Floating elephants

First, apologies for taking so long to post again. I can hardly believe it’s been nearly two weeks. Obviously, taking on the 30 posts in 30 days challenge was unwise.

My excuse? Each time I had the couple of hours I like to give myself to write a decent post of decent length, my muse exited stage left. Vamoosed. Did a powder. The result was a pitiful mishmash of words tending toward the maudlin. Certainly not post-worthy.

I’m not sure this one will be any better, but since tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I find myself with an afternoon on my own and without distractions, I’ll give it another try. And this time, I’m writing the post within the WordPress app rather than using Word. I’m much more likely to click “publish” in this format.

First, I’ll finally fess up to the lie in the 3 truths, 1Β lie post of Nov. 8 (gads, that was a long time ago!). Here were the possibilities:

1st : I had breakfast with Sir Peter Ustinov in front of the Cologne cathedral; 2nd: I once chased four tigers around a shipping harbor; 3rd: I skied the Alps with a bad RA flare in my right large toe; and 4th: I landed a two-seater Cessna on my first try.

The lie was that I once chased four tigers around a shipping harbor. They were actually elephants. The shipping harbor was in Bremerhaven, Germany, and I was there with an Armed Forces Network TV news crew consisting of two young soldiers, one with a camera and the other with good-looks, a microphone and the ability to turn breaking stories into complete 60-second newscasts in the blink of an eye. I, on the other hand, had at least a week to write up the story, so my goal was to take good notes, shoot a couple rolls of film and stay out of videotape range. Elephants at the harbor wasn’t something that happened every day, that’s for sure.

We’d been told the approximate location of the elephants, which were about to be put aboard a container ship bound for the U.S.A. The pachyderms were members of the European arm of the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus. We arrived at the specified spot after parking our Army van and walking about a quarter mile into the harbor–cars were not allowed near the docks–but saw no elephants anywhere. Hmmm. They really couldn’t be hard to miss, could they? Elephants, after all, are not small. We stood around for a while, hoping they’d materialize. Remember, now, this was in the late ’80s. We didn’t have cellphones, the Internet or GPS. We had to rely on our source for the time, location and directions, and in this case, we’d only found out about this momentous occasion a couple of hours before.

Suddenly, the sharp-eyed cameraman said, pointing, “There they are!” Sure enough, there were several elephants ambling along in a line, way off in the distance. They disappeared behind a two-storey stack of shipping containers. We took off at a sprint. Or rather, the soldiers did. I followed along gamely, sort of jog-trotting, supported by my cane. I was wearing a skirt and blouse, a wool coat and my two-inch pumps, and my left knee had been flaring since I’d left for work that morning. It never occurred to me not to go out on the story–my Army Public Affairs colleague, Sgt. D, was out on another story. If I didn’t go, we wouldn’t get the elephants. At least, not first-hand.

Besides, it sounded like fun and I didn’t want to miss it.

I caught up with the AFN crew when they stopped to catch their breath and regroup. The elephants had disappeared. We discussed splitting up, but decided we’d better stick together.

There was a shout from behind us. We turned, and several hundred yards away was a bundled-up man shouting and waving at us, his breath rising in puffs of steam on the frigid air. Did I mention it was February? About 42 degrees? We trotted over to him.

He was with the shipping company, and said that to get the best pictures of the elephants, we should go to another part of the shipping harbor, because it was there the ship was docked that the elephants would be loaded onto. We took off again. The cameraman slowed down long enough to ask me, solicitously, “You all right?” as I limped along, fast as I could. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. I always said that when someone asked. I didn’t want anyone to think I couldn’t do my job just because I had arthritis. In truth, I was always a little fearful that no one really believed me, and it was embarrassing. Arthritis, at least in the form that the vast majority of people were familiar with, was not a disease that struck 34-year-olds.

What followed could be best described as a Keystone Kops-style chase. We kept seeing the elephants, briefly, as they trotted toward the part of the harbor the ship was docked, but then they’d disappear again. It happened at least three times, and we were starting to get a little spooked and a lot frustrated. It seemed like they were always headed in a different direction, and always a fair distance away from us. There wasn’t time to shoot pictures of any sort.

