I have loved many places in my life. The first would be my home growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Bay St. Louis. My most poignant memories of that time are of magnolia, gardenia, and mimosa flowers that imbue the salty sea air with their lovely sweetness, though I just visited the bay, and it remains quite devastated from Hurricane Katrina.
My home for the last twenty-seven years has been Santa Fe, New Mexico. The air here is rich with the smells of sage, cedar, and pine, and the place is full of unique adobe buildings fading into the earth under bright-blue skies.
I love these places, but where I feel most at home is riding through the jungle on the back of an elephant. I fell in love with elephants on a trip to Thailand in 2011, and I ended up adopting one in a sanctuary at Anantara Resort in the Golden Triangle. I did a training in which I learned how to ride like a mahout, an elephant caretaker. It's very high up there, and it takes several mahouts to push you up and on the elephant's back. Your legs are behind her ears while you ride, and you tap your feet to give directions, all the while being held on by her big ears, which is a wonderful feeling!
Riding behind the neck offers a great view of the foliage elephants like to eat. They reach back constantly with their fabulous, flexible trunks to browse or to accept a banana or some sugar cane. But they have the most fun in water. They sit on the bottom of the pond in the sanctuary where I ride for quite awhile, not even breathing. Often, in a playful mode, they will spray you in the face with the water! I love their vocalizations: rumbles, trumpets, and other sounds, which they emit as they communicate with each other and with me.
They are truly amazing creatures, soulful, funny, caring, and very dear. Being with the elephants was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had, and I long to go "home" again and spend time with these life-long friends.
Copyright © 2013 Elizabeth Billups. All rights reserved.