our thinking brains construct scenarios, and our emotional brains assess them. The brain needs the plot to build scenarios as much as it requires the emotion to decide. Those dry, boring facts about the severity of the problem matter to me, maybe because I am a “Logician,” according to Myers-Briggs, a decidedly small minority in their catalog of personality types. 

Why has my brain filtered out this boy and all like him in the past? My brain has evaluated if donating to that four-year-old boy (who, by the way, has already satisfied his bucket list items) will make my life more meaningful than all the other things I do with money to make my life meaningful. That is the basis of my decision, not merely giving in to pathos. 

So, just because you get me to cry and feel miserable doesn’t mean I will donate. As Lisa points out, telling people what to do will cause them to shut down, but on the flip side, a tear-jerking story alone only makes me feel manipulated. 

So, I don’t want to throw away the baby with the bath water because Lisa’s books are powerful writing tools. Here is what Lisa has given me so far (word for word):

  • There is one person (the protagonist, the person who will experience the conflict)
  • With one unavoidable problem (the external conflict)
  • That spurs one internal struggle (misbelief versus truth, the core conflict)
  • Leading to one “aha” moment (the protagonist’s realization, the point your story will make, resulting in the emotion you want your audience to feel)
  • Which allows the protagonist to solve the problem and take action (the transformation).

To progress, I want to change her misbelief and truth into concepts I can write to. I need something else. 

Trust or mistrust is a good thing to build a story around. The internal struggle is evaluating your level of trust and misreading intentions. What could be more valuable to survival than knowing who and what to trust or mistrust? Arguably, our big brains evolved to ferret out the honest people from the psychopaths. In this model of human evolution, art, including storytelling, is a tool for expressing empathy and outing those who lack it. Evolution is not the survival of the fittest; it is the survival of those who cooperate the best. Adapting Lisa’s framework to “trust and mistrust” instead of “truth and misbelief,” a story is about trusting someone when you shouldn’t or not trusting someone when you should. The “aha” moment is the realization that the opposite is true. 

Titanic comes to mind as a story that fits the trust framework rather than the misbelief. Lisa would say Rose’s misbelief is that she has to live as a prisoner of the well-to-do in high society. But that doesn’t hold up. She is looking for an escape from the beginning, contemplating diving off the backend of the ship if that is what it takes. The “aha” moment for that premise comes halfway through the movie when she says, “I know. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why I trust it.” The movie’s arc isn’t overcoming that misbelief but trusting Jack as the catalyst for her escape. She doesn’t trust herself to do it, but it is not because she has misbelief; she must learn from Jack how to shed her high society shackles. She is briefly tested again with the alleged “Heart of the Ocean” theft but doesn’t succumb. Her training is complete when she peels Jacks’s frozen body off of the wooden bed frame. I don’t think that is an “aha” moment: “See you later Jack. I can go it alone now.” The more significant trust issue is the faith of all those unfortunate people who trusted Titanic. Spoiler alert: the Titanic sinks.

Vulnerability is just another face of trust. It involves revealing something about yourself to someone that could cause harm, whether physical, financial, or emotional. In this model, the story simulates the risk and reward or lack of reward for the reader so the reader can make an informed emotional decision about the value of the revelation. 

Another story model could be finding meaning out of the noise. Story is about meaning. It is the transformation from what gives the protagonist meaning at the start to what provides the protagonist with meaning at the end. Meaningful decisions are about hard choices. When I say hard choices, I mean they are defining. There is no right or wrong choice, misbelief, or truth. I don’t think it is “Story or Die.” It is “Story, or you might as well be Dead Inside.”

Meaning is also about making a difference. How will my donation make a difference in the world, and what reward will I get? The movie About Schmitt comes to mind. A small donation to strangers in a faraway place makes more difference, as revealed by a thankful letter from his donation recipients, than all of his other failed attempts with those close to him. I want my thankful letter, not your manipulative story and endless requests for more money. 

