Message from The Mountain…

The boys and I have been working at The Elephant Nature Park, an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  And let me tell you…. elephant work is hard work!  We have learned so much about the struggles of the Asian Elephant and their fight against extinction. And we have met a woman named Lek Chailert, who has made us think differently about the elephant.

We have spent the last few weeks in the mountain jungles of Northern Thailand getting to know the Asian elephant.  In addition, the refuge also has nearly a hundred dogs, horses, an Asian Black Bear (that we hung out with and petted), water buffalo, and cats.

For those of you that don’t know, the number of Asian elephants in the wild, and also in captivity, is diminishing rapidly.  Experts believe it won’t be long before the Asian elephant is extinct.  Those elephants that are still alive and in captivity, go through a process called, “The Crush”.  This is a means of “breaking them in” by very cruel tactics such as beatings with hooks, chaining the animals so there are unable to move, and even blinding the animals.  Any of the elephant working with the general public, have gone through this process.  It is a horrific, brutal ritual.

What we have learned is that elephants are meant to live in the wild.  Unfortunately, the elephant has been put to work in circuses, the logging industry (using elephants for logging is now outlawed in Thailand, but still very much a reality in Burma and other areas), street entertainment and in elephant entertainment parks and treks.  To be able to do this work, they are abused horribly into submission.

But the elephants have a refuge in the Elephant Nature Park.  An extraordinary facility created by Lek.  Lek has been recognized internationally for her work with elephants.  I had the great honor of getting to know Lek personally…  An extraordinary woman who I am proud to call a friend.  She came from simple means but had such a deep desire to help elephants that she has created a paradise for elephants and observers alike.  Lek rescues elephants…. blind, broken hips, aged, babies who have lost their mothers, elephants who have been deemed too dangerous.   She takes them in.

I have never, ever seen a woman interact with animals like this lady.  It’s almost other-worldly.  The minute she arrives, the elephants come from everywhere to be in her presence.  The boys and I got to experience “lull-a-bye time”.  This is where Lek actually sings to the baby elephants… beautifully, I might add, and get this…. she sits underneath them and leans against their legs.  And if that wasn’t brilliant enough, she invited Jackson to join her.  There was my son, sitting with Lek underneath a baby elephant and it’s mother, stroking it’s leg and being part of something healing and holy.

I love that my kids have a new found appreciation for these animals.   Jackson really connected with a number of the elephants and they seemed to “get him” as well.  Jackson has a gentle spirit that the animals seem to identify with.  He spent time talking with them, feeding them, stroking their ears, necks and trunks.   Buck just thought is was super cool to put melons in their trunk and watch them eat them whole.    He also got to use a machette to cut the melons… (under supervision, of course).

Lek and her husband, were so gracious to the boys and I, making us feel like we were part of the project there.   We were able to work directly with the elephants… washing, walking, feeding, following the veterinarian as he administered care to the animals.

This sort of volunteer work is not for the weak of heart, or back, for that matter.  We shovel elephant poo, built fences, planted sugar cane, helped in the elephant kitchen making banana patties, scrubbing melons, using a machette to cut the fruit and filled baskets of food for the animals.  We even were able to participate in a “Save A Tree” program where we tied ribbons blessed by the monks in the area around trees.    We went to bed every night exhausted but so satisfied.

These majestic animals deserve our admiration and our protection.  We have learned that elephants are proud, protective, and very powerful creatures.  The kids and I will never spend a nickel again on circuses, elephant rides and anything related to the abuse of these incredible animals.

So, today is my birthday, and we are now in Phuket on the coast of Thailand… Tuesday we leave for India. We are going to see the Dalai Lama speak for 4 days in Dharamsala.  Very exciting.

Thanks for all the Birthday wishes!   Of course, more to follow…

17 Comments

  1. francine

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY !!! AND WHERE IS OCTOBER GOING TO TAKE U GUYS ???? JUST LOVIN UR EXPERIENCES N BLOG & FOTOS ????? BE WELL AND HAVE FUN WITH LOTS OF PEACE n LOVE francine
    SEND MY SMILES TO JACKSON & BUCK
    PS. LIFE IS GOOD ON THE ATLANTIC , SIGNED UP FOR AN ADVENTURE IN ECUADOR !!! FOLLOWING R DREAMS MAKE THE WORLD GO AROUND ——–

  2. Craig Smith

    Hi J.D.,

    What an incredible journey you and your boys have been on around the globe. I’ve been so inspired by the stories of your journeys and beautiful pictures. Thanks for living your drea, and making a huge difference in so many lives.

    Much Love,

    Craig (aka Craw)

  3. Nick Corley

    How amazing is all this! I feel so lucky to have seen you right before you left and so enjoyed hanging with your family at brunch! I just had a feeling that this was going to be the journey of a lifetime for you on so many positive levels. Moments that will be added to but that will only exist beautifully in time. The joy on all of your faces and the incredible compassion learned and celebrated on each step is a great gift. You could not have made a better decision. You went out on a limb and found an amazing view. I wish I was there with you all and am loving the blogging!! My love to you all and i can’t wait to see what happens next. xxoo

  4. Elise

    Happy Birthday! Have you ever seen Water for Elephants it shows the brutality and bad treatment of the elephants. It was heartbreaking!! What an amazing way to spend ur bday w the boys and those amazing animals.
    Miss you! Enjoy India….the Dali lama?!? How cool!!!
    Xoxoxox

  5. Bo Henderson

    Hey you wonderful guys….love that you are making such a great contribution everywhere you have been, are and will go! I already know about Jackson’s great spirit….he is the man! And now that Buck has experience with a machete, I have a few projects on Golden Hill he can come tackle with me when he gets back. WOW…you had a birthday, who knew???? What a great place to celebrate in. Live long and prosper JD! Love the pics of you all with the elephants. And truly, how can such magnificent beings be abused by humans. Just gotta ask, whats on your left hand? Jackson, can you grow any faster? Buck, love the hat…bring me one, okay? Love the posts, and look forward to hearing how the travel to India is! Love from all here…XOXOXOBO

  6. Susan Hooper

    This is amazing!!!!! I learned so much from this. I agree, I will never spend a dime on the circus again.
    Tell Buck I said hello and hello from all his friends at Eastover.
    Sue

  7. Mimi Leder

    J.D. Happy Birthday!!!!
    What a beautiful life you live…you and your family’s generosity of service..helping in the healing of all.
    What a great gift you are giving and receiving.
    Papa Paul is smiling down on ya!
    With love and deep respect,
    Mimi

  8. Roberto Elinan

    Happy B’day J. D. …!
    One more happenning you’ll cherish in a very special way … your birthday this year.
    May all your days be blessed just as Jackson’s and Buck’s

  9. Duncan

    happy birthday JD!!!!!!!!!
    you guys look so beautiful — seeing the pics and reading about the once-in-a-lifetime adventures you’re having – a dream you’ve made, through your courage and vision, come true – makes me very happy.

    on the home front – sick mom (but it’s that time of her life), healthy kids, happy daddy – and we all send you love.
    duncan

  10. brian numme

    Hey JD, Jackson, and Buck. How terrific to be getting updates on 12 in 12. Your excursions and experiences will forever change your lives and how fortunate for you all to be in the calming whirlwind that it affords. Will continue to think about you all and send offerings of peace and contentment.
    Brian

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