The Blue Elephant

It is Martin Luther King’s day. Annabella and Benjamin do not have school. They stayed overnight in our house and are now ready for an adventure – hiking the Hieroglyphic Trail. It is a 3-mile path through the Sonoran desert to the Petroglyphs done by the Hohokam tribe, Native Americans who lived in the Phoenix area between 500-1450 AD.

Benjamin is well equipped – he wears real hiking shoes, hiking shorts and a cotton shirt. Four-year-old Annabella is not used to hiking yet and does not have an appropriate outfit. With her tight light blue leggings and her long sleeved shirt she looks more like going to a playground. But this is what we have. I take my pack bag with two water bottles and their favorite food for a picnic – organic crackers, cream cheese, bananas, blueberries and raspberries, nuts, carrots, cheese sticks and two little whole wheat desserts.

After a one-hour drive on the freeway and a country road, we arrive at the parking place. It is totally full. Three sheriffs watch the entrance.

“Where should I park?”

“There is no parking available, Mamm! We are here to tow wrongly parked cars. Do not park beside the road. You either can wait in line for people to leave or drive to Peraltra Trail nearby. “

I decide to wait, as I am the fourth car in line and the kids are well behaved. It does not take long to get a parking place. Everybody is excited. Benjamin finds my hiking stick and wants to take it with him. “You have to always walk with it!” I tell him. “I will not carry it”. It is too much responsibility for him and he leaves it in the car. But Annabella wants to take her blue elephant. Even when I tell her that she cannot loose it and I would not go back and search for it, she wants her Cutie to come with her.

We start to walk. Annabella’s little legs constantly wiggle over the many uneven rocks and her face soon becomes red and hot. “When are we there? I am tired!” I hold her hand and ensure her that it is not too far. The first Palo Verde Tree spreads a little shade and we sit down and rest. Other people pass by, many with little kids. They seem to be more used to hiking than Annabella. The path up to the canyon becomes a path of endurance. Benjamin breaks off a needle from a Prickly bear Cactus and Annabella finds a rock she wants to take with her. At least they can focus on something else than the desert heat! However, the rock is too heavy. We negotiate that she can leave the rock at the side of the trail and take it when we come back. Benjamin puts a black dot on the stone with a marker he secretly took with him. “People will believe that a bird pooped on it”, he says with a smile. Little Cutie is all the time with us, dangling from Annabella’s left hand.

After a nearly two-hour hike we arrive at the site. It is a paradise for children and full of people. We look for a shady spot opposite the petro glyphic rocks and eat our picnic lunch. Several little ponds with dark, green water are located on the bottom of the canyon. A Frisbee lands in the murky water and cannot be found. The rescuer gets all the attention of the crowd.

Soon Annabella and Benjamin slide down the slippery rocks, hide in caves, climb the boulders and copy on a piece of paper the drawings of the Hohokams. They have forgotten the heat, the tiredness and the “strenuous” path.

But we have to go back.

The January afternoon heat burns down on the dried out vegetation with even the Saguaro Cactus suffering from not getting enough water. We urgently would need water, but only have a little bit left in the small water bottle. Annabella emptied in an unwatched moment the other one on the rocky floor.

For encouragement, I let the kids run a bit forward to hide beside the path underneath a rock or desert bush. They love to shock me with a “booo”. Soon, the desert has nowhere to hide anymore and I start to carry Annabella on my back. The backpack is now in front of me with the blue elephant still tangling in front of my face. Annabella’s face is so hot that I gave her my hat and she accepted it. But she wants to walk again.

We ration the water and everybody only gets one sip. I decided not to drink anything. Annabella says that next time, she wants to stay at home when I am hiking. She now says she hates hiking. There is water in the car, she says, and she will drink everything alone. It does not faze her that it was she who emptied the bottle. Also something hurts in her left shoe. I look and see a little blister. Poor Annabella! But I have to tell her a lie. “I do not see anything!” Soon she forgets the blister and walks more. Finally, we are at the parking place. When we step into the car, she suddenly remembers her blue elephant. “Where is Cutie?” I have no idea. Maybe I packed it in my pack bag? But he is not there. She starts to cry. “I want to go back and look for Cutie” she says, “I want to have Cutie!” It is impossible to go back, it is far too hot and we are all exhausted.

“Omi told you that you have to take care of Cutie”, Benjamin reminds Annabella. With his six years, he is sometimes surprisingly responsible. After seeing how sad Annabella is, he continues ,“ I will buy you something else with all my love!”

There is no way I can rewalk the trail and look for it. We drive back to Phoenix. Annabella has tons of stuffed animals hanging like little bats from her bunk bed. They are all over the house. She will forget it soon. We stop for ice cream on the way home. Half way through the yellow face with blue chewing gum eyes, chin and fingers covered with melting ice, she suddenly says out of the blue “Omi, I love hiking!” Are we soon going again?”

In the evening I tell Susanne the story of the blue elephant and she is sadder than Annabella. It was Annabella’s favorite animal! She inherited it from Benjamin, it was his first stuffed animal. By knowing this, I decide to go back.

It is still early morning when I arrive at the parking lot. Only two cars are there. When I start to walk, my steps are much faster now. I love the cool air in my face. In the dawn, the Jumping Cholla Cacti look like lanterns with the new growth shining against the desert ground. Birds hop by and an owl hoots in the distance. Not far away from the parking lot, at our last rest stop, I see something blue between two rocks. It is the blue elephant lying on its side, the face directed toward the east.

After watching it for a while, thinking how much love Annabella has put into this stuffed animal, the first sunrays hit the tiny, scabby blue body and seem to awaken it. I am so happy that I found it.

Between the dry rocks

A blue elephant is waiting

To be rescued

What is a blue elephant for me? Where is my longing and love in life? For a short time, I am thinking of going back to Phoenix but dismiss the thought pretty quickly. I continue the hike. Soon, I am up at the petroglyph site and continue the hike through the dry creek above. The sun does not reach the canyon yet and the rocks are still cool when I pull myself up the boulders. Every step has to be done with attentiveness. The first sunrays hit the Ridge of Flatiron Mountain and travel down the valley. I hardly can stop walking.

Everything is alive and I am part of it. Maybe, the blue elephant does not have a material appearance and is pure life, love and connectedness what is with the whole body and mind.




Born and raised in a village along the Danube in Austria, Traude Wild soon ventured out into the world. After a two-year program for tourism in Klesheim/Salzburg, she spent nearly a year in South Africa and Namibia. By returning back to Austria, she acquired a Master of Economics at the University of Vienna. After moving to the United States with her four children, she studied Art History at Arizona State University and stayed in the United States for fourteen years. Here, she was teaching Art History in several Universities like Webster University and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Now, she lives partially in Arizona and Vienna and works together with her husband for the University of South-Carolina, Moore School of business as Adjunct Professor organising and leading Study tours in Central Europe. She also teaches at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna. Since 1999, she is practicing Zen meditation in the lineage of Katagiri Roshi. She loves to hike and to write and is a student of Natalie Goldberg. During her often many weeks long hikes she brings her awareness into the Here and Now, describing her experiences in an authentic way. She loves to walk pilgrimages. The longest hike so far was the 1,400 km long 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan in 2016.

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