The Nature of Jade: Essay « Deb Caletti
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The Nature of Jade: Essay

Elephants, Pandas and Jade

The first question I always seem to get about The Nature of Jade is, “Are the animal quotes that begin each chapter true?” Yes, all true (although the book they’re attributed to is a figment of my imagination. And on a side note, does anyone use the word “figment” anymore? What, exactly, is a figment?).

To me, research is one of the fun things about writing a book. I didn’t know much about classical music or crazy creative people (aside from a few friends who’ll remain nameless), but Wild Roses gave me the chance to find out. And The Nature of Jade became almost an excuse to read about stuff I’m hugely interested in already – evolutionary psychology, human and animal behavior and their overlaps. I knew I wanted to write about fear – the ways we let our own fear cage ourselves, and the way fear can be a huge catalyst for change. The way, too, that we have been brave for eons and can still be brave now, even when it seems like it takes a lot of courage lately to go out in the big world. I wanted to explore the ways that change and evolution are constant and necessary, but the way that change basically sucks. It’s important, it’s inevitable, but quite a lot of the time it also just plain sucks. Animals seemed a natural subject to hang these themes on, and elephants, who’ve been on the earth for millions of years and share our life span along with many other human traits, were the obvious choice to become the animals Jade would first watch and then love like family.

I tried to watch the elephant web cams at the San Diego zoo (see the links, below). But I have to confess, they were really boring. Uh huh – complete and total insomniac cures. There were no guys in red jackets, for sure, and all you could see were the saggy elephant asses far off in the distance. Bo-ring. I watched bears, which were an improvement, but the real thrill was the SAN DIEGO PANDA CAM. See, I’m getting excited just talking about it. It’s THE COOLEST THING OH MY GOD. Mom and baby, and man, they’re cute, and Mom plays and loves on that baby just like a human Mom would. Kisses, hugs, tossing in the air… Okay, well, I got a little addicted. I found myself checking it every so often. Okay, honestly, every few minutes. I would carry my laptop around the house and show my kids and go, “Guys, you just gotta see this. Look, look!” And they would groan, and say, “Mooooom, nooooo,” in the way a person apparently does after their mother pleads with them to watch Panda Cam for the fiftieth time that day. There was a solution to that problem, though, because on Panda Cam you can even take pictures of the image of the moment and email them, which was a great idea until everyone threatened to block me like spam. My family practically did an intervention. They made me take a little quiz that asked Are You Addicted to Panda Cam? With questions like, Does watching Panda Cam affect your daily routine? Do you watch Panda Cam before twelve noon, and while you’re alone in the house? Is Panda Cam taking over your life? I had to admit I had a problem and make amends to all I had bothered and take One Day at a Time.

If watching the elephants on the tiny web cam was a bit of a let down (imagine the injustice to their six ton, ten feet high stature), reading about them was anything but. They really are just a huge clan of intriguing cleverness and dysfunction, same as us. I had a hard time not putting in all of the interesting stuff I found out. (I was trying a little harder than usual to do that thing that’s tricky for me, which is STICK TO THE PLOT). I loved reading about the intelligence of elephants – how they will learn to open cages and turn on faucets, and haul logs to build bridges to cross over water. I loved, too, reading about their rich emotional lives – their compassion for each other, and even for other animals; how they’ll take care of the sick and rescue the abandoned. Their feelings of jealousy and competition and sorrow, of triumph and joy and celebration. I came to hurt over the fact that every captive elephant is an orphan, often stolen from their families for profit, or abandoned after raids that brings to mind travesties of war. I will never ride an elephant, or smile at those in a circus.

I came to appreciate, as well, that animals are the other creatures we share the earth with, or that share it with us. We forget that, weirdly. We consider them “other” when they are not other. We forget that they are there, surviving, existing, loving, playing, rejoicing, same as we are. Feeling. Communicating. Parenting. Mourning. Celebrating. Daphne Sheldrick, of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an elephant and rhino sanctuary (see link, below), quoted on her site the writer and naturalist Henry Beston, whose words are especially astute given the fact, as she says, that they were written in 1928, a period when all most people knew about animals, was how to kill them:

“We need another and wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals …. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

So, please, remember your fellow animal. Give your time and support whenever you can to the organizations who look after orphaned elephants and other great creatures. They deserve it. And, please, too, enjoy Panda Cam, below, with moderation.