Finally, we decided to stop trying to chase our way to the ship. Instead, we’d just walk straight to it and hope we got there before the elephants. We were almost there when the handsome soldier looked over his shoulder. “They’re right behind us!” he shouted, and sure enough they were. Four elephants and their handlers were trotting toward us, fast, big gray ears flopping. I shot several photos, but frankly was concentrating moreon getting out of their way–elephants, my friends, are not just big, they’re huge–without tripping over guy wires or tracks or running off the edge of the dock to fall into the dark, green, oil-sheened water of the harbor. Elephants trot fast.

I didn't shoot this photo, but it looks like what I saw that day...

I got more photos when the beasts were loaded onto the ship, via a wide ramp into the the ship’s belly. And it was there that my AFN colleagues filmed their story for the following evening’s news. We talked for a while with one of the handlers, but he didn’t have much time. Apparently, the elephants were nervous and a little uppity, given the temperature and the unfamiliar surroundings. He was needed aboard the ship. The journey, he said, would take them approximately four weeks, as there would be several stops along the way. They would offload the elephants in New York City, and from there they’d travel to Minnesota.

By the time I got back to the office I was a popsicle, my knee felt like it had dull knives stuck through it, and I was dog-tired, but I was pleased and triumphant. I’d gotten my story, flare and all. Now I only had to write it, and hope that a couple of my black-and-white photos would turn out well enough to publish.

I’ll tell the stories behind Sir Peter Ustinov, the alps and the Cessna another time. Happy Thanksgiving!

21 thoughts on “Floating elephants

  1. I so know that feeling of going to write and it’s all gone. i’ve taken to having notebooks everywhere so that I don’t lose a word. But clearly, that is not proving overly successful either. I’m glad you are back. Come and go as you please – I totally understand. xo


    • Thank you, Shan. Keeping a notebook handy all the time is a smart strategy, even if it’s not always successful. Better, certainly, than trying to hold a sudden new idea in your head while dealing with things at work or while trying to juggle the multiple tasks caring for a family entails. I always strive toward frequent posts–they say it’s the best way to attract and keep readers–but I never manage it for more than a few consecutive days at a time. Oh well. It’s the effort that counts. πŸ˜‰


  2. I also know the feeling of having a great story and it flies out the window. I do my greatest story telling in the shower but by the time I wash, shampoo and dry off, I have lost my whole train of thought and forgotten the whole story. I wish someone would come up with something so I could write in the shower. I swear my shower stories are the best! I loved your lie. I think I got it right. Happy Thanksgiving!


    • Oh, I’m SO glad that there’s someone else out there who also has her most creative moments in the shower! That hot water beating on my skull stimulates the creative nerve, I guess–and like you, I’ve always done my best writing while soaping up and rinsing down. And like you, too, it seems like those great ideas and perfect first sentences dematerialize before I can actually make them real by writing them down. Hmmm… a waterproof tablet to keep in the shower stall… we should develop one. We’d be rich in no time… πŸ˜‰ Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!


  3. So enjoyed your elephant chase. And I do understand why one might not blog every day. We have lives to live after all and with ra that can take a tad bit longer then some πŸ™‚ Have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!


    • Hi, Deb! Glad you enjoyed the story. It remains one of my most vivid memories of my six years living in northern Germany so many years ago, now. I guess it’s the incongruity of elephants in that setting that made it stick. Thanks for the understanding regarding a daily post. It remains a delightful challenge. Happy Turkey Day to you and yours. πŸ™‚


  4. Happy Thanksgiving, liebe ZaunkΓΆnigen!!
    I had to smile when I read your comment about keeping in mind that in the 80’s, we didn’t have cellphones, the Internet or GPS. Sometimes I yearn for those days, getting lost often results in an unexpected adventure, for the most part a story-telling-worthy one. I’m glad they were elephants instead of tigers. Amazing creatures!!


  5. Rouchswalwe! Dankeschoen und Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, as well. Sometimes I miss the relative simplicity of the past, too… and yet, I love how the Internet, particularly, has opened the world to us, allowing such amazing contact with others and the opportunity to learn about just about anything under the sun. I’d never have met you without it… Be well, friend, and enjoy this day of plenty.


  6. Glad you are back – was just getting concerned! I thought the tigers was the most likely – but at the same time I think I have got to know you well enough (even if virtually) to suspect it had a grain of truth – what a life you led in the north of Germany πŸ˜‰ I’ve had dinner with Peter Ustinov – but not with as lovely a backdrop as Cologne Dom.


