Lisa Lipkind Leibow
and Jane Hulstrunk

Jane Hulstrunk
Where the Fairies Dance at Night

Inspiration piece

THE END OF THE AMERICAN ELEPHANTS
By Lisa Lipkind Leibow

Response

On the land mass now known as the continent of North America, millions of years ago, humans shared the territory with great herds of elephants – mammoths really. The elephants roamed the plains, climbed the mountains, and frolicked on the seashore. They ate leaves from the forest, careful to prune not demolish.

They munched on fir.
They munched on oak.
They munched on juniper.
That’s no joke.

They munched on chestnut,
Willow, maple, cherry, and beech.
They munched on walnut
And every redwood they could reach.

The humans foraged nuts and berries in the woods alongside the elephants. However, despite how much smaller they were than the mammoths, the humans extended their diets to the far reaches of the forests, lakes, mountains, and sea-to-shining-sea.

They tasted every apple, carrot, pumpkin, and pear.
They speared endless bass from every lake.
They hunted rabbit, deer, beaver, and bear.
They ate every animal and plant they could take.

To spite their frenzied appetite, people in this great land respected the giant elephants, only slaying one or two a year. They used every bit of meat, fur, and bone to feed, clothe, and make tools and such.

One year, the hunt came easily to the people. Before they knew it, there was enough to eat for the entire year, and plenty of wooly mammoth fur to keep them warm throughout the winter. One great hunter, Edgar Uyoi refused to rest. He thrived on the thrill of the kill. He set out to hunt more, only this time not for sustenance, but for sport. Although no mammoth had done harm to his humans, he started a rumor, convincing his tribe the mammoths were a danger to them all. He fabricated a legend the mammoths were out for blood. Soon, humankind wholeheartedly supported his quest to rid the land of the mammoth-elephant menace. Before long, Edgar Uyoi had slaughtered all but one American elephant, Cala Kawma.

Uyoi cared not that Cala Kawma was the last of her kind. He only had his eyes on the largest game on the continent – at all cost.

Cala Kawma was Uyoi’s most desired kill. She had slipped through his clutches thus far, and he focused all of his efforts on bagging her. Cala Kawma understandably, spent her time fleeing and thwarting Uyoi’s schemes and traps.

One night, while Uyoi sat warming by the fire, chipping crystal quartz into the pointiest dart-head he could chip, Penelope the Prophetess Passenger Pigeon visited Edgar Uyoi’s camp and warned:

“Overharvest the berries, kill the future crop.
Overfish the pond, see trout population drop.
Overhunt the game, life as you know it will stop.”

Meanwhile, as she always did when deep in thought, Cala Kawma twirled a wooly tuft atop her head with the finger on the tip of her trunk. She reflected on the lessons taught by her parents, the king and queen of the herd. Cala Kawma’s mother and father had passed on generations of intelligence to their dear elephant-child. They’d taught her reason and logic, and instilled in her the level head that helps anyone solve problems under stress. And don’t forget, Cala Kawma never forgot a lesson learned. She was one of those elephants who memorized her lessons well.

She honed her mind to think fast under pressure.
Studied skills to recall vital phrases.
She learned facts the first time. No need for refresher.
Tested her knowledge while running through mazes.

At last, Uyoi saw Cala Kawma, and everything changed forever. She stood by the creek, sucking water into her trunk and showering it in a fountain over her back. Rivulets of cool water sprinkled wool-patched, wrinkly gray skin. Her legs, whose circumference surpassed that of the bald cypress trunk across the stream, twitched at the snap of a twig under Uyoi’s foot. Her ears flapped wildly, like wings of a giant vulture at take-off.

Uyoi had come face to face with his trophy. He paid no mind to Penelope the Prophetess Passenger Pigeon’s advice.

He whispered, “What would she look like with her massive head mounted on the wall?”

The idea made the greed devouring him, surge with power so great that his legs itched and his trigger finger twitched as he started off in pursuit. Cala Kawma whizzed through the woods. She was surprisingly quick for an elephant. Uyoi, who once outran a lion, lost sight of her in the brush.  Still, of course, he caught glimpse of her huge, gray backside trampling the trees and underbrush before him. He thought he might be close enough to take aim. So, he froze in his tracks and raised his dart-thrower over his head.

“This is it,” he whispered, “Time to claim my finest trophy.”

Cala Kawma raced on, even more scared than before. She tried to stay calm, but hiding a body as large as hers, made the case seem hopeless. There was no way she would go down without a fight. She reached the edge of the forest where no gray tree trunks stood to camouflage. She found no shelter in the green meadow with a sprinkling of buttercups stretching to the horizon.

She opened her eyes wide, spread her massive ears like eagle’s wings, and reached out her trunk. If this was to be her last moment she wanted to savor every sight, smell, and sound. Beyond Uyoi’s dart, beyond the stench of Uyoi’s foul breath, and beyond Uyoi’s whisper of savored victory through gritted teeth, the trees opened up and Cala Kawma saw ghosts of her parents swinging their trunks and flapping their ears to her.

Cala Kawma trumpeted to them, “Help me! Mother and Father, Help me!”

As soon as the plea escaped her trunk, tremors overcame her. Her legs once the size of hundred-year-old oak trunks withered into tuberous bulbs, and rooted to the ground she’d barreled over just moments ago. Her body, her head, and her trunk, too, shrunk and became a fibrous, sinewy stem at the edge of the forest. For a moment, her massive gray elephant ears clapped together, making the buttercups and meadow grasses wave in the breeze. The gray ears sprouted into huge green leaves. Mammoth had been transformed into a plant, Caladium Colocasia, with massive leaves as big as Cala Kawma’s ears.

Rooted to the ground and ears transformed to plants, Cala Kawma reached her trunk with the finger (or digit) on the end, up as high as she could in an attempt to trumpet a last protest. At that very moment, her trunk sprouted purple, bell-shaped flowers. Her trunk, too, turned into a plant Digitalis.

Edgar Uyoi stared, frozen in his tracks during this transformation. “Cala Kawma, my trophy, without you, my life has no purpose.” His ruddy, muddy face paled as he pondered. In a rage, he dug up the roots of the plants and chopped them up into little pieces. “I’ll show you! You cannot escape.”

Cala Kawma had the last word. For after the hunter had stomped off pouting, the tubers and roots he’d chopped into pieces each grew into a separate plant. Now where the hunter’s tantrum occurred there’s a whole garden herd of Caladium Colocasia elephant’s ears and purple digitalis mammoth’s trunks. Cala Kawma’s great memory carries on, hardy and strong; and that is the end of that tale.

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One Comment

  1. Grace Burns
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm | #

    Simply stunning!

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