Nine! she exclaims, gesturing toward the river, grasslands and riverine forest.

I could easily have mistaken them for boulders but they are moving, slowly, steadily moving. Through binoculars, I see their horns and huge rectangular heads, their grinding jaws.

From the elephant platform, we clamber onto a howdah. The phanit clucks, presses his bare toes into the soft flesh on back of our elephant’s ears. We lumber through the muck and up into a sea of elephant grass thirty feet high. It closes behind us like water after the passage of a small boat. Then, into the forest.

In clearings, we glimpse wild boar and deer that flee, but we can approach the grazing rhinos as close as fifteen feet.

They stare at us; we stare back. Their rabbity ears twitch. Birds hop around on their enormous backs. The mantle of their armor drapes over massive backs, and articulated cloaks wrap their thighs. Below the armor, the calves are tapered and graceful. One has a long, pink gash on the inside of his left hind leg. If they’ve been in the river, they are two-toned, the lower portion like unset cement, the upper like sun-baked clay.

They never stop chewing. They are suddenly, completely, beautiful to me.

About the author

Bonnie Bishop has lived in Italy and Greece and hitchhiked from Athens to Copenhagen. She has crossed Canada by train, marvelled at the terra…

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Issue 15 · June 2012

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