The first memory I have is of just how cold the world was, of the hard solidarity of the ground beneath my body, of how bright the sunlight was in my eyes, of the great grey face of my mother gazing down at me. She caressed me with her long, incredibly strong trunk, assuring me that I was where I should be. The low rumbles resonating from her chest comforted me in these confusing moments as I tried twice to stand and failed. Time passed by, and I tried again, this time rising to all fours and fanning my ungainly ears triumphantly. I rubbed up against my mother’s leg, extending my young trunk in search of her teats.
Those were happier days, suckling whenever I was hungry, frolicking with my cousins as the adults of the herd foraged. I was especially fond of rolling in the mud during the rainy season and splashing through the watering holes when we came across them in our endless travels. I learned many things on these eternal wanderings: what was safe to eat and how to get it, how to tell whether water was good to drink or not, how to react when lions or hyenas joined the herd at watering holes, how to pass through the great herds of water buffalo during their migration between the rainy and dry seasons.... Some things, though, I found I already knew, like how to use my trunk to drink, how to sharpen my tusks, how to level a tree for its leafy foliage.
Above all, I knew where to find food and water—always. I could not say how I knew, but I did. At first, I would follow the Matriarch wherever she went, just as my mother and the rest of the herd would, but once I struck out on my own to build my own family, I found myself walking ancient trails to survive. Silent whispers of the past would fill my ears, or perhaps instinct would guide me. All I know is that when I walked the paths to vegetation and water, I walked the paths of my ancestors as well.
There are memories I would not care to remember also, of course.
One night, as I led my herd to better foraging grounds, the roar of some foreign beast shattered the calm of the Serengeti. It was difficult to see in the dark, but I managed to hone in on the deafening roar with the help of my enormous ears. The adults of my herd gathered behind me, surrounding the little ones protectively. I raised my trunk and trumpeted challenge to the beast, swaying slightly and fanning my ears, warning the predator not to trouble so many healthy elephants.
Then the blinding lights appeared, two tiny suns that blazed from the squarish face of some monstrous creature the likes of which I had never before seen. Strange creatures rode on the growling beasts back as it glided over the land with impossible ease. They yelled and caterwauled, brandishing stiff branches that gleamed in the moonlight. I made my stand again, though fear began to crawl beneath my coarse skin. I raised the challenging cry, but the creatures only drew nearer, unafraid and leveling their shiny branches.
I rumbled to my herd to flee, ushering them on even as I myself ran in terror from the crazed creatures. A thunderclap resounded, one of my herd screamed in agony, and then a second thunderclap exploded, followed by the keening wail of a little one. I paused, rounding to face the creatures that were somehow harming my family, and saw them climbing from the roaring beast’s back and running on two legs for a fallen little one. They cheered at the sight of the little one's blood.
Rage engulfed me, and I rushed the two-legged creatures. I swept my lethal tusks in wrath, driving the suddenly terrified two-legged creatures back to the roaring creature. I managed to knock one’s shiny branch from its grasp and wrench the other’s away with my trunk, casting it aside. The roaring beast snarled then, and hastened off into the night, the two-legged creatures riding on its back again.
I turned to the wounded little one, but found only a lifeless body. I raised a trumpet of sorrow to the stars, calling my herd back to me, grieving for the loss of one so young. My herd gathered around the body, heads hanging. Some tried to stir the dead little one with nudges from their trunks, while the other little ones only stared in stunned shock. Dawn broke the eastern horizon before we could bring ourselves to continue our travels.
I remember that terrible night very well, yes, but I remember the happy memories, too. I have lived long, and do not intend to go anywhere except where my ancestors went when alive. I occasionally hear a roaring beast, but I know better now—I steer my herd to safety until the danger has passed.
I remember that awful night. I remember my mother’s lessons. I remember my ancestor’s paths. After all, I am an elephant, and elephants never forget.