My Sister and the Elephants
Posted on April 23, 2015
This painting is called “Remember Me” and it’s dedicated to my big sister, Linda Jo Hunter, animal advocate, wildlife tracker, artist, and author (Lonesome for Bears). It happened by accident. Again. It all started with two new paint colors and an elephant’s eye.
Linda and I went shopping for art supplies during her most recent visit to San Diego. We’d just had a lovely lunch date, one of the two times a year I get to see her. When she and husband Mike travel to or from their home in Washington state to their winter camping and surf adventures in the Baja peninsula, they always stop in San Diego and we get to spend a couple of hours catching up.
Later on, she would show me the oil paintings she created this winter. But for now, she was encouraging me to buy two new colors to add to my watercolor paints. I’m a newbie and definitely more author than artist, so I need all the encouragement I can get. Phthalo Turquoise and Indian Yellow had drawn my attention. “Oh, you’ll love the Indian Yellow,” said she.
I Confess My Fear
Sitting outside Whole Foods eating pears and chocolate, I finally told her the thing that has bothered me for years. Every time I see her now, or one of my two older brothers, I think, “What if this is the last time?”
I live in California, she’s in Washington or Mexico, one brother is in Colorado, and the other is in Wisconsin, so these visits are rare and treasured. We’re not getting any younger, and in fact, the closest to me in age is five years older. The older I get, the more I start to fret over this.
It’s silly, I know—because who knows if it won’t be me who goes first? And as she pointed out in amazement, I’m the one who’s constantly writing and teaching about reincarnation, for goodness sake! But that doesn’t mean I’m immune to love and nostalgic longing. Separation is hard!
I had decided ahead of time to tell her all this, and just let the tears stream down my face. You know what? It helped. A lot. And while I was telling her, it came to me why this has been so difficult for me to contemplate.
During her visit last fall, Linda had described how she knew that, if her husband cast off before she did, she couldn’t possibly be separated from him. He’d always be there with her. Oh, don’t I know it! I have such psychic visitors all the time, including our late mother and father and grandparents and friends and friends of friends, and so on.
But when I was in junior high and high school, one by one my siblings grew up and left home. We’d had such a lively, boisterous family up until then, all jabbering wildly and telling stories around the dinner table. I can’t describe that rich feeling of abundant family, but I can tell you that my mother was a storyteller/journalist/author/poet/lyricist. Oldest brother became poet, playwright, and actor. Next oldest brother is a musician, songwriter, inventor, and is working on a novel. Sister we’ve already described, but she was always the ringleader who came up with the circus, parade, or baton-twirling escapades when I was little. Father was a former stunt pilot and a risk-taking adventurer at heart.
I might as well have been living with the gypsies! I’m sure we have been in prior lives, one of the many places our paths have crossed.
So sitting outside Whole Foods, I found myself confessing that one of the saddest times of my life was when they all grew up and one by one went away, leaving the house so much quieter.
It’s not death that scares me—it’s loneliness on this planet. Of course, I have a marvelous best friend at my side in my husband Joseph. But these sibling characters are one of a kind, each of them, and absolutely irreplaceable. Of course I’ll miss any who go before me!
But then I realized that the depth of my emotion stemmed from this present-life memory. I wasn’t anticipating; I was remembering. Too-strong, out-of-place emotions—those are always clues to a past trauma, whether from the present life or a past lifetime. Once the trauma is identified, healing can happen. I’m so glad I brought up the subject because it’s not so scary anymore.
Of course, the elephants helped me put it all into a better perspective.
How the Elephants Surprised Me
During our visit, Linda told me about teaching friends in Baja who begged her for some lessons. She said, “You want to know how to paint? Okay, I’ll show you.” And she took some watercolor, mixed it up with a lot of water, and poured it over a blank piece of watercolor paper. “Don’t touch it!” she warned them. “Just watch what happens.” Magic.
So I came home with my new turquoise and yellow shades and decided to test them on a blank scrap—the back of a failed attempt to paint a rose. The scrap was about 4 x 5 inches. On one side, I splashed around the luscious Indian Yellow. On the other, Phthalo Turquoise. Gorgeous contrast.
I swear to you, I did not paint that blue elephant eye. I have not touched it at all. It was there, staring at me. And the more I looked, the more it said, “Paint me.”
I soon perceived his entire shape. I simply darkened the area outside his ear so that you could see it, and added a few more horizontal wrinkles on his trunk. I sorted his legs a bit.
Immediately the name of the painting began whispering in my ear, “Remember Me.” As usual, the name kept repeating as I saw new elements in the splotches.
Joseph came home and said, “Oh! There’s another elephant in the picture.” I looked and said, “Oh yes! I see it!” But I saw the spirit elephant’s eye in the yellow, and he was looking at a third elephant’s eye in the blue.
Some of you might be able to see this blue elephant; it’s behind the first one; they share a trunk—another spirit! Indeed, we are all like this, with many astral beings crowding around, wondering if we’ll notice them.
After living with the unexpected blue elephant for a day or two, I finally saw the yellow spirit elephant’s eye. And its trunk—already there, wrinkles and all!
I added a touch here, a tiny line there. I merely outlined the white tusk already present so that you could see it. Each time, I had to add a dab of paint and walk away, maybe for a day, before the rest appeared to my perception.
Interestingly, Linda used to collect elephants of all shapes, sizes, and materials. I remember her introducing me to “elephant beans” from the import store—a dozen ivory-carved teensy elephants hidden inside a tiny, hollow red bean from India. You could pour them out and marvel over them. But of course, none of us realized then the cost of that ivory, the terrible high cost that made me think, at first, that this painting was about the dangers of extinction that elephants currently face. “Remember Me.”
As I grew close to deciding this exercise was finished, I realized that my blue elephant’s ear had appeared very small. Was this a mistake? No, I discovered with a little research. He’s an Indian Elephant. Like the elephant beans. Their smaller ears distinguish them from African Elephants.
And so I have my clue to yet another lifetime in another culture where I have crossed paths with my sister—and the elephants.
As the painting depicts, we never truly part from those we love. Our spirits will always be connected!
I have now looked up elephants in the totem animal bible, Ted Andrews’ Animal-Speak. I was not at all surprised to discover that in many cultures they represent power, strength—and familial love.