Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Horrors

So I left Mom at the airport after a wonderful visit and battled the freakin' Newark highway network to get home for the Halloween festivities. During the drive, I had alot of time to think, and that's always a dangerous thing.

Life takes a notable turn when your mommy is in her eighties and the sun is over the yardarm for you in your forties. Based on family history, I have fifteen years left with her. But realistically, anything could happen at this point, and over the last ten years with the loss of my father and two brothers, that fact has been a painful lesson.

I guess what's bothering me right now is there's a clear and present limit. A timeline, if you will. She sort of brought it home when she mentioned that she'd had to take out a fifteen-year loan on her condo and didn't know if she would live long enough to pay it back. There was no drama in her statement. No guilt trip. Just the facts, Ma'am. But she did say that thought made her stop and think. Really think.

It did me too.

Nobody gets out of here alive. We've all faced that in varying degrees. Some wish they knew when they would go, some don't. But I realized today, I will definitely be losing my mommy within fifteen years--give or take a few and barring accidents. I see her twice a year on average, so that means thirty (+-) more visits.

So, my choice is now, how am I going to spend those visits with her?

Can anyone say Par-taaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyy??

Happy Halloween. Really. Have a happy one. Have many happy ones. This is all there is, so keep on dancing!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I'm a Bestseller!

Okay, I really am done blogging for the week, but I had to spin this!

Going The Distance was number 10, and Layover number 11 on Amazon Canada's bestseller list on October 20th. Is that a scream or what? Hey I'll take it. I'll take anything...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Of Mouths and Muthahs

So the other night, my attempts at being a good dental patient catapulted me into pain and misery. Seems I dug a little too ambitiously with the dental pick back there around the wisdom tooth. It swelled like a muthah and then turned canker. A flap of enraged gum is now folded over the top of my tooth, sending flame-filled nerve spasms into my right ear.

If you want to lose weight, this is a good way to do it. I haven't eaten in three days.

Speaking of muthahs, tomorrow mine comes winging in from Seattle for a week of fun and frolic. I won't be blogging, unless something really funny happens, which it might. Mom has a tendency to attract very funny events. I'm looking forward to seeing her mucho!

See you after Halloween!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

Jumpin' on the bandwagon with thirteen weird/interesting things about me:

1. Every Sunday I boil up a bunch of beets and keep them in the fridge for snacks. Child number one and I lurv beets.

2. I always have to have some sort of beverage with me--even if just running a short errand. I feel unsafe without one. What if I get thirsty?

3. I'll take a side in an argument that I don't necessarily agree with in order to keep a good conversation going.

4. Although I write them, I don't read a whole mess of romance novels. I mostly read non-fiction books about history, crime, and war.

5. I've been known to howl in my sleep. Yes. Howl.

6. I flew around the world and only got off the plane twice--in Hong Kong and Bangkok. FabDame helped! Total flight time: about fifty hours and the cost was about the same ;)

7. In Bangkok, FabDame and I stayed in the Honey Hotel--a prostitute's paradise. No one bothered us and we were not insulted.

8. I've sat on the lions in front of the NY Public Library, and the lions in Trafalgar Square.

9. I made friends with a baby killer whale in Marineland, Niagara Falls and for the whole day, with hundreds of visitors, she'd allow only me to pet her and play with her. She died shortly after. I don't think there's a connection there, though.

I'll always wonder what it was that she saw in me.

10. I had a freaky eye-infection when I was seven and the doctors thought I might die. I didn't.

11. Though my father was actually quite wealthy, he raised us as if we were poor. I'm thankful for that (seriously).

12. Both my grandmothers went to college!

13. For oh, about twenty-five years, I was deathly afraid of people. I hid it well enough for my sister-in-law to say: "She'd walk into Hell with a bucket of water." Nowadays, that's probably true.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Miss Behavior in Paperback!

I'm utterly thrilled to be in such illustrious company. This anthology is packed with steamy stories from EC's bestselling authors! Woooo Hoooo!! Read an excerpt!
Miss Behavior, Ann Wesley Hardin
Holiday Bound, Jaci Burton
Silent Knight, Delilah Devlin
Santa's Helpers, Jennifer Dunne
Jessamyn's Christmas Gift, N.J. Walters
Christmas Lovers, Jan Springer
Twas The Knight Before Christmas, J.C. Wilder
White Christmas, Marilyn Lee

On a face-fanning note, isn't Devin Yala, the cover model, the sizzlinest? He's even hotter in person, and is quite a rare individual. Take a look at the interview Lady Jaded did with him this month

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I'm not telling you to vote for me...

But they're taking a mini poll on the top ten romantica titles of 2006 over at AAR. It would mean tons of exposure for me, a boost in my career and sales, and a shiny star on my heart! BUT, I'm not telling you to vote for me. I'm just asking you to look:

Make a Difference in Ann's Life!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gestation Frustration

Every journey of fifty-thousand words begins with the first word.

You know, I carried and labored with my children for longer than the bell curve and it seems like my stories gestate longer too. I can't tell you how frustrating that can be as I watch friends who started after me zooming ahead with the number of books they release, with a seeming ease of productivity that startles me (even though I know for a fact that they sweat).

But, I guess that's what makes the reward so rich when it all finally clicks. Today I heard the click and I'm celebrating!

As I lay down for my nap earlier, my mind was racing. Where was this story going? How would it end? How in bloody hell could I resolve all the issues? Where was the illuminated path in the tangled forest of my mind? I needed it so badly to forge ahead without beating the bushes every single time I sat down at the keyboard. Where was my theme dammit!

