What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein

This was another one for the throne room…this does not mean that books in the bathroom are any less interesting than ones on my bedside table or ones next to the red couch, it just means that I choose a different genre and always something a little less cerebral than my preferred reading, fiction or non-fiction.

Another second-hand-book-find, What Elephants Know ended up next to my other books about elephants.  I liked that Jane Goodall wrote a quick recommendation.  “You will be fascinated, angered, and charmed in turn by this beautifully written story.”

Dr. Eric Dinerstein is the Director of the Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program at RESOLVE and so I was very interested in the fact that he wrote a novel and I anticipated that the book would be written from a unique and knowledgeable perspective.

This was a lovely book that I’d recommend for students grade five to grade seven.  It was a quick read that left me thinking about the vulnerability of our wildlife and ecosystems.  The protagonist, Nandu, is a beautiful character who, through his young life, teaches about the numerous impacts made upon these, while exposing the reader to the vulnerability of humanity, as well.

I think this would be a wonderful book to read aloud to students.  It is refreshing to find a book that is culturally diverse and can open eyes and hearts to a different human experience.  Grade three students, in their study of India, may really benefit from this story.  Nandu’s relationships with his female elephant, Devi Kali and with the plants and other animals of the Borderlands are described beautifully.

This is a two evening (10 potty visits) read for an adult.  I recommend doing a quick review of the book before sharing with your students/children so that you know the sensitive topics that will come along.  Give it a go.

What Elephants Know



The Elephant

The grade three students were excited when they learned that their teacher is an artist. I’m happy that they think that there is something fascinating about the act of making things. I like their curiosity about art. I showed them this image.

Mueller Art Folder 005After asking the students to answer the questions, What do you see?  What do you notice?  How does the painting make you feel? they wrote  acrostic elephant poems.


Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of some of the heart-felt poetry that they shared, but they were very well done.

The Elephant

By Dan Chiasson

How to explain my heroic courtesy? I feel
          that my body was inflated by a mischievous boy.
Once I was the size of a falcon, the size of a lion,
          once I was not the elephant I find I am.
My pelt sags, and my master scolds me for a botched
          trick. I practiced it all night in my tent, so I was
somewhat sleepy. People connect me with sadness
          and, often, rationality. Randall Jarrell compared me
to Wallace Stevens, the American poet. I can see it
          in the lumbering tercets, but in my mind
I am more like Eliot, a man of Europe, a man
          of cultivation. Anyone so ceremonious suffers
breakdowns. I do not like the spectacular experiments
          with balance, the high-wire act and cones.
We elephants are images of humility, as when we
          undertake our melancholy migrations to die.
Did you know, though, that elephants were taught
          to write the Greek alphabet with their hooves?
Worn out by suffering, we lie on our great backs,
          tossing grass up to heaven—as a distraction, not a prayer.

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Gorilla House LIVE ART: October 2, 2013

Cold wind. Grey skies. Zillions of sparrows eating their feathers full at the feeder…snow in the weather reports.  Dark cloud zooming from the west.  Yellow light of sun on the horizon, smothered in vertical bands of rain, racing this way. Spaghetti dinner with my cousin.  Watching the cat across the street tossing its prize again and again in the air.  Thinking about elephants…

I packed up my art stuff and headed down to paint.  A deck of Edward Gorey Fantod cards became the generator for the three concepts.

Echorche Urn Yellow BirdI had already decided to make some sort of observance of the fact that there is going to be a March to Save the Elephant on October 4…I wanted to have people at the Gorilla House, artists and audience combined…bring the plight of the elephant to the forefront…just for an evening.  So, in combination with the Yellow Bird image in Gorey’s cards…I proceeded to draw and paint.

“Whoever has seen these giants marching across the last free open spaces of the world knows that this is something that must not be lost.”
– Romain Gary, The Roots of Heaven

We are in a world that is agitating with loss…species...glaciers…my mother.  Concerning this, I am not an alarmist and I am not a pessimist.  In fact, I live in hope…but most certainly for things ‘not of this world’.

The three archetypes shared with Gorey DID generate some connections for me while I worked.  The Gorilla House concepts always do!  The Urn as a metaphor…a container for what remains and L’ecorche…humanity, exposed…at its core (the bad and good of it).  The Yellow Bird…my mother’s song…my father’s whistle…the bright hope, small but apparent.  I thought also of the canary in the cage…the small warning of a big catastrophe in the mines, the pits that we dig for ourselves.  (apologies for the scattered images of last evening…but I pulled it together and it became this)  Thank you to Taylor for purchasing this piece at auction and to Teri for wanting it.

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Gorilla House LIVE ART: September 12, 2012

There was a huge turn out for the battles at the Gorilla House on Wednesday evening!  I arrived to find the furniture had been shuffled and sure enough, the additional space came in handy as a huge crowd of artists AND viewers arrived, eager for the “WILD RUMPUS” to begin!

