Coffee With Elephants

Coffee With Elephants

I am sitting on the open-air deck at the Doi Chiang Coffee Shop in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is February the beginning of hot season. Leaves cover the ground reminding me of the fall in Seattle, Washington where I grew up. The air is cool this morning offering a reprieve from the hot Northern Thailand sun. The blue sky is everywhere framing rolling hills filled with lush tropical jungle. Fuchsia and white Bougainvillea trees line the hillside. Lavender flowered trees and bright orange tube flowers drape over fences. The sun peaks over the mountains. The rays reach out and gently touch my face. A flowerpot filled with lily pads and a purple lotus flower blooms up facing the morning sun. The little frog in the pot lets his voice be heard. The Lotus is my favorite flower because I know its story. The Lotus seed is planted and it has to travel through mud and silt to grow. It breaks through the surface reaching toward the light and blooms it’s beautiful purple flower showing its strength and beauty. A journey many of us know well.

In the middle of the coffee shop a chubby monk stands chanting his morning prayer. He has wrinkled brown skin around his neck and carries a golden offering bowl. The Monk is barefoot, he has thick skin on his feet from walking with no shoes and his robe is bright orange. Three slender Thai men kneel in prayer in front of the monk. The workers at the Doi Chiang are quickly preparing food and a café latte for the monk. He blesses the coffee shop this morning and I realize I have entered into a room of transcending tranquility.
The entire space is filled with teak wood furniture and carved wooden lanterns. Orchids take root in the middle of the large trees their fuchsia and white speckled flowers twist upward. A German tourist sits across the shop enjoying a 9:00 am beer. A motorcycle with a squeaky wheel and a homemade sidecar passes by the shop.

The elephant sanctuary sits below the coffee shop. I watch the elephants swing their trunks back and forth. An elephant lifts his trunk up high, blows from his belly as he is calling to his friends across the park. The elephant across the park answers his call, puts his trunk up and blows back.
The birds sing, some low, some high, tweets & whistles.

Swadeeka”, the waitress greets me with her million-dollar smile. Her teeth white, she places her hands together in prayer position, bows her head with a wai. A wai is Thailand’s way of greeting each other. I smile back over my hot pink covered MacBook, my blonde hair is pulled back in a short pony tail. I copy her, put my hands together and wai back mimicking her contagious Thai smile that comes from my toes. I point to the basil chicken and Thai Coffee. A strange thing to have for breakfast, I think to myself, but when I am here on this mountain I am all Thai. Thai people, Thai language, Thai music, Thai sunshine, Thai Buddhist monk, Thai bikers, Thai golden temples, Thai stray dogs, Thai flowers, Thai elephants, and Thai coffee.
Thai coffee is made with coffee beans from Northern Thailand. I take a sip of the iced coffee with sweet condensed milk and my taste buds sing at the flavor. Every cup they give me is topped with a cream-colored orchid with hue of yellow and pink.
I look around and notice temple in the corner where oranges and coffee are placed as an offering to the gods. On most days instrumental Thai music plays at the shop, but on this day a song I recognize pours through the speakers. The words ring through my head,” A whole new world, a new dazzling place I never knew. But when I’m way up here it’s crystal clear I’m in a whole new world with you.” Written by Alan Menken, Linda Ronstadt.
Tears start to fall down my face as I remember this song was played at my mother’s funeral. As I listen to the music and think of my mother, an elephant calling below echo’s across valley and fills the air. I see a momma elephant caressing her baby. The baby reaches up taking in her mothers love with her tiny trunk. It is as if time stands still.
I close my eyes, take a deep breath and trust this is my mother’s way of letting me know she is here. The song, the sunshine and the mother elephant loving on her baby are no coincidence.

