She was walking down a familiar path she had known for ages. The elephant Matea was leading her herd towards a water source her mother had shown her. And she, Matea, had shown it to her daughter a couple of years ago. Her daughter’s name was Iana. She recently had her first calf, named Momo, who would see this place for the first time. This would be an important moment and an ancient tradition to be passed down to. The knowledge of water was sacred knowledge in one of the driest places in the world. It was the third generation in one herd that would get to see it, know it and remember it.
Matea’s herd consisted of nine elephants. It wasn’t a very big one but Matea was proud of them. Next to Momo there was another calf named Sara. Her mother, named Ruri, was an old friend of Matea and also a well experienced elephant. Sometimes Matea and Ruri would lead the herd together when there was a desert storm, predators around or when they had to walk through the night. Matea and Ruri were a good team. But both of them were worried. Life had become harder in the last couple of years. There was less rain, less food and consequently less calves were born. All animals were feeling the change. It was like a pressing feeling in the air, as if something was watching all of them, a great predator with no claws but armoured with the elements. There was no way fighting it. Whatever way they could fight back was moving on. Moving on to water, to shade, moving closer to the Okawango Delta that would fill their lives with blue and green for a short season, until it would dry up again, turn brown and yellow and not return for months to come. Matea knew, after they had reached this well, they would have to make their great journey north to reach the Okawango Delta.
Next to herself, her daughter, her grandchild, Ruri and her daughter, there were another four young elephants who had just come of age and would soon have bulls flocking around them like thirsty animals around a pool of water. Two of those elephants had come from two other herds. Matea knew them from her younger years. And the other two were Ruri’s and Matea’s last daughters. Matea had noticed that within the last years most elephant families were not counting more than fifteen individuals. But she remembered a time, when she was just a calf, when some families counted more than thirty. Her own herd, her own family has reduced within the last years. But she blamed age for it, rather than the change in the weather. Death had struck their family hard within the last four years and Matea has only been the leader for one year. Before that, it was her aunt, then her other aunt, her own mother and before that her own grandmother who had been their matriarch for sixteen years.
Now they were all gone. Especially younger and older elephants needed more water to drink and exactly that life saving potion of nature had been so rare lately. Matea had expected her grandmother to die eventually because she was already ancient when Matea was young. Her death came as no surprise as she had been ill for weeks. Four days they had stayed with her when she was no longer moving and earth and soil took her body to make it fertile once more. Then very dry times came and very short periods of rain which led to the deaths of her aunts and then her mother. Matea could not believe the concept of death until her grandmother died but it was expected so she was prepared. But loosing her aunts and her own mother were strong blows. They had always been there and their courage never faltered, they never gave up. They had been sisters for as long as Matea could remember and it was their sisterhood that gave them strength and resilience. A bond of family. But one by one has gone within just three years, their strength, experience, knowledge, kindness and motherhood were taken from the world and Matea’s world had shattered.
When Matea’s mother had died, her name was Faena, something had changed within Matea entirely. As if she had learned a final lesson from her mother that was essential. They had made mistakes, her dead body was telling her, equally representing a changing world in which their ancient and sacred knowledge had no more use in such a different world and had become futile to some degree. And Matea was sad about this, so sad that the elephant family stayed with Faena’s remains for over a week until there was no more time to lose because Matea had learned her final lesson.
In the last night with her mother, she had looked up into the heavens and watched all the lights of the past. The elephants knew that starlight was ancient. It served as connecting points for knowledge that was able to navigate them through the dark. And Matea knew as the starlight’s sparkle was restless, so the elephants had to be in turn. Old knowledge was becoming unreliable, the desert, the grasslands, the periods of rain were altering, life was changing. And Matea knew if they were not moving quicker through life, there would be no more life left to be lived. But elephants were an ancient people and Matea did not know whether they would be quick enough or not. But when she was standing there in the dark with the lifeless body of her mother and the demons of the night gathered closer she knew they had to make a stand. For all the knowledge her mother had been given by her mother and her mother. Matea would pass on that new knowledge, that knowledge of change that she had learned through a horrible lesson. And she hoped it would never be repeated. And as she was thinking about this, in that darkest of nights, dawn was approaching and a swift sunrise was promising another chance for her and her family.
Matea was pulled out of her thoughts as she could smell freshwater. She was leading her family up a sand hill and into a little valley. There, they could see a little green spot of trees and something sparkled in the light of the burning sun. They reached the little pond and thankfully for Matea’s memory, they were able to drink the water and taste the fresh leaves of the surrounding trees. Matea looked at the two little ones of her family, who were refreshed and happily chasing each other in the water, their trunks raised towards the blue sky. Matea watched this scene for a moment. Her sisters, daughters and friends enjoying the blue and the green of this day and Matea enjoyed it with them. But she knew like a shadow that was crawling into her mind, certain as the unforgiving heat of the sun, she had bought her family only some time. They would have to leave for the Okawango Delta tonight. The last save haven for all elephants. That blue, green and turquoise palace of life where they would not have to worry for months about food and water. But for how long would this beautiful place remain? Life was changing, the elephants had to move on, muster the strength to withhold the coming storm, marching into a future that was approaching too fast and no one could really understand. Not even the will and mind of a mother elephant.