Finally, finally, I connected all the dots. All the seemingly inconsequential things my fingers added to the story (with no help from me), including and especially the setting and some of the cultural and scientific phenomena that occur in that region, all sort of jostled into line and a glorious picture emerged.

*deep, satisfied sigh*

And I absolutely love it to pieces! It's such a high when that happens. I'm always grateful when it does because there's always that fear that it won't. But I still wish my gestations weren't so frustrating. I wish writing wasn't so painful until the real story emerged.

I guess, despite all effort to the contrary, I just haven't totally accepted my whacked out process yet. Do you think it's because I don't understand it?

Ideas? Anyone? This frustrated gestator wants to know!

Are we there yet?

Yo! I just read that Lisa Valdez postponed her sequel to Passion for two years because she wanted it to be perfect. She is now my poster child and hero. (Don't worry, though, Bree. I won't pull a Lisa ;)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Empire Strikes Back

There's a big kerfuffle on the Internet, in Washington, and in NY over the intellectual superiority of literary types vs romance readers. Here's my small statement on the topic:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

We're Not Gonna Take It!

Years ago while reading an article on ivory poachers, I came upon a fact that completely and profoundly altered my view of elephants. In order to efficiently hunt, the poachers had taken to the air, in planes, where they would fly over herds and pick off the ones with the biggest tusks. Eventually, however, this method became obsolete and inefficient because the elephants, upon hearing the approaching plane, would scurry into the bush or simply bury their head in one. If there was no bush around, the rest of the elephants in the herd would circle the one with the biggest tusks and hide it from the sharpshooters.

They knew what was going on. They figured it out. Their brains were able to process cause and effect and plan a solution. Now, it seems, they've used up their solutions, we've used up their patience, and they're fighting back the only way they have left.

I found this poignant, thought-provoking, impossibly sad but very important article in the NY Times. It's a long one, but well worth reading. Bring your tissues:

All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem. In the Indian state of Jharkhand near the western border of Bangladesh, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004. In the past 12 years, elephants have killed 605 people in Assam, a state in northeastern India, 239 of them since 2001; 265 elephants have died in that same period, the majority of them as a result of retaliation by angry villagers, who have used everything from poison-tipped arrows to laced food to exact their revenge. In Africa, reports of human-elephant conflicts appear almost daily, from Zambia to Tanzania, from Uganda to Sierra Leone, where 300 villagers evacuated their homes last year because of unprovoked elephant attacks.

Still, it is not only the increasing number of these incidents that is causing alarm but also the singular perversity — for want of a less anthropocentric term — of recent elephant aggression. Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in ‘‘a number of reserves’’ in the region. In July of last year, officials in Pilanesberg shot three young male elephants who were responsible for the killings of 63 rhinos, as well as attacks on people in safari vehicles. In Addo Elephant National Park, also in South Africa, up to 90 percent of male elephant deaths are now attributable to other male elephants, compared with a rate of 6 percent in more stable elephant communities.

In a coming book on this phenomenon, Gay Bradshaw, a psychologist at the environmental-sciences program at Oregon State University, notes that in India, where the elephant has long been regarded as a deity, a recent headline in a leading newspaper warned, ‘‘To Avoid Confrontation, Don’t Worship Elephants.’’ ‘‘Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people has dramatically changed,’’ Bradshaw told me recently. ‘‘What we are seeing today is extraordinary. Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relatively peaceful coexistence, there is now hostility and violence. Now, I use the term ‘violence’ because of the intentionality associated with it, both in the aggression of humans and, at times, the recently observed behavior of elephants.’’

For a number of biologists and ethologists who have spent their careers studying elephant behavior, the attacks have become so abnormal in both number and kind that they can no longer be attributed entirely to the customary factors. Typically, elephant researchers have cited, as a cause of aggression, the high levels of testosterone in newly matured male elephants or the competition for land and resources between elephants and humans. But in ‘‘Elephant Breakdown,’’ a 2005 essay in the journal Nature, Bradshaw and several colleagues argued that today’s elephant populations are suffering from a form of chronic stress, a kind of species-wide trauma. Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss, they claim, have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture.

It has long been apparent that every large, land-based animal on this planet is ultimately fighting a losing battle with humankind. And yet entirely befitting of an animal with such a highly developed sensibility, a deep-rooted sense of family and, yes, such a good long-term memory, the elephant is not going out quietly. It is not leaving without making some kind of statement, one to which scientists from a variety of disciplines, including human psychology, are now beginning to pay close attention.

Kyambura is a village at the far southeastern edge of the park. Back in 2003, Kyambura was reportedly the site of the very sort of sudden, unprovoked elephant attack I’d been hearing about. According to an account of the event in the magazine New Scientist, a number of huts and fields were trampled, and the townspeople were afraid to venture out to surrounding villages, either by foot or on their bikes, because elephants were regularly blocking the road and charging out at those who tried to pass.

Park officials from the Uganda Wildlife Authority with whom I tried to discuss the incident were reluctant to talk about it or any of the recent killings by elephants in the area. Eco-tourism is one of Uganda’s major sources of income, and the elephant and other wildlife stocks of Queen Elizabeth National Park are only just now beginning to recover from years of virtually unchecked poaching and habitat destruction.

