(In memory of the Western Black Rhino)
If I woke outside a dream, then at the dream’s shimmering edge I must have been. Nothing else could explain the rhinoceros at my bedside, its massive form displacing all sense of proportion, the moon giving it a ghastly glow.
We remained silent, beast and man, though I could hear its thumping, tribal heartbeat deep inside my chest. I shut my eyes, switched on the lamp. In response its head drooped slowly, dark blood spilling from a severed horn.
The gates of my childhood swung wide open: rhinos were an early fascination. I had drawn them, collected books about them, shushed everyone in the room when they appeared on TV. I had rhino toys, posters and cookies. And like dinosaurs, they wandered innocently through my dreams, though never quite like this. Not like now.
The images were horrific: an article in a recent issue of National Geographic; the uncensored reality of poachers, the sick demands of the medicinal black market—things childhood had never exposed me to. Proof, perhaps, that the ground in a child’s heart is always neutral.
Now I linger at the edge of some Kafkaesque dream. I’m well into adulthood—all my shapes in their corresponding holes; my coloring kept within established lines. A model of conformity.
The rhino continues to bleed, its eyes fluttering on the verge of some primeval truth I cannot uncover. I want to sit with it, to feed it handfuls of green leaves until its horn regrows, until the African sun blazes high overhead and reveals an unbroken stretch of grassland.
But the rhino fades, and I come to realize that a new horn will never be enough; the human race keeps growing, keeps demanding of nature. And I think, if only the child inside me would rise up, turn warrior, shed his neutrality. He could break from this apathy, take a stand against the encroaching world—really fight! He could do all that. And wouldn’t it be something? That would really be something.
(From the book Wilderness & Love)