One recent morning, Kat was giving Lady a drink from the hose in Yard 3 when Lady spontaneously decided to take a bath. Her bath nicely muddied one of the elephant-made mud wallows, so it turned into a small mud party. Lady had a wonderful time, and it eventually segued into her scratching on a nearby tree. It isn’t The Itchy-Scratchy Tree, but it is a tree that everyone enjoys using as an itchy-scratchy tree. She rubbed and smiled, lifting her legs and contorting her body to make sure she got every spot. She looked incredibly content with her muddy self.
In so many ways, Lady epitomizes the autonomy of sanctuary. While everybody knows how important choice is, we still all have a vision of what sanctuary should be and how their time here should look. Moments like this with Lady remind us that it is up to them – every elephant is different, and that also means they all want something different. Rana wanted a friend, but Lady wants other things.
Sometimes she spends her days exploring Yard 5, wandering to places that Rana still hasn’t explored, even though Rana has been here for longer. Other times, Lady chooses to be by the barn and stay close. At those times, we don’t encourage her to explore, nor do we try to convince her to spend time with the other elephants. It’s nice when that happens, but only if that’s what Lady wants.
Lady has come so far in the months she has been here, and, in six months, she may want different things still. No matter what she wants or who she is, we completely accept her for who she is and what she needs in each moment. We encourage her to decide how her life looks each day – and sometimes that is hanging out in a small corner of Yard 3, or maybe it’s exploring the second creek crossing in Yard 5, or perhaps it’s watching Rana & Mara splash around the pond. When she chooses to socialize, she enjoys her time interacting with others. We recently saw her swimming while Rana and Mara were nearby. Lady can leave when she wants, but she also comes back when she wants.
She seems to have her own schedule of spending a few days in the bigger yards, exploring and walking around. She will hang out around different trees, bushes, and grasses. She enjoys different smells and hangs out close enough to the other elephants to socialize, but also with enough distance that she can feel comfortable. After a few days, she seems to get tired – some of that is physical, but some is likely emotional too. Once she starts looking tired, she often comes back and spends a few days near the barn, seeming to recharge herself, and then she will go back out and explore again.
We want her to continue to heal and to be the best version of herself she can be. What that means, and what that looks like, and how she arrives, is all up to her. True sanctuary allows each elephant the ability to determine those things for themselves. Every elephant here, and every elephant to come, has this same autonomy, and this same ability to choose. Lady stands out in this because what so many envision for her isn’t what she needs or desires. When we give each elephant what they want and need instead of what we feel that we want for them, that is when they blossom.