A Holiday Fat in Elephants

How lucky am I?

img_2493

A lousy picture of this most wonder antique pin, which currently resides on my bulletin board because I don’t trust the clasp.

img_2494.jpg

A bell-laden parade of pachyderms

img_2495.jpg

A closeup of same

img_2496.jpg

Wee brass Ganesha

I also received a lovely elephant Christmas ornament, but neglected to photograph it before packing away the holiday things. (Sorry, Nina.)

Our house is a bit drafty in winter (whose isn’t?) and sometimes my hands get cold as I’m working at the computer. Friend, little brother, confidante, and fellow writer John Valeri found me the perfect solution:

img_2497.jpg

Peter Pan themed writing gloves!

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season however you celebrate (or even if you don’t). Now, let’s get writing!

 

Tina (and an accompanying bit of news)

Tina and Judy

Tina on left, with her almost-twin Judy, 1970.

This daughter of Rosy and Thonglaw arrived in April 1970. “She was [gorgeous],” Roger recalls. “The spitting image of Rosy. The rationale for selling her rather tan saving her the breeding pool never made sense to me.”

At the age of two, Tina moved to the Vancouver Game Farm in British Columbia, where she lived alone for fourteen years. In 1986, at long last, she gained a companion–a young female African elephant named Tumpe. They remained a duo until 2002 when the farm’s new owners sent Tumpe to a zoo in the United States.

Tina had developed quite severe pododermatitis (foot rot) and degenerative osteoarthritis. Her keepers did what they could to ease her distress, but it became clear that she needed a more suitable place to live. In August 2003, she arrived at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. She died there unexpectedly in July 2004. A necropsy revealed heart problems, possibly a genetic defect. Staff at the sanctuary reported that the herd stood vigil by her grave site for two days.

For more about Tina and the other elephants at the Sanctuary, please check here.

*************

My tidbit of news is that the latest rounds of proposed edits have been completed and submitted to the folks I hope will become my publishers. Stay tuned!

Article Published in JEMA

EMA-logo-plain-1

EMA Logo

I’m very pleased to announce that my article “Return of the Elephant Man,” appears in the most recent JEMA,  Journal of the Elephant Managers Association, Volume 29, Number 1. The article is based on a portion of my book The Man Who Loved Elephantswhich tells the story of Roger Henneous and his 30 years working with elephants at Oregon’s Washington Park Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo).

WTF?

confused-2681507_1920It’s the weirdest damn thing.

I have this blog, see, but I also have the “The Man Who Loved Elephants” site where I speak–or write, rather–more directly to that particular book, what brought it about, and offer stories about Roger and the elephants.

Great, right? Yeah, it is. And the response has been really encouraging and I thank all of you who have checked it out and chosen to follow it.

But what’s strange is the number of “likes” I get that, when I go to check them out–as I invariably do because I’d like to offer a personal thank you–turn out to be porn-related sites.

??!!??

Not sure where they’re coming from, unless they think “elephant” is a euphemism for … something. Or maybe these people just randomly “like” sites? Or maybe these sites are actually robots? To what point and purpose? I know there are those of you out there who are way, WAY more computer-savvy than I am. Isn’t life confusing enough?

Or maybe there’s some other connection?

I’m afraid to ask.

When A Writer Gives Up, Part 1

pexels-photo-269451In Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about the notion of story ideas drifting about in the ether, coming to rest with one writer or another. If given attention, the ideas stay and grow. If not, they eventually move on to a more receptive audience.

I believe this.

More than two years ago, I visited Gettysburg for the first time. If you’ve never been, do yourself a favor and go. If you possess an ounce of sensitivity in your soul, you can’t help but be affected. There’s a quality to the space … the silence … the sense of energy, of presence, behind that silence. Anyone who thinks it’s a boring old bunch of empty fields dotted with memorials is missing the point. Because of that visit, I will never be the same. I’m grateful for that, and can’t wait to return.

At any rate, shortly after that visit, a line of narrative popped into my brain–a description of a minie ball blasting into the abdomen of a young soldier from Maine on the fields of Gettysburg–and I knew I had the idea for my next book.

But I also had an idea for a book of narrative nonfiction about this man I’d met 20 years earlier who spent 30 years lovingly caring for the largest breeding herd of elephants in captivity. My research into that book–my tentative forays to locate this gentleman–had suddenly borne fruit, and here I was juggling two ideas.