Misbelief, trust, or meaning? Depending on the story, you can choose any of the three, and I’m sure there are many more frameworks to choose from. Think guidelines, not rules.

Ghost of My Shadow

Reading Time: < 1 minute

My shadow was the light that would follow me,
the ghost is emptiness where the shadow used to be.

The apparition is gently opening the door,
finding my shadow doesn’t wait for me anymore.

Stepping on my shadow in the gloom of the night,
its ghost is my memory when the sun shines bright.

My shadow would levitate its food in the air,
the ghost is the story of a feat so rare.

Casts the shadow no longer, yet the ghost is always near,
the mournful presence of moments held dear.

A K-review of a K-drama, My Demon

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Spoiler alert, details including the ending are discussed. This discussion is for reading after you’ve watched or if you never intend to.

I spent 16+ hours with Do Do-Hee and Jeong Gu-wan, so I have to say something about it. They make the perfect couple with all the complications of wealth dating an evil demon while her step-family plots to kill her to keep her from inheriting the family business. My logline: A handsome evil demon becomes the bodyguard and lover of a beautiful CEO.

The drama wallows in sentimentality and sappiness, one-dimensional secondary and tertiary characters, and water-drop sound effects, to say nothing of the manual for demons. How many times can Do-Hee and Gu-wan stare lovingly into each other’s eyes? If someone stared at me like that, I would run for the mirror to see if there was a bear in the cave or worse. And if happiness means I have to brush someone else’s teeth, I want no part of it.

The devil has no horns, and Do-Hee could be doing product placement modeling. In what I believe was a moment of self-reflective but perhaps unintentional candor about the series, Do-Hee’s female employee says, “Don’t you think her bodyguard is unnecessarily handsome?” Her male employee might as well have responded, “Don’t you think our CEO is unnecessarily beautiful?” Especially for a woman who runs a dessert company. This series revolves around the beautiful people and those who serve, aspire, and resent them. In another telling line, when an office worker observes that Jeong is “glowing” in the follow-up to one of those sexless, intimate love scenes found only in K-dramas, the same office girl undercuts his statement with, “He’s always glowing, when is he not?”

For all its shortcomings, it does have its moments. The stars shine, and the writers had some fun with it. For a demon with nearly unlimited powers, Jeong Gu-wan uses it relatively sparingly on annoying people, like exploding an airbag on an annoying driver. He keeps his gruff character throughout, thinly masking his affection for his human companions. He says, “I just want to live eternally as an apex predator who never ages or dies. Is that too much to ask?” The wordplay provides some fun tension to the relationship. Jeong says, “For a demon, as an apex predator, to marry an insignificant human would be like a meat eater marrying a pig.” After a metaphorical explanation involving insects, Do-hee asks, “Are you comparing me to a long-horn beetle?”

I couldn’t help but admire the Tango fight scene. With Jeong’s powers stored in Do-Hee’s wrist, Jeong must hold her arm to use his powers, but the two are initially separated. Do-Hee pepper sprays her way to Jeong, and the dance battle begins
to fight off the gang trying to avenge their dead boss. As the couple tangos away, sidelined combatants twirl their weapons overhead in time with the music while the couple pummels each attacker in turn and in step with the music. Eat your heart out, Jackie Chan.

Pearls of wisdom emerge now and then. “What’s peaceful about marriage? It’s more violent than anything,” says Star Jin, a victim of Jeong’s unrequited love. “Fate is nothing more than a web woven by a myriad of choices of your making,” says God, a street lady living the Oscar the Grouch lifestyle with the dentition to match and wearing a baseball cap with Good missing an o as the lettering in case you weren’t clear who she is. “The words are so sweet, they could give me cavities,” says Do-Hee. And my favorite line, which I hope to use someday, “I wasn’t crying, I was just sweating out of my eyes,” says Jeong, attempting to deflect a display of human emotion.

