Thursday, February 21, 2008

On the Joy of Reading Mail and Email, with Notes on Elephants

This morning, as I rode our stationary bike, I read an essay "Mail" by Anne Fadiman from her collection of familiar essays called At Large and At Small. According to Fadiman, familiar essays stake a position midway between critical essays and personal essays, taking elements of both and mixing them. Through history such essays have often had titles starting with the word "On." They might be serious, as "On Going to War with Thoughts of Peace" or "On the Passing of an Old Friend." They might be light, as "On Shopping for Silk Ties" or "On the Sinking of a Toy Boat." (Those were not real titles, so do not expect them in Fadiman's book.)

In the essay "Mail" Fadiman tells us about her father who eagerly anticipated receiving an extra large delivery of mail everyday by watching for the mail carrier to lift the flag on his jumbo mailbox. He had a large desk heavier than a refrigerator on which he would sort and answer the letters that brought surprises to his routine of reading and writing. From there Fadiman tells about the history of the British postal service. Before the reform of 1939, the recipient (not the sender) paid for the mail. Her hero Charles Lamb (who wrote familiar essays) was fortunate to work at a firm that would pay his postal fees, for it could drive you toward bankruptcy to receive lots of mail. The reform with its simplifying of fees was an important move for the development of the economy and culture of Great Britain. Fadimon turns then to her own joyous story of mail and email to complete the essay. Being sentimental, she has the stamp dispenser and the copper waste basket that her father used at his desk.

After reading the essay, still riding the bike, I picked up the newsletter from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which Bonnie receives via email as a foster parent of an orphan elephant in Kenya. I immediately realized that I was experiencing a joy of correspondence much like Fadiman. Bonnie and I look forward to the elephant news every month. The January newsletter is particularly interesting. Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick assures us that the political troubles in Kenya have not reached the elephant sanctuaries. Fewer visitors have come, but those who do have ready access to the orphans. Sheldrick tells us that an eye specialist came to examine the blind orphan rhino Maxwell and diagnosed that an operation would not restore his sight. The keepers are making a special enclosure for Maxwell for his health and safety. To help him still feel part of the community, they are bringing in dung from other rhinos. Isn’t that sweet! The newsletter also tells about a walk in the bush with young elephants and their guardians. When a leg from a warthog fell from a tree, they realized that they were right under a leopard and his dinner. They beat a hasty retreat. We never have stories like that in our library newsletter!

With her newsletter, Bonnie also gets excerpts from a keeper's diary to let her know how her orphan Zurura is doing. Lately he seems to be a regular cut-up, a bit of a show-off. He has also been taking lots of mud and dust baths. There were lots of great photos with the report but none of Zurura this time. She is hoping to see him in action if Animal Planet will ever show the second season of Elephant Diaries.

You may also get this entertaining email by adopting an elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust website. It will add nicely to your letters from family, friends, and lovers.

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