Until life returns to some semblance of normal, from time to time we will send out the Corona Chronicles. This publication will provide commentary, brief stories, poetry, book and movie suggestions, and ways to make our time at home meaningful and fulfilling. If you have ideas to submit, please contact Nancy Perkins at email@example.com.
Ode to a Garden Party
An Elephant to Remember
Most pre-school children of my generation first became acquainted with the king of the jungle by reading. They fell in love with Babar’s frolicking adventures or Dr. Suess’s famous Horton who saved Whoville. Not so for me. My first encounter with an elephant, not a literary one but a real one, was right here in Maine. That’s right, it happened in 1956 just a few miles away from where I now live, in the tiny picturesque seaside community known as Temple Heights.
A few miles along the forested coastline on a rutted dirt road south of the more upscale Bayside resort, the cottages of Temple Heights clung to the side of a steep hill. My great aunts Adelaide, Helen and Anne owned three of the twenty or so private cottages dotting the hillside. The centerpiece “Temple” of this spiritualist camp was a windowless square box where believers gathered for spooky séances with their dearly departeds. Directly across from the temple was the Nickawa Lodge, which offered rustic accommodations for a handful of spiritualist visitors.
Great Aunt Adelaide’s cottage was just to the left of the temple on the upper road. Its gambrel shaped roof sheltered one spacious living room with a propane stove, a tiny kitchen, and even smaller bathroom. A steep narrow staircase led to two unfinished knotty pine bedrooms above. When it rained at night the drops beat rhythmically on the roof over our heads and the air was perfumed with fresh pine scent from the forest outside. There was a huge wrap around deck with a spectacular view out over the water and Islesboro beyond.
My younger brother and I could hardly wait to arrive each summer. Quickly donning bathing suits we scurried down the rutted road, then down a grassy path leading to a lobster shack adorned with colorful buoys perched just above the rocky shore. On the beach to the right, we collected starfish, sea urchins, shells and strangely shaped driftwood. The water was always freezing cold and the seaweed covered rocks treacherously slippery. At certain times we had to watch carefully for translucent moon jellyfish drifting in the water. None of that phased us in the least; we loved our fantastical aquatic playground. Only reluctantly, when Mom sternly insisted, would we gather up our new treasures and trudge back up the hill.
As if the ocean’s offerings weren’t fascinating enough, one afternoon on our way back to the cottage we encountered an odd looking gray animal that was about the size of a small cow. It had the strangest snout that twisted and curled. A thick rope was coiled around its middle and it was being led along the road by a man we had never seen before. The man told us that his name was Cyril Ray and the animal accompanying him was a baby Asian elephant. Her name was Kitubinissa.
They were living just a half mile further down the road at the summer home of Horace Hildreth, a former governor of Maine. Hildreth had been appointed by the Eisenhower administration to be the US Ambassador to Pakistan in 1953. In appreciation of his service, the Pakistani Government had gifted Hildreth this small elephant as a token of their esteem. Protocol in those days, demanded that a gift of this nature be accepted. So Kitubinissa made the journey half way around the globe to her new American home in Maine in the company of Cyril, her mahout (handler) who was responsible for feeding, caring for, and exercising her.
My brother and I were quite curious about this creature. We had never seen anything like this before. I summoned up enough courage to touch the elephant’s leathery flank only to find its trunk sweeping around to right in front of my face. My brother screeched and fled for his life, but awestruck I stayed and with the help of her mahout straddled her back for a memorable ride.
Nearly every day after our first introduction to the elephant we would see Cyril and Kitubinissa walking up the road past Temple Heights. After a while she didn’t seem so strange and I hoped she was getting used to her new habitat. At the end of our vacation we headed back home certainly enriched by the experience of meeting Kitubinissa but never expecting to cross paths with her again.
By the end of the summer she was no longer a baby. The Hildreth’s decided that when her handler quit, a zoo would be the best place for her to live and they gifted her to the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, Massachusetts where she lived until 1990. My family lived in Reading which was adjacent to Stoneham but we never knew that our dear little elephant was living so close by until one day in the mid 1970’s some friends and I decided to check out the small zoo. There was only one elephant living there. When I read the exhibit signage I was shocked to discover that she had been donated to this zoo by the Hildreth family.