Maybe the bottom line is, “Humans are each other’s personal hell,” and “Happiness can sometimes be poisonous.” Still, they wrapped up the series nicely, with everyone getting what they deserved, even if it wasn’t what they wanted. The psychopath gets locked up, the mother who overlooked child abuse starts a foundation, Star Jin becomes an angel to an abused child like herself instead of running away to England, Do-hee’s unrequited lover and step-cousin Ling Sang-yi becomes the CEO, Secretary Shin Da-jeong and Park Bok-gyu come out of the (heterosexual) closet to announce their office romance that was secret from no one, and the gang defeated in Tango wars manages to open a legitimate restaurant without scaring all the customers away. Even the dead people of importance got their backstories fixed. All with the oversight and approval of the beautiful couple.

I wonder if making God less than attractive was an attempt to balance out good and beauty or double down on it. Does beauty even trump omnipotence? “Jeong manages to defeat God once. I didn’t know that was possible,” says God after Jeong manages to break one of her rules without suffering the consequences of “a fiery death like a campfire.” No one else’s love is God-defying. The relationship between the seconds, Secretary Shin Da-jeong for Do Do-Hee, and Park Bok-gyu (F**k You) for Jeong Gu-won is outright cartoonish. So I reject that they were going for the love conquers all theme. And when that unavoidable ending comes to pass, when Jeong does, in fact, experience a fiery death like a campfire, God can’t bear to see the beautiful people suffer either and so intervenes Deus ex Machina style to give us the happy ending we want. And, of course, they live happily ever after, or at least as long as a mortal human can live with a demon, Do-hee managing to overlook all the moral dilemmas of living with a benign demon who henceforth only sends people to eternal fire if they deserve it, the scumbag class. A love story, sure, but if the story has any purposeful deeper meaning, it is to expose how much we bend our morality with our beauty bias. The story is a desert so sweet it could give you brain cavities.

Featured Image by ImageFx

Global Worming

Reading Time: < 1 minute

On the lighter side…

Roseanne Roseannadanna: What’s all this I keep hearing about global worming? If worms want to live anywhere on the globe, I say let them. Well, Jane, it just goes to show you, it’s always something — if it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”

Image by GoogleLabs FxImage

The Blue Hills of Africa

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In “The Green Hills of Africa,” Hemingway takes us deep into the back country of Kenya and Tanzania in pursuit of big game, “pursuit and conversation,” “pursuit remembered,” “pursuit and failure,” and “pursuit as happiness.” The book fluctuates between in-the-moment hunting scenes and philosophical sidebars given in conversational pursuit, like the play-by-play and analyst format of the coverage of a modern sporting event. 

Hemingway never uses the phrase or describes the backcountry as green hills, although he once mentions that he saw nothing on the green hillsides when looking to kill a kudu. He does mention the blue hills three times, hence the recast of the title, not the most vivid imagery I’ve ever read, but he is a writer, not a landscape artist.

To improve my writing, I once bought a tool called Hemingway, which rated the complexity of your sentences to simplify and shorten them. That is to make them more Hemingway-esque. Hemingway wouldn’t have scored well with his eponymous tool, at least not with this book, with sentences like:

“Passing the skinner’s tent he showed me the head which looked, body-less and neck-less, the cape of hide hanging loose, wet and heavy from where the base of the skull had been severed from the vertebral column, a very strange and unfortunate kudu.”

The tool would have shortened that to two sentences. That is not even a particularly long sentence compared to many others in the book, but I chose it as a sample because it does strike me as a very Hemingway-esque sentence for another reason. It’s not necessarily short but very raw and visceral. 

He lives the hunter’s ethic, killing in one shot so the animal doesn’t suffer (why shoot in the first place?). He loves to hunt as long as he kills cleanly, but as he demonstrably writes, it doesn’t always work out that way. Or, to use more Hemingway-esque language from a passage where he gut-shot a kudu, the worst thing a hunter could do because the animal escaped but would not live, 

“…they (hyenas) would get him before he died, hamstringing him and pulling his guts out while he was alive.”

