Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Elephant No. 30: Apache Tears

For today's elephant, I didn't want to draw, paint, glue or otherwise make anything. But I didn't mind the idea of arranging something. Today I decided to arrange rocks into an elephant shape.

I love rocks. As a kid, one of my favourite things to do after it rained was walk along the curbs, picking out the prettiest rocks. Rock always look nicest when wet, in my opinion. To this day, I still pick up a few rocks wherever I travel.

Some years ago, I inherited a rock collection from an elderly man I'd known since childhood. He often used to give me rocks and pebbles when I was small, trying to impress their names upon my unfocused little brain. One of the most plentiful rocks in his collection was apache tears.

Apache tears are small rounded pieces of obsidian—a black volcanic glass. They appear opaque until you hold them up to the light, when they become surprisingly translucent. Usually black or grey, they also come in shades of brown, and are often embedded in a fragile later of white perlite.

The story of apache tears comes from a well-known legend. In the 1870s, about 75 Apache warriors fought the U.S. Cavalry on a mountain overlooking today's Superior, Arizona. Instead of accepting defeat, the outnumbered warriors rode their horses off a cliff, preferring suicide to death at the hands of their enemies. When the Apache women learned of the fate of their men, they wept, their tears turning to stone when they hit the ground.

American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash wrote a 1964 song about the incident called "Apache Tears", which you can hear here.

I have a very large quantity of apache tears, so I didn't think this would be difficult. I began by simply dumping a quantity of the stones onto a sheet of white bristol board. As you can see, some of the pieces are quite large. I removed these and stuck to small and medium stones.

I shaped a baby elephant first, simply pushing things around with the side of my hand.

That took all of five minutes, so I tried an African elephant's head next. this was much harder for some reason. But it still only took about fifteen minutes.

I didn't mind this activity at all. No muss, no fuss, and at the end it all goes back into the bin from whence it came.

Elephant Lore of the Day
In an article earlier this year, wildlife filmmaker James Honeyborne described an interesting encounter he had with elephants in Botswana's Okavango Delta.

Unexpectedly caught a little too close to elephants for comfort, Honeyborne and two other crew members crouched down, hoping not to be trampled. Although elephants often become aggressive as a result of previous run-ins with hunters and poachers, in this case the older elephants seemed more interested in explaining humans to their calves. As the three men did their best to appear non-threatening, three mother elephants brought over their babies.

According to Honeyborne, "It appeared to be for their education—as if the mums were saying, 'Come here, kids, and look at this!'" The babies came within five or six metres (15 to 20 feet) of the men, looking around and wiggling their trunks as if trying to figure out what they were supposed to be looking at. Finally their eyes locked onto the camera crew.

To Honeyborne, it then appeared as though the mothers and calves were discussing the strange creatures huddled on the ground. For a full ten minutes, the elephants rumbled to one another, before the matriarch finally led the herd away. Read more of his story here.

African elephant and baby at water hole.
Photo: Nick Dale

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee)

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

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