But when Okello and I asked a shopkeeper named Ibrah Byamukama about elephant attacks, he immediately nodded and pointed to a patch of maize and millet fields just up the road, along the edges of the surrounding Maramagambo Forest. He confirmed that a small group of elephants charged out one morning two years earlier, trampled the fields and nearby gardens, knocked down a few huts and then left. He then pointed to a long orange gash in the earth between the planted fields and the forest: a 15-foot-deep, 25-foot-wide trench that had been dug by the wildlife authority around the perimeter of Kyambura in an attempt to keep the elephants at bay. On the way out of town, Okello and I took a closer look at the trench. It was filled with stacks of thorny shrubs for good measure.

‘‘The people are still worried,’’ Byamukama said, shaking his head. ‘‘The elephants are just becoming more destructive. I don’t know why.’’

Three years ago, Gay Bradshaw, then working on her graduate degree in psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute outside Santa Barbara, Calif., began wondering much the same thing: was the extraordinary behavior of elephants in Africa and Asia signaling a breaking point? With the assistance of several established African-elephant researchers, including Daphne Sheldrick and Cynthia Moss, and with the help of Allan Schore, an expert on human trauma disorders at the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at U.C.L.A., Bradshaw sought to combine traditional research into elephant behavior with insights about trauma drawn from human neuroscience. Using the few remaining relatively stable elephant herds in places like Amboseli National Park in Kenya as control groups, Bradshaw and her colleagues analyzed the far more fractious populations found in places like Pilanesberg in South Africa and Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. What emerged was a portrait of pervasive pachyderm dysfunction.

Elephants, when left to their own devices, are profoundly social creatures. A herd of them is, in essence, one incomprehensibly massive elephant: a somewhat loosely bound and yet intricately interconnected, tensile organism. Young elephants are raised within an extended, multitiered network of doting female caregivers that includes the birth mother, grandmothers, aunts and friends. These relations are maintained over a life span as long as 70 years. Studies of established herds have shown that young elephants stay within 15 feet of their mothers for nearly all of their first eight years of life, after which young females are socialized into the matriarchal network, while young males go off for a time into an all-male social group before coming back into the fold as mature adults.

When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skull’s lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting. If harm comes to a member of an elephant group, all the other elephants are aware of it. This sense of cohesion is further enforced by the elaborate communication system that elephants use. In close proximity they employ a range of vocalizations, from low-frequency rumbles to higher-pitched screams and trumpets, along with a variety of visual signals, from the waving of their trunks to subtle anglings of the head, body, feet and tail. When communicating over long distances — in order to pass along, for example, news about imminent threats, a sudden change of plans or, of the utmost importance to elephants, the death of a community member — they use patterns of subsonic vibrations that are felt as far as several miles away by exquisitely tuned sensors in the padding of their feet.

This fabric of elephant society, Bradshaw and her colleagues concluded, had effectively been frayed by years of habitat loss and poaching, along with systematic culling by government agencies to control elephant numbers and translocations of herds to different habitats. The number of older matriarchs and female caregivers (or ‘‘allomothers’’) had drastically fallen, as had the number of elder bulls, who play a significant role in keeping younger males in line. In parts of Zambia and Tanzania, a number of the elephant groups studied contained no adult females whatsoever. In Uganda, herds were often found to be ‘‘semipermanent aggregations,’’ as a paper written by Bradshaw describes them, with many females between the ages of 15 and 25 having no familial associations.

As a result of such social upheaval, calves are now being born to and raised by ever younger and inexperienced mothers. Young orphaned elephants, meanwhile, that have witnessed the death of a parent at the hands of poachers are coming of age in the absence of the support system that defines traditional elephant life. ‘‘The loss of elephant elders,’’ Bradshaw told me, ‘‘and the traumatic experience of witnessing the massacres of their family, impairs normal brain and behavior development in young elephants.’’

What Bradshaw and her colleagues describe would seem to be an extreme form of anthropocentric conjecture if the evidence that they’ve compiled from various elephant resesarchers, even on the strictly observational level, weren’t so compelling. The elephants of decimated herds, especially orphans who’ve watched the death of their parents and elders from poaching and culling, exhibit behavior typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related disorders in humans: abnormal startle response, unpredictable asocial behavior, inattentive mothering and hyperaggression. Studies of the various assaults on the rhinos in South Africa, meanwhile, have determined that the perpetrators were in all cases adolescent males that had witnessed their families being shot down in cullings. It was common for these elephants to have been tethered to the bodies of their dead and dying relatives until they could be rounded up for translocation to, as Bradshaw and Schore describe them, ‘‘locales lacking traditional social hierarchy of older bulls and intact natal family structures.’’

In fact, even the relatively few attempts that park officials have made to restore parts of the social fabric of elephant society have lent substance to the elephant-breakdown theory. When South African park rangers recently introduced a number of older bull elephants into several destabilized elephant herds in Pilanesburg and Addo, the wayward behavior — including unusually premature hormonal changes among the adolescent elephants — abated.

But according to Bradshaw and her colleagues, the various pieces of the elephant-trauma puzzle really come together at the level of neuroscience, or what might be called the physiology of psychology, by which scientists can now map the marred neuronal fields, snapped synaptic bridges and crooked chemical streams of an embattled psyche. Though most scientific knowledge of trauma is still understood through research on human subjects, neural studies of elephants are now under way. (The first functional M.R.I. scan of an elephant brain, taken this year, revealed, perhaps not surprisingly, a huge hippocampus, a seat of memory in the mammalian brain, as well as a prominent structure in the limbic system, which processes emotions.) Allan Schore, the U.C.L.A. psychologist and neuroscientist who for the past 15 years has focused his research on early human brain development and the negative impact of trauma on it, recently wrote two articles with Bradshaw on the stress-related neurobiological underpinnings of current abnormal elephant behavior.

