Anyone who knows me knows of my deep and abiding love for elephants. They were my Nana's favorite animal, so as I was growing up I came to also revere their gentle, majestic beauty. I was able to take a short ride on one at a wildlife park near Lake Erie when I was about eleven, and I ended up writing about that experience years later, as it didn't fully register with me emotionally as I was so young. I never thought I would get the chance to be near one of them again.
Fast forward to my 40th birthday a few weeks ago and Deb tells me she has a surprise planned for me on the 23rd. She had managed to keep it quiet since February, and I had no idea what was to happen.
Yesterday, we had a behind the scenes elephant encounter at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden! It was like being in a dream. When Mai Thai entered the room, all the wind had been knocked out of me. I got to give her a shower, scrub her with soap, rinse her off, throw some treats to her, pet her ears, and scratch and pet her sides. I took photos but not as many as you would think, as I really just wanted to be in the moment.
She also made a painting for me. Now, I know there is a lot of controversy surrounding this as this is a practice in other countries where they beat and abuse the elephants in order to force them to make detailed, specific paintings for tourists. That is horrific, and I in no way support that, of course. But Mai Thai has been taught, along with basic commands like raising her feet so they can groom her, to take a paint brush from them, wrap her trunk around it, and "paint" onto a canvas. She is not harmed or forced in any way, and she just rubs the brush all over the canvas. They had me choose two colors for this, and I picked blue and yellow. I felt at peace with this as being behind the scenes it is obvious how much these animals are loved, well cared for, and respected. Mai Thai's humans are very humbled to be her caregivers.
I got to spend nearly two hours with her, but it felt like two minutes. At one point, she "kissed" my shoe twice with her trunk. It was all I could do not to throw my arms around her and hug her, but I wasn't allowed to, unfortunately. Just being by her side was enough, though.
Like the elephants and their razor sharp memories, I too will never forget.