Excitedly I told my friends, “I’ve ridden on that elephant.” None of them believed me until I explained I had met her when she was a baby. She had grown into a massive beast. I felt sad that she was living by herself because by then I had learned that elephants in the wild lived in herds and were very social creatures. I did some research and found that when the Stone Zoo closed (temporarily) in 1990 Kitubinissa was sent to a zoo in Syracuse, NY. While there at some point she became pregnant but died in childbirth.
In the years to come, as a river guide I would raft down rivers through game preserves in Africa where I observed herds of wild elephants roaming freely. I worked for the US Government in Pakistan for four years and never saw a single elephant in that country so I surmised that Kitubinissa’s actual homeland was another Asian country. I visited Sri Lanka for the annual Festival of the Tooth Relic, where elephants strung in brightly colored light bulbs and adorned with gaudy blankets and face coverings paraded through the streets of Kandy. The most majestic elephant carried a small box atop its back in which was displayed a tiny fragment of the Lord Buddha’s tooth. While there I also visited an orphanage for baby elephants whose mothers had been killed by poachers in Sri Lanka.
While baby Kitubinissa filled me with joy when I was not quite three, as I have lived my life I have reached the conclusion that mankind has not been kind to elephants. Rampant poaching in both Africa and Asia has devastated the elephant populations on those continents. And the elephants who live in captivity in zoos around the world often bear physical and behavioral scars from isolation and confinement in tiny enclosures. My heart grieves that most humans do not appreciate or even care that the magnificent beauty and grace of the wild elephant’s time on this planet is rapidly coming to an end.
Brenda Smith fulfilled a life-long dream when she moved to Belfast in 2019. An accounting graduate of Bentley University, she worked as a CPA and Vice President of Finance for several non-profit organizations. She earned her MS from Suffolk University in Philanthropy and Media. and has produced, directed and edited many award winning videos. She is most proud of the coveted “Telly” award on her desk. Now retired, she is busy with several writing projects: an early memoir recounting some of her hair-raising global adventures, a later memoir about living with the extremely rare Stiff Person’s syndrome, and writing short essays about things in life that make her smile. She is a board member and treasurer of Belfast Senior College.
Sparrow in the News
A little bird flipped onto my porch today,
beneath the feeder where the seed lay scattered
after the larger birds had grabbed their fill.
Braver than any jay, this stalwart scamp
took quick-flicking bites while looking sharply
this way, that, in case of threat, then dashed
into the thicket, as if to stay another
moment could be worth its breath. I stared
where it had disappeared, then ambled back
inside. There, for want of anything better,
I watched the television news about
the various horrors of the modern world.
Gerald George is a former winner of a poetry prize from the Maine Senior College Network, has published two books of poetry, and authored a play produced in the 2008 Maine Short-Play Festival. He and his wife Carol are retired in Belfast, and, before the covid virus, regularly attended classes in the Belfast Senior College. May that day come again!
Tucking in the garden, I face
three trellises of frost killed
morning glory vines
Flowers barely formed before
I unwind their veiny hands,
Arms spiraled tightly around
metal supports and
So much passion for height
they barely stopped long enough
“Words and images have always been part of my creative life. Nature imagery has a deep connection to my experiences.” – Tycelia
Attention Puzzle Junkies
It’s getting to be the jigsaw puzzle time of year. Got any good quality puzzles that you are ready to pass on? Tape them closed and put them in the return book slot at the Belfast Library. Library staff will quarantine them for a week in the Abbott Room (like they do with books) then they will put them up for sale to patrons. A good source for puzzles and a money maker for the Library.
Au Revoir Sweet Bean
His small body wrapped in our arms,
His large, dark eyes seeking solace
And help from us both;
But all we could offer were tears and love,
Please stay with us.
We wrapped his small body
In his quilt and I picked
A small bouquet of fall flowers
And placed them close to his warm body.
He left a hole in our hearts and
An emptiness in our lives.