To this day it amazes me that I ended up here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Twelve years ago my husband Greg and I visited this beautiful land of smiles, it was during that trip, my love affair with elephants first began.
We arrived at an Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There were many elephants doing tricks. Some played soccer, some painted pictures on canvas with a paintbrush in their snout. Tourist fed them bananas and squealed in delight when the elephants reached their scaly trunks in search for more bananas.
I secluded myself from a large group of tourist, as I reloaded my camera I looked up and saw a medium sized elephant standing before me.
She was tied to the low wooden fence between us. She had tears running down her face. I reached out and gently touched her face.
Her skin was dry and soft, with wiry hairs that did nothing to absorb her tears.
Her keeper was a small Thai man with broken English and when he saw me he came running over.
“ She cry for one year, she lose mother”.
He shook his head with his gaze turned down, then hurried back to the crowd of tourist who watched the elephants do tricks.
His broken words pierced through my heart and tears began to stream down my face. I reached up and wiped the elephant’s tears with my fingertips.
I looked deep into her greyish blue eyes and I could see an ocean of grief I knew all to well. She cried, I cried, she cried, I cried and the words, ”lost her mother she cry for 1 year” speaks to that empty place where I longed for my mother.
Together we cried.
Across species, our hearts connected, we are both motherless daughters.

At that moment when I cried with that elephant I connected to this animal in a way I never thought possible.
On this morning as I watch the elephants from afar. I feel compelled to be near them. I walk across the street as the mother elephant makes her morning call to her Mahout,. A Mahout is the elephant’s keeper they are with the elephant almost 24 hours a day. They sleep in a bamboo hut nearby. The elephant is gently rocks in excitement as she prepares for her morning munch on bamboo leaves.
A mom with 20-day-old twins passes by and dad is slowing walking behind her. The dad has large white tusks and his tail is outlined with wiry hair that swishes the flies away as he swooshes his tail back and forth.
The twin elephants run under their mother’s legs, she walks toward the fresh bundle of bamboo leaves her mahout has gathered.
I smile and think about my own 9 twin sons. I wish I could speak elephant so I could reach out and let her know she is in for the best journey of her life.
Motherhood, especially motherhood of twins.
I stand in awe in this sanctuary full of elephants. I watch Mothers and babies, Fathers and toddlers and everything in between. They are all there.
Their stories are not unlike our own. They are stories of survival. Abuse. Neglect. Loss. Physical Anguish. If they could talk I know their stories would not stop there.
It is here at this park at time in this moment where the elephants come to recover. It is here at this park at this time in this moment where I come to recover.
Taking this year to write the story of my life.

As I stand across my coffee shop, among the elephants, in this sanctuary
I am reminded of how much these elephants have taught me about love, loss and a lifetime of grief and healing. About taking in this moment.
About family and how when we loose someone we love they are never really gone. They are with us in the love we get from each other, the tears of an elephant, a song in the coffee shop. An elephant mothering her babies, the warmth of the sun on your face, the kindness of a stranger, a flower in your coffee. They are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
All we have to do is sit in this moment, in this time, find a place that inspires you to take in this moment and live.

coffee with elephants photo


A Motherless Daughter’s Mother’s Day

A Motherless Daughter's Mother's Day

It’s that time of the year again and if you are a Motherless Daughter you feel it in every bone in your body even if you are trying not to. Mother’s Day, for most is a joyous time to celebrate your mother. However for so many motherless daughters it is a time of deep sadness and it reminds us of a relationship we long for every single day. It brings us back to that moment when we learned our mothers were about to die.

It’s been 20 years since I lost my mother. I was 22 when she died but 11 when I lost her emotionally. My mother was ill, she had encephalitis an inflammation of the brain that left her brain damaged and she was never the same.