‘‘We know that these mechanisms cut across species,’’ Schore told me. ‘‘In the first years of humans as well as elephants, development of the emotional brain is impacted by these attachment mechanisms, by the interaction that the infant has with the primary caregiver, especially the mother. When these early experiences go in a positive way, it leads to greater resilience in things like affect regulation, stress regulation, social communication and empathy. But when these early experiences go awry in cases of abuse and neglect, there is a literal thinning down of the essential circuits in the brain, especially in the emotion-processing areas.’’

For Bradshaw, these continuities between human and elephant brains resonate far outside the field of neuroscience. ‘‘Elephants are suffering and behaving in the same ways that we recognize in ourselves as a result of violence,’’ she told me. ‘‘It is entirely congruent with what we know about humans and other mammals. Except perhaps for a few specific features, brain organization and early development of elephants and humans are extremely similar. That’s not news. What is news is when you start asking, What does this mean beyond the science? How do we respond to the fact that we are causing other species like elephants to psychologically break down? In a way, it’s not so much a cognitive or imaginative leap anymore as it is a political one.’’

Eve Abe says that in her mind, she made that leap before she ever left her mother’s womb. An animal ethologist and wildlife-management consultant now based in London, Abe (pronounced AH-bay) grew up in northern Uganda. After several years of studying elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park, where decades of poaching had drastically reduced the herds, Abe received her doctorate at Cambridge University in 1994 for work detailing the parallels she saw between the plight of Uganda’s orphaned male elephants and the young male orphans of her own people, the Acholi, whose families and villages have been decimated by years of civil war. It’s work she proudly proclaims to be not only ‘‘the ultimate act of anthropomorphism’’ but also what she was destined to do.

‘Abe began her studies in Queen Elizabeth National Park in 1982, as an undergraduate at Makerere University in Kampala, shortly after she and her family, who’d been living for years as refugees in Kenya to escape the brutal violence in Uganda under the dictatorship of Idi Amin, returned home in the wake of Amin’s ouster in 1979. Abe told me that when she first arrived at the park, there were fewer than 150 elephants remaining from an original population of nearly 4,000. The bulk of the decimation occurred during the war with Tanzania that led to Amin’s overthrow: soldiers from both armies grabbed all the ivory they could get their hands on — and did so with such cravenness that the word ‘‘poaching’’ seems woefully inadequate. ‘‘Normally when you say ‘poaching,’ ’’ Abe said, ‘‘you think of people shooting one or two and going off. But this was war. They’d just throw hand grenades at the elephants, bring whole families down and cut out the ivory. I call that mass destruction.’’

The last elephant survivors of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Abe said, never left one another’s side. They kept in a tight bunch, moving as one. Only one elderly female remained; Abe estimated her to be at least 62. It was this matriarch who first gathered the survivors together from their various hideouts on the park’s forested fringes and then led them back out as one group into open savanna. Until her death in the early 90’s, the old female held the group together, the population all the while slowly beginning to rebound. In her yet-to-be-completed memoir, ‘‘My Elephants and My People,’’ Abe writes of the prominence of the matriarch in Acholi society; she named the park’s matriarchal elephant savior Lady Irene, after her own mother. ‘‘It took that core group of survivors in the park about five or six years,’’ Abe told me, ‘‘before I started seeing whole new family units emerge and begin to split off and go their own way.’’

In 1986, Abe’s family was forced to flee the country again. Violence against Uganda’s people and elephants never completely abated after Amin’s regime collapsed, and it drastically worsened in the course of the full-fledged war that developed between government forces and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. For years, that army’s leader, Joseph Kony, routinely ‘‘recruited’’ from Acholi villages, killing the parents of young males before their eyes, or sometimes having them do the killings themselves, before pressing them into service as child soldiers. The Lord’s Resistance Army has by now been largely defeated, but Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for numerous crimes against humanity, has hidden with what remains of his army in the mountains of Murchison Falls National Park, and more recently in Garamba National Park in northern Congo, where poaching by the Lord’s Resistance Army has continued to orphan more elephants.

‘‘I started looking again at what has happened among the Acholi and the elephants,’’ Abe told me. ‘‘I saw that it is an absolute coincidence between the two. You know we used to have villages. We still don’t have villages. There are over 200 displaced-people’s camps in present-day northern Uganda. Everybody lives now within these camps, and there are no more elders. The elders were systematically eliminated. The first batch of elimination was during Amin’s time, and that set the stage for the later destruction of northern Uganda. We are among the lucky few, because my mom and dad managed to escape. But the families there are just broken. I know many of them. Displaced people are living in our home now. My mother said let them have it. All these kids who have grown up with their parents killed — no fathers, no mothers, only children looking after them. They don’t go to schools. They have no schools, no hospitals. No infrastructure. They form these roaming, violent, destructive bands. It’s the same thing that happens with the elephants. Just like the male war orphans, they are wild, completely lost.’’

On the ride from Paddington that afternoon out to Heathrow, where I would catch a flight to Uganda, Abe told me that the parallel between the plight of Ugandans and their elephants was in many ways too close for her to see at first. It was only after she moved to London that she had what was, in a sense, her first full, adult recognition of the entwinement between human and elephant.