My first inclination was to go after the Civil War story. But the minute I decided that, I heard–literally heard–a voice in my head say, “If you do that, you will lose the elephant book forever.” And I just couldn’t accept that. I couldn’t risk it. Telling the story of Roger Henneous and his pachyderm family was more important to me. It felt vital. It felt necessary. And, in truth, it felt like a goal I’d been working my way toward my entire writing life.

So I set aside the Civil War story and threw myself into the elephant book. In six months, I had a first draft. A very rough first draft, but at least it had a beginning, middle, and end.  I’ve since lost count, but my guess is the manuscript went through something like six iterations before reaching a point where I could search for an literary agent–happily accomplished when I signed with Bonnie Solow–and begin the ongoing task of offering the book to publishers.

At long last I could turn my eyes toward the Civil War and all the research books I’d collected in anticipation! Except the power of the story had left me. The drive to write it had withered and vanished. I suspect the idea got tired of being ignored and wandered off to a more fertile field, one ready to accept it.

Every now and then I toy with going back to see if I can revive that sense of vigor and excitement, but I don’t know. I may have missed my chance this time. But that’s okay. Something else miraculous occurred.

Where To Go For Elephants

Hello, all! I wanted to let you know that I’ve started an adjunct site to this one, focused entirely on elephants and the stories behind my book The Man Who Loved Elephants: 30 Years at Oregon’s Washington Park Zoo, which is being offered to publishers by my agent, Bonnie Solow.

Roger pontificating

Photo courtesy of Roger Henneous

Gruff, bow-legged, and whiskey-voiced, Roger Henneous admittedly “suffers fools lightly, and damn fools not at all,” but when it comes to elephants, he’s nothing but a big marshmallow. For nearly 30 years, he served as mother, mentor, teacher, and therapist to the largest breeding herd of elephants in captivity, among them the illustrious Belle–who made history in April 1962 by delivering the first calf born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years–and her equally famous son, Packy.

Belle became special to Roger for a different reason when she saved him from being killed by another elephant. From that moment, the two of them were bonded in a way UC Davis veterinarian Larry Galuppo later described as “incredible.”

At The Man Who Loved Elephants I’ll talk about these stories and more, and share photos from Roger’s days at the zoo. I hope you’ll join me there!

Blessings Abound

Well, my intent was to blog regularly and we all know how that ended. Seems every time I “plan” to do it, those plans are flung awry by circumstance. In this case, I don’t mind.

For some time  now, I’ve been trying to arrange a visit by my friend Roger Henneous to see the elephants at the Oregon Zoo. This isn’t just someone with an interest in elephants going to the zoo, this is the man who was senior keeper to those elephant returning after twenty years. Pretty damned momentous, particularly given that Roger once declared that there were too many bad memories associated with the place for him to ever consider going back.

Bit of clarification – Roger was senior keeper from roughly 1968 to 1998, give or take. Lots happened then, both good and bad. Several sweet calves were born. Roger went head-to-head with administration more than once, and busted his hump to give the elephants the best care he and his team could provide. (Details will be provided in my book THE MAN WHO LOVED ELEPHANTS.) The worse part was that during his last five years at the zoo, he lost several elephants to foot disease, his father to emphysema, and his mother to cancer.

To say the man was beat is to put it mildly. And so he withdrew.

Then an annoying little flea of a writer named Melissa Crandall (c’est moi!) got in touch with him about writing his memoirs. Initially, Rog thought she was “a quarter-bubble off” (if you know anything about working with levels, you’ll get the reference), but he agreed to talk with me and soon we were conversing 3 hours a week and I was scribbling madly. During the course of all this talk, Roger made it clear that he was NEVER, EVER, EVER going back to the zoo.

Okay, sez moi. No worries.

Except that one day, in passing, he said how nice it “might” be to see the old place and all the changes. “If you really mean that, Roger, ” I replied, “I’ll move Heaven and Earth to make it happen.” Roger agreed.

This was no a smooth journey, by any means, and toward the end I began to doubt whether it would happen or not. But Roger trusted me–thank you for that, my friend–and with the help of his wife RoseMerrie, daughters Michelle and Melissa, elephant curator Bob Lee, and veterinarian Mitch Finnegan, we made it happen.

Thanks to those listed above, and to the old friends who came out to welcome Roger back after all these years: Jim Rorman, Margot Monti, Rick Hanes, Diana Bratton, and Ivan Ratcliff. Thanks as well to the elephant staff to made our day so much fun: Gilbert Gomez, Shawn Finnell, and Pam Starkey.

And here’s the proof it really happened:

Roger meets Shine again for the first time in 20 years.

IMG_6664

Roger Henneous

Roger and the old gang:

033017HHG-189