Nothing goes to waste if the animal drops dead and the hunting team finds it. The animals are skinned, beheaded, and chopped up for meat. They ate the meat and kept the hides and horns. Hemingway doesn’t kill female animals (does*), either, at least not on purpose. (*Grammarly needs help distinguishing between the noun plural of doe and the verb does.)

Hemingway competes with another member of his hunting party for the trophy head of the largest bull, fill in the blank of the species, rhino, sable, kudu, and so on. Killing the fittest animal contradicts everything Darwin had to say on the subject. It’s hard to read how beautiful and extraordinary the animal is in one sentence and how proud he is to have killed it in the next, rationalizing it all away with, “…they all had to die and my interference with the nightly and the seasonal killing that went on all the time was very minute, and I had no guilty feeling at all.” Of course, we stand at a point in history where all those minute killings add up to one global genocide of just about anything more significant than a coyote.

Before throwing all this behavior on the bin heap of macho, it is worth noting that his wife accompanied him on this expedition and hunted on several of the forays he describes. But I can’t imagine a woman writing this scene where he fights with one of the members of his support team, M’Cola, who forgot to clean the rusty bore of Hemingway’s rifle as promised. We pick up the action where M’Cola sees the rusty gun and realizes he forgot to do his job.

“His face had not changed and I had said nothing but I was full of contempt and there had been indictment, evidence, and condemnation without a word being spoken.”** (**According to Grammarly, Hemingway has as many problems with commas as I do.)

Nothing visibly happened, but the tension between the two men is there because of the silence. It’s a nice piece of emotional minimalism. 

The most disturbing sentence in the book is a bacterial shot to the gut:

“Already I had had one of the diseases and had experienced the necessity of washing a three-inch bit of my large intestine with soap and water and tucking it back where it belonged an unnumbered amount of times a day.”

I think I would have just fed myself to the hyenas.

On one point, I can agree with Hemingway, “Beer is food.” On another, I hope he is wrong, “…what a great advantage an experience of war was to a writer…Writers are forged in injustice as a sword is forged.” I’d prefer not to survive a war to become a decent writer, although I understand you can’t get that kind of experience in a writing class.

If you are going to read a Hemingway book, this hunting memoir is probably not his best. It’s a dated piece that I read for particular motivations: 

  • Descriptions of Africa to help me visualize the country for a book idea set in Africa.
  • Examine work by a premiere author.
  • Get into the mindset of a hunter.

It met all my goals. Happy hunting for whatever yours are.

Image by Google Labs FxImage

Book Report on “Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story”

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Or an African Horror Story, as I would retitle it, from the battlefields of the National Parks of Kenya, her life spent treating the collateral damage of the genocide of elephants and rhinoceros and the onslaught of human expansion and global warming on all animals in Kenya. As Daphne puts it, the animals always lose. Here are some online statistics to give you an idea of the numbers.

“In 1500, there were over 25 million elephants in Africa. By 1900, this had fallen to around 10 million; by 1979, it was down to 1.3 million.
There was a rapid decline in population size over the 1970s and 1980s, such that by the mid-1990s, numbers had fallen below 300,000. Over the following decades, conservation efforts across some countries managed to restore populations to over 470,000 in 2008. But increased poaching rates over the past decade have sent numbers back into decline.”

Daphne calls her book a memoir, but technically, it is an autobiography, starting with her grandparents, who settled in Kenya before she was born, continuing through two marriages and two daughters, life in the National Parks that her second husband David Sheldrick had a big part in modernizing and protecting, taking her well beyond her retirement age while contributing to the foundation she created in honor of David Sheldrick. She lived and worked in places I remember from my 1983 African trip: Tsavo, Masa Mara, Amboseli, and Mt. Kenya. She moved to Nairobi National Park after her second husband’s death, a smaller park I skipped on the 1983 tour.