‘‘I remember when I first was working on my doctorate,’’ she said. ‘‘I mentioned that I was doing this parallel once to a prominent scientist in Kenya. He looked amazed. He said, ‘How come nobody has made this connection before?’ I told him because it hadn’t happened this way to anyone else’s tribe before. To me it’s something I see so clearly. Most people are scared of showing that kind of anthropomorphism. But coming from me it doesn’t sound like I’m inventing something. It’s there. People know it’s there. Some might think that the way I describe the elephant attacks makes the animals look like people. But people are animals.’’

Shortly after my return from Uganda, I went to visit the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a 2,700-acre rehabilitation center and retirement facility situated in the state’s verdant, low-rolling southern hill country. The sanctuary is a kind of asylum for some of the more emotionally and psychologically disturbed former zoo and circus elephants in the United States — cases so bad that the people who profited from them were eager to let them go. Given that elephants in the wild are now exhibiting aberrant behaviors that were long observed in captive elephants, it perhaps follows that a positive working model for how to ameliorate the effects of elephant breakdown can be found in captivity.

Of the 19 current residents of the sanctuary, perhaps the biggest hard-luck story is that of a 40-year-old, five-ton Asian elephant named Misty. Originally captured as a calf in India in 1966, Misty spent her first decade in captivity with a number of American circuses and finally ended up in the early 80’s at a wild-animal attraction known as Li on Country Safari in Irvine, Calif. It was there, on the afternoon of July 25, 1983, that Misty, one of four performing elephants at Lion Country Safari that summer, somehow managed to break free of her chains and began madly dashing about the park, looking to make an escape. When one of the park’s zoologists tried to corner and contain her, Misty killed him with one swipe of her trunk.

There are, in the long, checkered history of human-elephant relations, countless stories of lethal elephantine assaults, and almost invariably of some gruesomely outsize, animalistic form of retribution exacted by us. It was in the very state of Tennessee, back in September 1916, that another five-ton Asian circus elephant, Mary, was impounded by a local sheriff for the killing of a young hotel janitor who’d been hired to mind Mary during a stopover in the northeast Tennessee town of Kingsport. The janitor had apparently taken Mary for a swim at a local pond, where, according to witnesses, he poked her behind the left ear with a metal hook just as she was reaching for a piece of floating watermelon rind. Enraged, Mary turned, swiftly snatched him up with her trunk, dashed him against a refreshment stand and then smashed his head with her foot.

With cries from the townspeople to ‘‘Kill the elephant!’’ and threats from nearby town leaders to bar the circus if ‘‘Murderous Mary,’’ it was ultimately decided to have Mary hanged and shipped her by train to the nearby town of Erwin, Tenn., where more than 2,500 people gathered at the local rail yard for her execution. Dozens of children are said to have run off screaming in terror when the chain that was suspended from a huge industrial crane snapped, leaving Mary writhing on the ground with a broken hip. A local rail worker promptly clambered up Mary’s bulk and secured a heavier chain for a second, successful hoisting.

Misty’s fate in the early 80’s, by contrast, seems a triumph of modern humanism. Banished, after the Lion Safari killing, to the Hawthorn Corporation, a company in Illinois that trains and leases elephants and tigers to circuses, she would continue to lash out at a number of her trainers over the years. But when Hawthorn was convicted of numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act in 2003, the company agreed to relinquish custody of Misty to the Elephant Sanctuary. She was loaded onto a trailer transport on the morning of Nov. 17, 2004, and even then managed to get away with one final shot at the last in her long line of captors.

‘‘The details are kind of sketchy,’’ Carol Buckley, a founder of the Elephant Sanctuary, said to me one afternoon in July, the two of us pulling up on her all-terrain four-wheeler to a large grassy enclosure where an extremely docile and contented-looking Misty, trunk high, ears flapping, waited to greet us. ‘‘Hawthorn’s owner was trying to get her to stretch out so he could remove her leg chains before loading her on the trailer. At one point he prodded her with a bull hook, and she just knocked him down with a swipe of her trunk. But we’ve seen none of that since she’s been here. She’s as sweet as can be. You’d never know that this elephant killed anybody.’’

In the course of her nearly two years at the Elephant Sanctuary — much of it spent in quarantine while undergoing daily treatment for tuberculosis — Misty has also been in therapy, as in psychotherapy. Wild-caught elephants often witness as young calves the slaughter of their parents, just about the only way, shy of a far more costly tranquilization procedure, to wrest a calf from elephant parents, especially the mothers. The young captives are then dispatched to a foreign environment to work either as performers or laborers, all the while being kept in relative confinement and isolation, a kind of living death for an animal as socially developed and dependent as we now know elephants to be.

And yet just as we now understand that elephants hurt like us, we’re learning that they can heal like us as well. Indeed, Misty has become a testament to the Elephant Sanctuary’s signature ‘‘passive control’’ system, a therapy tailored in many ways along the lines of those used to treat human sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder. Passive control, as a sanctuary newsletter describes it, depends upon ‘‘knowledge of how elephants process information and respond to stress’’ as well as specific knowledge of each elephant’s past response to stress. Under this so-called nondominance system, there is no discipline, retaliation or withholding of food, water and treats, which are all common tactics of elephant trainers. Great pains are taken, meanwhile, to afford the elephants both a sense of safety and freedom of choice — two mainstays of human trauma therapy — as well as continual social interaction.

