Juggernaut @ Ngorongoro

We had been driving for hours on the crater floor and did not come close to any elephants until the end. I finally spot one through my binoculars at the edge of the forest. My driver aims the Land Rover to the grey blip on the horizon. We get as near as we can, about fifty yards away, and position the vehicle broadside, so I can lean out the window. The driver turns off the engine and all grows quiet. The elephant’s grey bulky back faces us. I can see by the tip of his ivory, he’s a very old bull. The serpentine prehensile trunk, like its own entity, is groping here and there mostly out of view. Ears flap slightly, peacefully even. He’s grazing away in this grassy meadow with large acacia trees and the crater rim behind him, and I am in awe. The sun pokes through giant clouds turning him from dull grey to charcoal and back. My camera feels good in the grip of my hand. He turns to face me.

The massive head and ivory tusks – symbols of a kingdom – are square to me. He is a huge elephant and a rarity to have survived with tusks like these. Who knows what he has seen in this life of his slaughtered kin. He continues feeding and my camera whirls away. The only sound to be heard. He is closer now, maybe thirty yards. He faces me squarely again and in three mammoth strides stops five feet from me. I am hanging out the window and feel the adrenalin rush in me. The camera dangles from my wrist. My breathing shallows. The door lock digs into my stomach. He could kill me now if he wanted. His trunk beneath me – swaying, smelling, searching. His scent of earth and dung and Africa hit my nostrils hard. We lock eyes for an eternity it seems. I want to touch him, touch his third eye, pray to him, protect him. I want to feel his wrinkled trunk and rough skin. I want him to take me away. The driver anxiously whispers, “Sir, please step back from the window.” I do not move, but as if on cue, this great animal gently turns his head from me and moves on. Later, the guide tells me of elephants charging tourists last week in Amboseli. I do not think of charging elephants. I only think of a tusked God that has changed my life.

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