When it rains, it pours

April 24th 2007, When it rains it pours – – –

The monsoon is in full force. Temperatures reach 38 degrees Celsius by nine o’clock in the morning. The grass is tall and green. Not one blade nor one leaf moves. Every little sound is audible, a myriad birds sing. Perched on the bars, an umbrella doubles as a parasol. Clothes feel wet and heavy, no solace from humidity in the shade.

The elephants are out but they’re difficult to see over the grass. Each tuft has put out flower stalks, creating a hazy yellow curtain over the green. Elephants eat these before they go to seed. Each one has its own technique. Some gather up a trunkful and bite them off at the tip, dropping the stems on the ground. Others step on them, clipping off stems with their weight and sharp toenails. The best technique belongs to a male named Aiyyandi. He gathers up several bunches at leisure, steps on them with his front feet as he walks, then casually tosses the remainder in his mouth. It struck me as effortlessly efficient: Swish-swish-one-two-munch…swish-swish-one-two-munch…

Towards afternoon heavy clouds completely hide the blue, rumbling like a herd of elephants. The sun disappears and an ominous gloom descends. Distant rumbles get nearer. An electric charge hangs in the air. Lightning strikes with deafening explosions. Before we know it, rain descends in sheets so heavy we can’t see the road let alone the elephants. We cover up in a hurry and pull to the side to wait it out. At first we head under a tree, then realize that a tall tree in the middle of a clearing may not be a recommendable place to wait out a thunderstorm. So we pull up a few meters away, and hope nothing falls on us.

It blows in through the holes and gaps in the tent, all our sensitive equipment is in a pile in the center. We ourselves are resigned to wetness. As hot as the morning was, the water is cold. An hour or so passes.

Tricolor elephants

The rain slows to a light drizzle. Slowly we creep on. The road is a continuous series of mud wallows, red and frothy. Water the color of milk tea. Not too far from where we were, we see someone we know. It’s [040], [041], [458], and some of their calves. They’re having a fantastic time. They’ve been drenched completely clean, depigmentation showing up like pink paint splatters on their faces, trunks, ears and necks. They splash the orange mud on themselves, rubbing against each other in what appears to be total bliss. I’ve never seen such a scene – every color seems doubly bright and fresh in the newly-washed world, free from harsh sun and shadow, as if under artificial lights on the set of a studio. Tri-colored elephants against impossibly green grass. They ignore us altogether, until a subadult male gets bored. He wedges himself between [040] and [458], squeaking. [040] watches us as her calf nurses. She rumbles loudly, enough to be heard over the drizzle. [041] casually comes over. Together all three chorus back and forth, overlapping with each other’s calls.

Muddy bliss.

Rain is miserable for people and equipment, but it’s the best time to see elephants at ease. Even adult females will jostle and joust with the males, refreshed and full of energy. Calves especially enjoy making a mess of themselves.


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