Upon her arrival at the Elephant Sanctuary, Misty seemed to sense straight off the different vibe of her new home. When Scott Blais of the sanctuary went to free Misty’s still-chained leg a mere day after she’d arrived, she stood peaceably by, practically offering her leg up to him. Over her many months of quarantine, meanwhile, with only humans acting as a kind of surrogate elephant family, she has consistently gone through the daily rigors of her tuberculosis treatments — involving two caretakers, a team of veterinarians and the use of a restraining chute in which harnesses are secured about her chest and tail — without any coaxing or pressure. ‘‘We’ll shower her with praise in the barn afterwards,’’ Buckley told me as Misty stood by, chomping on a mouthful of hay, ‘‘and she actually purrs with pleasure. The whole barn vibrates.’’

Of course, Misty’s road to recovery — when viewed in light of her history and that of all the other captive elephants, past and present — is as harrowing as it is heartening. She and the others have suffered, we now understand, not simply because of us, but because they are, by and large, us. If as recently as the end of the Vietnam War people were still balking at the idea that a soldier, for example, could be physically disabled by psychological harm — the idea, in other words, that the mind is not an entity apart from the body and therefore just as woundable as any limb — we now find ourselves having to make an equally profound and, for many, even more difficult leap: that a fellow creature as ostensibly unlike us in every way as an elephant is as precisely and intricately woundable as we are. And while such knowledge naturally places an added burden upon us, the keepers, that burden is now being greatly compounded by the fact that sudden violent outbursts like Misty’s can no longer be dismissed as the inevitable isolated revolts of a restless few against the constraints and abuses of captivity.

They have no future without us. The question we are now forced to grapple with is whether we would mind a future without them, among the more mindful creatures on this earth and, in many ways, the most devoted. Indeed, the manner of the elephants’ continued keeping, their restoration and conservation, both in civil confines and what’s left of wild ones, is now drawing the attention of everyone from naturalists to neuroscientists. Too much about elephants, in the end — their desires and devotions, their vulnerability and tremendous resilience — reminds us of ourselves to dismiss out of hand this revolt they’re currently staging against their own dismissal. And while our concern may ultimately be rooted in that most human of impulses — the preservation of our own self-image — the great paradox about this particular moment in our history with elephants is that saving them will require finally getting past ourselves; it will demand the ultimate act of deep, interspecies empathy.

On a more immediate, practical level, as Gay Bradshaw sees it, this involves taking what has been learned about elephant society, psychology and emotion and inculcating that knowledge into the conservation schemes of researchers and park rangers. This includes doing things like expanding elephant habitat to what it used to be historically and avoiding the use of culling and translocations as conservation tools. ‘‘If we want elephants around,’’ Bradshaw told me, ‘‘then what we need to do is simple: learn how to live with elephants. In other words, in addition to conservation, we need to educate people how to live with wild animals like humans used to do, and to create conditions whereby people can live on their land and live with elephants without it being this life-and-death situation.’’

The other part of our newly emerging compact with elephants, however, is far more difficult to codify. It requires nothing less than a fundamental shift in the way we look at animals and, by extension, ourselves. It requires what Bradshaw somewhat whimsically refers to as a new ‘‘trans-species psyche,’’ a commitment to move beyond an anthropocentric frame of reference and, in effect, be elephants. Two years ago, Bradshaw wrote a paper for the journal Society and Animals, focusing on the work of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, a sanctuary for orphaned and traumatized wild elephants — more or less the wilderness-based complement to Carol Buckley’s trauma therapy at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The trust’s human caregivers essentially serve as surrogate mothers to young orphan elephants, gradually restoring their psychological and emotional well being to the point at which they can be reintroduced into existing wild herds. The human ‘‘allomothers’’ stay by their adopted young orphans’ sides, even sleeping with them at night in stables. The caretakers make sure, however, to rotate from one elephant to the next so that the orphans grow fond of all the keepers. Otherwise an elephant would form such a strong bond with one keeper that whenever he or she was absent, that elephant would grieve as if over the loss of another family member, often becoming physically ill itself.

To date, the Sheldrick Trust has successfully rehabilitated more than 60 elephants and reintroduced them into wild herds. A number of them have periodically returned to the sanctuary with their own wild-born calves in order to reunite with their human allomothers and to introduce their offspring to what — out on this uncharted frontier of the new ‘‘trans-species psyche’’ — is now being recognized, at least by the elephants, it seems, as a whole new subspecies: the human allograndmother. ‘‘Traditionally, nature has served as a source of healing for humans,’’ Bradshaw told me. ‘‘Now humans can participate actively in the healing of both themselves and nonhuman animals. The trust and the sanctuary are the beginnings of a mutually benefiting interspecies culture.’’

On my way back to New York via London, I contacted Felicity de Zulueta, a psychiatrist at Maudsley Hospital in London who treats victims of extreme trauma, among them former child soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army. De Zulueta, an acquaintance of Eve Abe’s, grew up in Uganda in the early 1960’s on the outskirts of Queen Elizabeth National Park, near where her father, a malaria doctor, had set up camp as part of a malaria-eradication program. For a time she had her own elephant, orphaned by poaching, that local villagers had given to her father, who brought it home to the family garage, where it immediately bonded with an orphan antelope and dog already residing there.

