Imagine a Future For All Beings: Collaboration With The Natural World
26.02.2022 GREEN LIVING 0.0 0

natural world


I never expected to enter an alliance with Elephants but after unexpected interchanges, I began to imagine what an alliance with an animal might mean. One cannot enter such a relationship unless one’s entire world of assumptions and beliefs has changed radically. One does not seek this out. The task is rather to avoid refusing it when it is offered. Such experiences, which shatter the known world, are familiar to each of us even though, for the most part, we enter these ordeals alone carrying the burden of having to make private meaning of them.

The first meeting was magical and demanded that the five of us who had traveled to Chobe National Park, in the north of Botswana, 'the land of the giants', home to Africa's largest Elephant population, rethink everything we had assumed about human – animal relationships to allow for possibilities we had never fully imagined, especially important in these days of extinction and violence including or especially against the natural world. It was January 6, Epiphany. We were a Jungian analyst, a registered nurse, a spiritual counselor, a former Director of Education for the Zimbabwean army/police force, and myself, a writer and lecturer. It was the last hour of the last day we could spend in the park, and I was hoping to be with the Elephants in a different way than ever before. Council is the form of communication preferred by my community and I wanted to sit in Council with the Elephants though, truthfully, I didn’t know what that meant. Ultimately a bull Elephant approached the open back of the truck where I was seated, and we looked into each other’s eyes for thirty minutes and in that time, I was overwhelmed by a sense of kinship, epitomized in my understanding that we each came from peoples who had experienced holocausts. Somehow our common grief and vulnerability had been communicated to each other. When it was clear that we had to drive out of the park to meet the closing time or be locked in, the Elephant, whom we afterwards called the Ambassador, intuited that we had to leave and turned away quickly and disappeared. As we made our way along the river road, herds of Elephants, cows, bulls, calves, matriarchs, swept down the hills toward the water and aligned themselves facing us on the road for at least a half mile. They bowed their heads and flapped their ears as we passed and we waved, nodded, bowed in return. We were astonished, awed and grateful. 

Deena Metzger

(I speak of this in detail in my latest novel, La Vieja: Journal of Fire, March 2022.) 

The event was so startling and had such implications for our common future, non-human and human, that I returned to Chobe and other African wild animal preserves between 1999 and 2017 and each time and in each place had an encounter with Elephants that was clearly choreographed by the Elephants or the spirits; we, the humans, could not have created them. What we could do was show up, which we did, in the park at the tree where we first met the Ambassador, and everywhere else for long periods of time each day. Our interactions were not in words but in narratives. Each time, the Elephants initiated actions that could be read as easily as a book. Their behavior illustrated agency. Their actions were deliberate and articulate. One a later occasion, the Ambassador, appearing again, literally threw us a bone. 

One of the characteristics which confirmed my understanding that I was being met by an animal demonstrating spiritual agency is that these very theatrical events always occurred at the last hour of the last day at whichever preserve we were visiting.  

As it happens, I am writing this on January 6, 2022, twenty-three years later when I still marveling at these events as I try to find ways that we can – despite our headlong trajectory toward the destruction of the climate and the planet – find ways to reverse our direction. To do so, we need to transform the despair that so often arises among us into possibility.  

Some years ago, I read that Elephants had taken over a military airport landing strip in Assam and caused all air traffic to stop for a significant time. Other actions in Asia indicated that the species was asserting control over their own lives. Soon afterwards Elephants invaded a plantation in India and the farmers did not know how to remove them from the area and were afraid their crops would be eaten or trodden. Mysteriously, at the same time, I was contacted by an Indian journalist who gave me more information about the occupation. I wrote a piece for his English language or bilingual newspaper suggesting that the Elephants were stubbornly refusing to leave because, as I had learned, one of their herd had died there and had been buried and the herd was trying by any means to attain access to her body to enact their mourning rituals. If the farmers would dig up the body or the skull and allow the Elephants some days in its presence, they would surely leave. The essay was also translated into Hindi and published in another Indian paper. I cited a similar event that had occurred at the San Diego Wild Animal Park that could not be resolved until the herd had access to the skull for three days. I don’t know the outcome in India but was grateful for the opportunity to speak to the public about animal intelligence. Sometime later, I tried to communicate with the journalist and his newspaper, but they had vanished. It was as if, as with the Ambassador, the Elephants had reached out, sent out a call for help or collaboration and I – and who knows whom else in their own way – heard them and responded.   

Convinced now of the possibility of inter-species communication on a global level, I am beginning to imagine exchanges where we inform each other and even collaborate to change our common circumstances. It is always of value to receive wisdom and insight from another intelligence. We can use all the help we can get, and so can they as they struggle with poaching, and like humans, with diminishing habitat, declining water supplies and the dissolution of the climate.  

I am certain that many of you reading this essay have had unexpected interactions with non-human beings, animals, birds, etc. When they occur, it is difficult to trust in their reality or to recognize that we might be in a dialogue, might become partners with the ‘others’. But if we are able to share such experiences with each other, we can learn to trust these events and develop the abilities to pursue such communications – then we may, all together, help to save the Earth.

Written by Deena Metzger


About the Author

Deena Metzger is a writer, healer, and teacher whose work spans multiple genres including the novel, poetry, non-fiction, and plays. She is the author of many books, including the novels: A Rain of Night Birds, concerning two climatologists, La Negra y Blanca (2012 PEN Oakland Pen Award for Literature), Feral, and The Other Hand. Her other books include The Burden of Light, Ruin and Beauty and Entering the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of HealingMetzger co-edited Intimate Nature, The Bond Between Women and Animals, which pioneered the radical understanding that animals are highly intelligent and exhibit intent. Her experiences with Elephants in the wild over twenty years is based on their spiritual agency and complex narrative communication. Some of that experience is chronicled in her forthcoming novel, La Vieja: A Journal of Fire. She has developed The Literature of Restoration to, among other goals, advance Earth based writing, restore climate and counter extinction. You can find more information about Deena Metzger on her website here.


TAGS:Natural World, Wildlife, Climate

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