I’ve started today’s post three different times and ways this morning.
You see, I’m behind on Best Words Ever and have the next Ask Aly still in draft form. There are beautiful, funny, yummy, and inspiring photos in the hopper, waiting for commentary. I have a list of manuscripts to edit for the next issue of the journal I work on, revisions to do on my own manuscripts before they can be submitted, blah, blah, blah. And now I have to reschedule today’s meeting plans…
What’s holding me up? A kid home sick with the “tummy rumbles.”
Last weekend, this same kid and I worked on his school report on an animal that lives on the African Plains. He chose the African Elephant. In researching kid-friendly facts on elephants we learned that one of the ways in which elephants communicate is via “tummy rumbles.”
You see, elephants have supersonic hearing. They communicate with very low-frequency sounds humans can’t hear. Elephants “growl” and this sound can travel long distances and is used to maintain contact with other elephants.
I found this concept so fascinating that I did further reading on my own. Daniel Peel, a field guide and conservationist, writes in “Elephant Communication,” a September 12, 2011, posting on his blog Conservation in Southern Africa:
If you are ever lucky enough to be close to an elephant while they are communicating, you will notice that the base of the trunk vibrates and you “see” the noise without hearing it. Noise is basically vibrations that have been interpreted by our ears and all make sense in our head but travelling through air are just vibrating particles…
…These “tummy rumbles” can be heard 4 to 5 kilometers away as airborne communication….and can travel a lot further in a harder substrate such as soil. These seismic waves can travel as far as 20 kilometers (12 miles) under ground.
It is very interesting how elephants pick up these underground vibrations. There are two basic methods that we know of…vibrations in the soil are transferred into the tips of the elephant’s toe bones and then up the leg and so on into the middle ear where the vibrations are read and translated into messages in the brain. The other method is through “Somatosensory Reception”…. [V]ibration sensitive cells in the feet and tip of the trunk…pick up vibrations which then travel to the brain via the nerves system.This method of “hearing” results in the “receiving stance” as I like to call it.
Peel goes on to make this lovely and interesting observation:
Often out in the bush when you are watching elephant they suddenly, without warning all freeze, motionless for sometimes minutes at a time. If you didn’t now about this seismic communication you would think that time had stopped, not a sound and the…herd unbelievably still even the young ones seem to pick on this and listen in. Even though you can’t tell for sure you can imagine these beautiful creatures talking to herds on the other side of the reserve, it’s an unbelievable thought that there is a whole conversation going on without you hearing a thing.
This image, which I will probably never get to see with my own eyes, stopped me in my tracks!
It reminded me to be more actively thankful for writers, photographers, and artists who are willing to share their knowledge and vision, particularly on the Internet. It reminded me as well to find ways to appreciate the occasional elephant in the room. And it reminded me to welcome in those deeply diverting “sidetracks,” because in the end I am also grateful to be standing close and still enough to hear the tummy rumbles emanating from within my own house.