‘‘He was doing fine,’’ de Zulueta told me of the pet elephant. ‘‘My mother was loving it and feeding it, and then my parents realized, How can we keep this elephant that is going to grow bigger than the garage? So they gave it to who they thought were the experts. They sent him to the Entebbe Zoo, and although they gave him all the right food and everything, he was a lonely little elephant, and he died. He had no attachment.’’

For de Zulueta, the parallel that Abe draws between the plight of war orphans, human and elephant, is painfully apt, yet also provides some cause for hope, given the often startling capacity of both animals for recovery. She told me that one Ugandan war orphan she is currently treating lost all the members of his family except for two older brothers. Remarkably, one of those brothers, while serving in the Ugandan Army, rescued the younger sibling from the Lord’s Resistance Army; the older brother’s unit had captured the rebel battalion in which his younger brother had been forced to fight.

The two brothers eventually made their way to London, and for the past two years, the younger brother has been going through a gradual process of recovery in the care of Maudsley Hospital. Much of the rehabilitation, according to de Zulueta, especially in the early stages, relies on the basic human trauma therapy principles now being applied to elephants: providing decent living quarters, establishing a sense of safety and of attachment to a larger community and allowing freedom of choice. After that have come the more complex treatments tailored to the human brain’s particular cognitive capacities: things like reliving the original traumatic experience and being taught to modulate feelings through early detection of hyperarousal and through breathing techniques. And the healing of trauma, as de Zulueta describes it, turns out to have physical correlatives in the brain just as its wounding does.

‘‘What I say is, we find bypass,’’ she explained. ‘‘We bypass the wounded areas using various techniques. Some of the wounds are not healable. Their scars remain. But there is hope because the brain is an enormous computer, and you can learn to bypass its wounds by finding different methods of approaching life. Of course there may be moments when something happens and the old wound becomes unbearable. Still, people do recover. The boy I’ve been telling you about is 18 now, and he has survived very well in terms of his emotional health and capacities. He’s a lovely, lovely man. And he’s a poet. He writes beautiful poetry.’’

On the afternoon in July that I left the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, Carol Buckley and Scott Blais seemed in particularly good spirits. Misty was only weeks away from the end of her quarantine, and she would soon be able to socialize with some of her old cohorts from the Hawthorn Corporation: eight female Asians that had been given over to the sanctuary. I would meet the lot of them that day, driving from one to the next on the back of Buckley’s four-wheeler across the sanctuary’s savanna-like stretches. Buckley and Blais refer to them collectively as the Divas.

Buckley and Blais told me that they got word not long ago of a significant breakthrough in a campaign of theirs to get elephants out of entertainment and zoos: the Bronx Zoo, one of the oldest and most formidable zoos in the country, had announced that upon the death of the zoo’s three current elephant inhabitants, Patty, Maxine and Happy, it would phase out its elephant exhibit on social-behavioral grounds — an acknowledgment of a new awareness of the elephant’s very particular sensibility and needs. ‘‘They’re really taking the lead,’’ Buckley told me. ‘‘Zoos don’t want to concede the inappropriateness of keeping elephants in such confines. But if we as a society determine that an animal like this suffers in captivity, if the information shows us that they do, hey, we are the stewards. You’d think we’d want to do the right thing.’’

Four days later, I received an e-mail message from Gay Bradshaw, who consults with Buckley and Blais on their various stress-therapy strategies. She wrote that one of the sanctuary’s elephants, an Asian named Winkie, had just killed a 36-year-old female assistant caretaker and critically injured the male caretaker who’d tried to save her.

People who work with animals on a daily basis can tell you all kinds of stories about their distinct personalities and natures. I’d gotten, in fact, an elaborate breakdown from Buckley and Blais on the various elephants at the sanctuary and their sociopolitical maneuverings within the sanctuary’s distinct elephant culture, and I went to my notebook to get a fix again on Winkie. A 40-year-old, 7,600-pound female from Burma, she came to the sanctuary in 2000 from the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisc., where she had a reputation for lashing out at keepers. When Winkie first arrived at the sanctuary, Buckley told me, she used to jump merely upon being touched and then would wait for a confrontation. But when it never came, she slowly calmed down. ‘‘Has never lashed out at primary keepers,’’ my last note on Winkie reads, ‘‘but has at secondary ones.’’

Bradshaw’s e-mail message concludes: ‘‘A stunning illustration of trauma in elephants. The indelible etching.’’

I thought back to a moment in Queen Elizabeth National Park this past June. As Nelson Okello and I sat waiting for a matriarch and her calf to pass, he mentioned to me an odd little detail about the killing two months earlier of the man from the village of Katwe, something that, the more I thought about it, seemed to capture this particularly fraught moment we’ve arrived at with the elephants. Okello said that after the man’s killing, the elephant herd buried him as it would one of its own, carefully covering the body with earth and brush and then standing vigil over it.

Even as we’re forcing them out, it seems, the elephants are going out of their way to put us, the keepers, in an ever more discomfiting place, challenging us to preserve someplace for them, the ones who in many ways seem to regard the matter of life and death more devoutly than we. In fact, elephant culture could be considered the precursor of our own, the first permanent human settlements having sprung up around the desire of wandering tribes to stay by the graves of their dead. ‘‘The city of the dead,’’ as Lewis Mumford once wrote, ‘‘antedates the city of the living.’’

When a group of villagers from Katwe went out to reclaim the man’s body for his family’s funeral rites, the elephants refused to budge. Human remains, a number of researchers have observed, are the only other ones that elephants will treat as they do their own. In the end, the villagers resorted to a tactic that has long been etched in the elephant’s collective memory, firing volleys of gunfire into the air at close range, finally scaring the mourning herd away.