It’s a heart-wrenching story with a few successes but many tragic endings. After many failures, Daphne learned how to make a baby formula capable of sustaining orphaned elephant calves. A newborn baby elephant sucks on the mom’s teat every 15 minutes, the poster child of high maintenance. She reared and reintroduced elephants and rhinos to the wild. It takes a decade to successfully reintroduce an elephant to a wild state, a labor of love. Drop a rhino into the wild without helping it establish a territory, and another rhino is likely to kill it as an intruder. One of her reintroduced rhinos helped repopulate rhinos in Tsavo. Some of her elephant orphans went on to give birth and raise calves in the wild, contributing to the rise of that population in the first decade of this millennium.

It’s also a tale of the inner lives of animals, from mongooses and dik-diks to sheep to warthogs to elephants. Daphne learns to read the body language of her wards. Anyone with a pet knows that animals have an inner life, and after reading the book, this applies to elephants in spades, as Daphne watches them grieve, support one another, and make inferences. She recounts stories of elephant memory and intuition. An elephant in the wild for twenty-five years tenderly greets her trainer from age five. Her penned elephants wait at the gate for new arrivals to her orphanage before they arrive without any apparent means of knowing they are en route to their remote location. Daphne belly rubs her way into the trust of rhinos. She learns the personality of the creatures she cares for, even a sheep she uses to befriend and butt heads with an orphaned rhino. It amazes me that it took scientists so long to catch on. See Frans De Waal’s work for more on that.

But despite her most loving efforts, no elephant has ever chosen to stay in a stable, always choosing a more dangerous wilderness existence over a domestic pen. However, on occasion, once-resident elephants returned for medical help or help for offspring, sometimes entrapped in snares, wounded with machete cuts, injured with darts, or suffering the effects of drought, which shuts down lactation. Acknowledging their sentience and intelligence in the context of brutality is what makes this such a heart-wrenching and inspiring story.

Using words like murder instead of poaching would more accurately describe what is going on. Would we tolerate people getting slaughtered for molar extractions or having their noses ground down for some old man’s erection? Maybe. People don’t treat outsiders much better (where an outsider is relative to anyone’s particular point of view). Daphne survived the turbulent times of the end of colonialism in Africa, a less than peaceful process. She recounts tales of a family of her neighbors getting burned alive in their own house and other atrocities. Park Rangers were trained in World War II combat tactics to stop the poaching, but many were killed in the effort, anyway. She survived a lifetime of tragedy and death, both animal and human.

How does she get through it all? Daphne says despite all the tragedy, the dead are at peace and no longer suffer. You have to move forward and help those who can still be helped, focusing on the problems before you and not the tragedies of what has passed. She encourages us to think like elephants who forgive even when they can never forget.

She survived through it all, through two marriages, raising two daughters, and contributing to the knowledge of rearing and reintroducing animals back into the wild, creating the David Sheldrick (2nd Husband) Wildlife Trust that continues its work with orphaned animals, conservation, and community outreach. Her life was a love story told in the context of a still ongoing one-sided war.


Urban Oasis

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Amidst the towering smokestacks of steel,
Nature’s emergence seems almost surreal.
The rush of traffic, the sound of the wind,
A secret spot, for wildlife to hide in.

The city hums with machines and gears,
As the birds and bees dim in my ears.
The concrete jungle rises tall and proud,
While trees and flowers hold their ground.

Transmission towers with commanding might,
Like ancient oaks in the fading light.
Electric lines stretch to the sun,
Like a spider’s web that cities have spun.

The sun sets behind factory’s walls,
Stars peer through smoking squalls.
A contrast stark, yet somehow the same,
Industry and nature both lay claim.

Nature forges in a world of steel,
Surrounded by slag, melting its heel.
Amidst the chaos, a glimmer of hope,
A chance for nature, a way to cope

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