    • Oh, my, Eileen. I’ll tell MY story about Sir Peter if you’ll tell us YOURS. You had dinner with him! Whoa…

      Thanks for your very kind words, too. πŸ™‚


      • In the early 70s we were students at the University of Dundee and members of the University Operatic Society (OpSoc). Peter Ustinov was elected the Rector of the University the same year as David was President of OpSoc. The Rectorship was an honorary position meant as a figurehead representative of the students – and some were good and some were less good! He was a good one – he sponsored various events including a midnight showing of his latest film: we waited outside just before midnight when it was still light enough to read a newspaper and emerged at 3.30 when it was just as light! That’s Scotland in June! He also held a dinner for a whole range of people with functions within the Uni – and that included David plus me. For some reason, we were lucky enough to sit almost opposite him so had plenty of opportunity to talk to him and it was an extremely enjoyable evening! Don’t like to think about how long ago it was mind you and the memories are a bit dim now!

        We also had an invitation to the Earl of Dalhousie’s home near Brechin when he took over from the Queen Mother as Patron of OpSoc – full dinner and a very boozy evening. Luckily he paid for a bus to transport us so we didn’t have to drive! The staff told us they were working for a similar event the next week – for the Queen Mum herself! And that they often used to get a phone call from him asking if they were busy – could they go up to a cottage on the estate for the next few days? To do the shopping and cleaning for Elizabeth and Philip – she cooked for them herself. The Queen playing being an ordinary person πŸ˜‰ !


  7. What an exciting story and LIFE!

    No apology necessary for the lull in your writing. You write for quality, not quantity; I can appreciate that perfectionism.

    I hope this is aligned with your next chapter in this series: My vote is for the Colonge Cathedral and Sir Peter! πŸ™‚


    • Thanks, I DO try for quality when I write–and that’s as much for my own satisfaction as it is for my reader’s. It’s funny… during the time I spent in Germany, life seemed as “normal” as always, except that was there instead of here (which I’ll easily admit made each day seem a bit exotic), But many of my clearest and most treasured memories do, in the retelling, sound exciting and adventurous. I’m so grateful I was able to go and live my life abroad for a while, and glad that my daughter got to, as well. She has happy memories of Germany, too.

      I’ll write about Sir Peter, next. πŸ˜‰


  8. No apology needed, I too have been so consumed by life I have neglected my blog as well.
    What a great story, I was envisioning it as I was reading it. Certainly tops any story I have! How far we have come in 20 years, no cellphone, internet or GPS. All these things were meant to make it easier on us but it truly seemed like a simpler time then.
    Happy Thanksgiving (a little late).


    • Thanks, Terry. I don’t know about topping your stories about your motorcycle adventures, though. Some of the rides you’ve described sounded pretty durned exciting to me.

      You know, I could easily live without a cellphone (I’m not really a phone person, anyway) and I really don’t need GPS at this point in my life. But I have to say that I’d be absolutely LOST without the Internet and Google. Because of the ‘net, I’ve learned so much about so many things, including more than I ever thought I’d know about RA. And being able to blog and make friends all over the country and the world because of it has been so gratifying.

      Hope your Turkey Day was a good one, Terry.


  9. Okay – I really wanted the tigers to be true, but to have the only lie be that is was elephants instead! What a good story! Now can I hear the rest please, please, please? I’m really not sleepy yet!
    I can almost see the heroine here in a childrens book – can’t you?


    • Heheh… I never thought of it that way, Leslie. Thanks very much! The Rest of the Story will be here soon. πŸ˜‰


  10. Wren: Sounds like a lot of us have those ”writers blocks” so you are in good company! I have started to just give my post a name and then go back to it when the mood and inspiration hits. that seems to help to have that first step done…no pressure just an idea…take care! Nan


    • Thanks, Nan, for the good advice–I’ll give it a try. And yes, I AM in great company! I think it was sports writer Red Smith who said, many years ago, that “Writing is easy. Just sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” My trouble is that sometimes, all the good veins give out before the words hit the page…

      Heh. I’ll find a good one. It may take a while, but in the end, I always do. πŸ™‚


  11. Crumbs, I don’t know how but I managed to miss this one until today! Great story! πŸ™‚ Can was have Ustinov next please? I’m fascinated by that one! πŸ™‚


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