*footnote from me: why are elephants mourning us after they kill us? Why are they treating us with an honor preserved for their own kind, their most loved? It seems eerily similar to how we treat human killers--how we mercifully remove them, because we have to, and then give them a decent burial afterwards. Except we're not supposed to enjoy capital punishment, even though many of us take an evil glee in it. Few of us would even think of mourning our killers.

But elephants do. Or maybe they're mourning the fact that they had to take a life in order to preserve their own. Or, maybe, they've studied us as closely as we've studied them and they recognize in us, a kinship.

Get more information on Misty, Winkie and their sisters at the elephant santuary here: http://www.elephants.com/


This and That and This Into That

In the Life is Grand dept: Philippa Gregory has continued her phenomenal Tudor series with a new book, The Boleyn Inheritance. If you haven't read The Other Boleyn Girl you're missing out on one of the best reads of your life--the kind you carry with you and sleep with in hopes of catching thirty extra seconds to read more. Yeah, I wasn't all that interested in Henry VIII either. You just wait...I can't. I'm hustling out to the bookstore today!

In the Life is Cute dept, check this out This Into That--an artist who turns old books into furniture. Take a minute to read the content. It's really adorable!

In the Life Suxs dept, my dream house has no dishwasher, and no room to install one without a total kitchen renovation--like, 30k worth as the room would have to be expanded. I love me a good dream house, but that's a bit pricey for a dishwasher. The hunt continues.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Movin' on...down

Today I visited my dream house. Eighty-three years old, plaster walls, stone construction, old-growth trees, massive front porch (my future al fresco office), sunroom in back (my future inside office), wide hallways, large rooms (though, few of them) steam heat with iron radiators (Lord, do I love the whistle and clank of steam coming up through the pipes), three stories, wood floors in every room, walk to town.

Not only that, if we sold the house we're living in now, we could pay cash for this one, fix up the minor things it needs, and free up income to pay for college for the children.

It's a dream come true. Eternally overwhelmed by the size of the house I'm in, I've wanted to downsize for years. At the moment, I'm totally clogged with all the hoops we'd have to not only jump through, but clear cleanly, in order to rid ourselves of the house we're in right now--and all the uneeded stuff inside it. And will someone else snap up my dream house while I'm doing all that stuff?


But as God is my witness, I want that house. I've wanted that house my entire life.

What is your dream house? What does it look like, sound like? Where is it located and what amenities does it possess? Do you want to find it, or have you given up? Share your dreams here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hafta Hatha!

Child number one dragged me, kicking and screaming, to a yoga class tonight. I've been casting fruitlessly for a new exercise and yoga was about the last one on my list. I prefer to do a sport--like tennis, fencing or a martial art--and learn something while I get in shape. But we had paid for a group of sessions at a new yoga studio long ago, and this seemed the time to get our money's worth.

Wow. Am I glad I did.

The room was candlelit and fragrant, and the music was a combination of pan flute and what sounded like Buddhist/hindu chants. It set an excellent mood and transported me to another realm immediately. But that wasn't even the best part!

I feel like my body was slowly and gently disassembled over that hour-and-a-half and put back together properly by a master craftsman. My back actually wants to stay straight. I don't have to remind it. Every muscle in my body feels good. A little shaky. But good.

We ended the evening with three long ohms, and the act of joining voices with the others like that had a profound effect on my spirit. I expected to feel stupid, ya know? But I didn't.

I will so, totally go back to that class.

Anyone else out there practicing yoga? How long? Did you feel the same way after your first class? Do you hafta have your hatha? (say that three times fast)

Arcanity Insanity

Because I write contemporaries I don't have to spend a whole lot of time researching. But I do have to do some. Generally I can be found looking up flight procedures, genetic testing, names of obscure galaxies, University addresses--pretty typical stuff. The other day I ran across an esoteric tidbit of information I could've used for Layover, if I'd had any inkling at all that I'd need it!

Seems that jets travelling west fly at even-numbered altitudes, whereas those flying east do so at odd-numbered intervals. One of the reasons for the tragic plane crash in the Amazon was that one of the jets was at an even-numbered altitude when it shouldn't have been, and its wing clipped the doomed airliner's wing in passing.

How does this relate to Layover? After a steamy kiss in the cockpit, Jack, piloting a westbound plane, is instructed to ascend to 39,000 feet...

Oops! heh heh. Sorry about the mid-air collision that ended your romance before it even began. I didn't know!

Guess it's a good thing I never handed in that Air Traffic Controller application back in the 80s when they were desperate to hire people like me (I did pass the test!)

Anyway, the glaring geographical error in the e-book version far outweighs this small, arcane one. Practically no one would notice. But it's interesting.

Have you found small, strange errors like that in your writing or in your reading? If so, spill. Add to the arcanity insanity!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

We Have a Winner!

PC, come on down! You've won the signed copy of Going The Distance and should have an email in your inbox!

Thanks to all who entered!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Big Announcement Tomorrow!

Stay tuned to find out the winner of the signed copy of Going The Distance! I'll be drawing the name tomorrow, and as soon as the book arrives on my doorstep to sign, it'll be winging it's way to one lucky reader!

This contest has been wonderful. We got scores of entries from all over the world! I can't wait to announce the winner! Thank you one and all.