I was a Sophomore in college at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. I have blonde hair and blue eyes and I am about 5″5. It is my first year at a four year university and my dream of becoming an elementary teacher is well on it’s way. My life has not been easy my mother has been sick since I was 11. My father murdered when I was 16 leaving me to care for my mom and younger brother. I have lived with many families but I was determined to create a better life for myself in spite of all I had been through. Making the decision to go to college was difficult, my mom was young 47 and living in a group home. I always felt the responsibility of caring for her and the emotional responsibility of her happiness. Many days she sat in the old folks home creating crafts and calling me on the phone to let me know she wanted out. I envisioned finishing college and getting an apartment of my own where I could have her move in with me but I knew I had to finish college first.

The phone rang and it was my cousin on the line. She asked to talk to my college roommate and best friend who shared the same name as me. “I need you to put Angela on the phone”, she said. I did what I was told and handed the phone to my friend Angela.

Angela is like me she wears her heart and emotions on her sleeve. Angela and I met in Olympia, Washington while working at Nordstrom. Ang is strong, beautiful and always inspires me to be better. She has long lightly highlighted golden brown hair she is about 5″7 with long runners legs. She always jokes about having a shelf booty she claims she can put a tray on her booty and serve food. Angela is silly and she is in perfect shape the kind of shape that makes every guys head turn at WSU. We exercise together every morning, share stories and laugh about silly things like college girls do. We finish each others sentences, we both hate test, and school is something we do because we know we have to. We are both way better at being social then we are about being students. We host the dorm popcorn nights, we play the same song over and over again hitting repeat a million times and sing and dance like no one is looking. We are the Angela’s.

Angela put the receiver up to her ear and she listened intensely to my cousin, her eyes began to well up and I could tell something was really wrong. ” Ok, ok, ok, un ha, I understand” Angela said. Our dorm room was pink and covered in stripes and flowers. We had just won an award from Washington State University for the best decorated dorm. Our two lamps by our bedside where almost always on. Our mothers helped us set up our dorm rooms in the late summer before school. Angela sat in the right corner at my desk and nervously played with the telephone cord while listening to my cousin.

The room was still and a chill from the January morning Palouse air creeped though the cracks in the window seal not even the cosy lights by our bed could provide warmth for what was coming. Angela wasn’t looking at me she was focused on her fingernails and she began twisting the phone cord staring with intensity at my desk. “Ok”, she said as she handed the phone to me.

” Your mother has suffered a stroke and I need you to pack up a suitcase. I have arranged for your plane ticket and Angela is going to help you get ready she will bring you to the airport in Lewiston, Idaho in time for your flight”, my cousin said.

My stomach started turning as I listened to her words. I knew this had to be bad for her to book a ticket for me to Seattle which was a 5 hour drive over the mountains. ” Is she going to die?” I asked as my bottom lip started trembling up and down, my voice cracked and the tears instantly welling up.

” I don’t know”, but I need to you remain strong and get here as fast as you can”, my cousin replied.
Then from somewhere deep in the depths of soul I let out the most horrible sound imaginable. I wailed from the bottom of my toes and yelled,”Noooooo”. I hung up the phone ran down the hall to the dorm bathrooms on floor 4, opened the blue stall door and threw up until there was nothing left to do but gut wrench. My friend Angela followed me placing her hand on my back, holding my long blonde hair back making sure no puke or toilet water got on me. Tears streamed down her face we both knew this was it.

My Mother died January 11th, 1993 she was 47 I was 22. Since this time I have had children of my own, joined Motherless Daughters Groups, Motherless Mother Groups, had lots of therapy and I have learned how to mother myself. I am honoring her and myself by writing a Memoir a journey that is not easy balancing the emotions opening stuff I thought I found a place for.

On Mothers Day, when I walk past the card isle at target I can’t help but think of the moment I learned of the end of my moms life. I miss her, I long to hold her wrinkled hand and I imagine her snorting laughter as she watches her twin 8 year old grandsons. I watch interactions between my friends and their mothers and I imagine what it would be like to see her again. I know that she is with me, I can feel her presence in so many areas of my life. So this one goes out to all the Motherless Daughter on Mother’s Day! May you let your tears flow and know that you are not alone.
Things we have to let go