Illustrator Maurice Sendak: Where the Wild Things Are

The themes, once again, were surprising. 1. Speak when spoken to. 2. Speak the truth 3. Electric Women  Hmmm…

Related to the first concept…what came to mind immediately was the context for that particular saying.  One typically thinks about ‘speak when spoken to’ as pertaining to the relationship between adults and children.

Voice. Speak. Whisper. Say.  I was flooded with images.  To begin with, I thought ‘three’…three voices that I may not have listened to…the same voices I heard too deeply at times, so deeply that sometimes their voices hurt like burns on skin.  Voices speaking their truths…their pain…their worries…their questions.  I thought of the voices of my children.  Their words came to mind…hurling at me in the midst of a crowded room of artists and art-minded.

I did not think about my own voice…the times it had been too loud…the times that it spoke weary reminders…lectures…guidance…dumb jokes.  My voice was ‘the elephant in the room.’  Through the collage portion of this piece, the book, Water for Elephants came to mind and for a whole number of reasons.  Rosie, the elephant came to mind.

The three figures emerged and gradually evolved, as did the text…layer upon layer…transparent, but opaque at the same time.  As I connected with the ideas, audience members wove in and out with CONVERSATION…more SPEAK and more.  While there were many, I remember two visits in particular.  Two women with dark hair, both engaging my subject matter from the half-way point!  The art then was SPEAKING!  It SPOKE!  It was yelling at them.  One quietly SAID as they steered to the side…”And look!  There’s the elephant in the room!”

Another visit…a man, whirring about the room…filming the laughter, the drinking, the CONVERSATIONS…and then he stopped.  He stood still.  Everything fell away.  He stood in front of my painting and SAID, “I want you to know, I really like this.”  It was simple enough…so why did it hit me like it did.  I remember SAYING/asking, “Really?”  He said, “Yes.”  I think it was about how he SAID, really…I really like this.

The figures evolved…hands over mouth…hands over ears…hands over eyes.  Speak no evil…hear no evil…see no evil.

On Wednesday night, I thought of three voices.

I thought of a painting I completed in the studio…an African elephant…of poaching for the sake of tusks. I wanted to repeat the one red dot…sun setting…but somehow distorted in its colour by the atmosphere.  Brilliant red…as though the heart of the world was weeping. I painted the red circle and it contributed to the resolution of the composition.

Wednesday’s painting was darker than previous Gorilla House works, but that’s ok.  And I’d like to thank Aaron McCullough for his purchase at auction.  Aaron’s photography business is surprisingly called…you got it…Red Dot Photography!

Thanks, Red Dot Photography!


2008 Student Sketch

I was marking sketchbook drawings today in my Grade Seven art class!  Amazing!  I suggest, “Use all of your space OR crop!  Develop everything about it!  Date your work!  You are likely to be a famous person one day and they will auction your work, knowing that it was done soooo many years ago and so likely, it is really valuable!  Use at least five values.  I want to read black, white, dark grey, medium grey and light grey!  I want to squint at each and every drawing and see these five values.  And…I’m going to make you squint at your drawings too!  Explore something different every time you draw!  Do you scumble? smudge? hatch? cross hatch? stipple?  Look at your marks!  Wowsers!  The content of your drawings?  Does this have meaning?  What do you love about this subject?  What frustrates you about this subject?  MAGIC!  Every term….10 completed sketches…that means…by the end of Grade nine, you will have three sketchbooks and ninety drawings!  This will make an archive and you will be on your way!  Wait and see how much you have discovered about your visual world in just three years!  Amazing!” 

The drawings I saw today were amazing!  I especially loved an elephant that a young lady drew and I suggested that its whimsical profile would pop forward more if she pushed what was behind it into a darker value!  I had her step back as we explored that idea…and she squinted…and she nodded her head! (I will photograph her elephant tomorrow!) And…as I finished my personal conference with each and every artist, I recognized each by having the class salute their achievement with applause.  It was a grand celebration!


Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The sister-friends and I went out to the movies tonight!  We had all read the book, Water for Elephants at different times and loved it!  We hadn’t seen any reviews about the movie and so were somewhat cautious, given that the narrative was so darned amazing!  Well, I’m here to tell you that the movie was absolutely beautiful!  Next to The King’s Speech, I think it’s my favourite of the past year.

The characters, for me, were perfectly cast. I particularly love Jacob and Rosie!  The setting, lighting, camera angles were spectacular!  And unlike The Time Traveler’s Wife, this movie was able to stick quite closely to the story, without losing any of the ‘flavour’ established in the ‘read’. 

I highly recommend this movie!  Oh God, I feel such emotion when it comes to the treatment of some of our animals and I want to thank Nikki because her knowledge and deep sense of love for ‘elephants’ has somehow really touched me tonight! I’m pretty sappy for the moment!

"Elephant" Albertina, Vienna/ Black Chalk/ 230 x 340 mm/ by Rembrandt 1637