Back to the elephants

I can hardly sleep, even in my new apartment in Chiang Mai.

My heart races and when I close my eyes, images of elephants dance under my lids.

I am going back to Save Elephant Foundation’s Elephant Nature Park.

Save Elephant Foundation's Elephant Nature Park

Back to where it all started a year ago.

Funny how much can change in a year. From Las Vegas and adjusting to stationary life, to being at a cross-road in my career, to being healed by a shaman and having my entire universe change with just one e-mail.

My life is entirely different from one year ago, and I could not be more excited.

I’m not even in Thailand and an expat for 24 hours before I board the familiar white van and we head the 60km north or town to the lush green rolling hills of the jungle. And my beloved elephants.

As we make the final left turn and head up the mountain on a bumpy and pothole pocked road, a flood of emotions trail in my blood.

Elephants. Love. Life. Reinvention.

An elephant from a nearby trekking camp

The first elephant I see isn’t one of ours. Sadly, it is a trekking elephant with pink scars around her legs from chains that pull too tight when she isn’t being used for tourists. I cringe when I press my face against the window and catch a glimpse as we pass, spying people atop the wobbly bench, delighted in their experience. And, when my eyes catch sight of her mahout, perched on her neck, bull hook in hand, I remember the tears I shed last year when I learned about the torture these creatures endure.

But, as we pull around the last bend on the windy road, and I see Elephant Nature Park’s land and elephants freely enjoying a mid-morning snack of grass, my mood lightens.

One of the elephant herd enjoys some grazing at Elephant Nature Park

It all is so familiar.

The elephant kitchen, with the recognizable smell of fruit … the thatched roofs … the volunteers doing their morning chores just like I did a year ago …

I smile larger than I have smiled in a long time.

And when I walk out onto the rain-soaked grounds and find Medo, my favorite elephant, and reach my hand out to touch her leathery trunk, everything seems right in the world.

My favorite elephant, Medo, and her mahout, Toon.

Things aren’t all the same though. My palace has been torn down to make way for volunteer barracks. And, there are about 250 more dogs than there were last year — rescues from the horrific flooding in Bangkok in 2011. There’s even a baby elephant who is only a few days old. My first encounter with an elephant at the beginning of his life.

In that instant, I am happier than I have been in a long time. I’m ready to get to work and start helping these amazing animals.

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