Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chuck and the Almost Elephant Stampede

The expression “curiosity will kill a cat” was never more true than when Chuck decided he wanted to join Bob and I one evening to watch the elephants go to the trees.

We were on safari in Kenya, Africa, and staying at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro in a fenced area near a preserve.

The elephant is the biggest land mammal still alive today, and can live to be between 50 and 70 years old. They can weigh from 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) to 26,000 pounds (12,000 kilograms). An elephant can eat about 600 pounds of food and drink 80 gallons of water a day.

To me, these are intimidating statistics.

If you see an elephant lying on the ground, that is not a good sign. It is almost impossible for an elephant to get up, once he is on the ground.

So, one day, Chuck asked the magic question--how do elephants sleep?

Now when Chuckie sleeps, he gets all curled up in his cat bed and sometimes twines himself around Ella (his sister) so that you can’t even tell where one cat begins and the other cat ends. He puts his paw over his nose to keep it warm. He wraps his tail around him. AND Chuckie loves to sleep in the cat beds that are near the heaters. Cats love heat and the sun.

Can you imagine elephants curling themselves in giant elephant beds?

I don’t think so.

Stephen, our guide, who owed his life to Chuck after the leopard in the tree episode, promised to take Chuckie out near dusk to watch the grand exodus of elephants across the plains to the trees.

Stephen explained. “Elephants sleep by leaning against the trees. They can transfer their weight against the trees, little man. So every night they walk across the plains to the trees to sleep. It makes their tree trunk legs feel better.”

Chuckie just blinked. He couldn’t imagine it.

The sight of hundreds of elephants crossing the plains is a magnificent sight. We were parked in the road. They crossed in front of us and behind us. They circled around us. They walked steadily and with purpose, headed toward the trees in the distance. Their journey would take hours, and they did that journey every evening.

You would think Chuck would have been intimidated by that many elephants, but he wasn’t. Perched on the ledge of the safari vehicle, he watched in amazement. But, nevertheless, I held onto him.

Chuckie was always full of surprises. The last thing I needed was a cat leaping out of the vehicle and causing a stampede of elephants. The last thing I needed . . .

That’s when it happened.

Chuckie spotted an elephant that seemed to lag behind the others. An outcast. He pointed his paw in the direction of that particular elephant.

Stephen explained. “That, little man, is the loser elephant. Every herd has one. He is no longer considered part of the group.”

Chuckie did not like that answer. Suddenly, he wasn’t interested in the elephants going to the trees anymore. All he wanted was to help the loser elephant.

I must have a mother’s sixth sense. Just as he was about to bolt out of the safari vehicle, I screamed, “Chuck, don’t you dare.”

But Chuck wanted to get a closer look at the loser elephant.

“Stay in this vehicle.”

Chuck leapt outside and landed in the dust.

The loser elephant, who’d been lagging behind, spied Chuck and now began to move forward.

I half expected Chuckie to run over to the loser elephant. But he didn’t. He meowed. He didn’t growl.

Oh, great. I imagined the worst. Disgruntled loser elephant charges the vehicle. Chuckie is crushed to death. We are killed, of course.

But that didn’t happen.

The loser elephant began to purr, a deep rumbling purr.

“Elephants do purr like cats,” Stephen explained.

“They do? I didn’t know that.”

Chuckie meowed back, even louder.

Then, the other elephants around us starting running. Not toward us, but away.

“Stampede,” Stephen yelled. “Chuck, back in the vehicle.”

Chuck finally listened to Stephen.

When it was over, I couldn’t figure out if Chuck had acted heroically by trying to befriend the poor loser elephant or if he had made the situation worse.

But one thing for sure, at the end of the day, Chuckie had made a new friend with the loser elephant. And, no, I explained to Chuckie, we couldn’t smash all the air out of the loser elephant and take him home with us. Even with the air smashed out of him, we were still talking--what--a thousand pounds of elephant skin??? Stuffed in my carry-on? And what about those tusks? Yikes.

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