2 min
at 11:43 PM

When in the presence of something truly inspiring, is your reaction verbal or awed silence? Michael Ellis has his answer.

I have led about over 40 safaris to Africa. At the beginning of each trip when I am orienting people about what to expect and how to behave, I always give them a warning that several times during our trip I will require complete and total silence. No yakking, no whirring video, no clicking cameras, no commenting on the obvious, just silence. It seems to be a trait peculiar to Western thought that we must constantly process our experiences by commenting on them, rather than just having them. On my trips I want people to take the world directly into their bones, to feel it viscerally, in the gut, not in their brain.

These quiet moments can be very powerful and later can be easily accessed. When I see a photo of a spotted hyena I can still hear the crunching of a wildebeest leg. I can feel the power of those massive jaws as they slowly but forcefully crush the heavy bone. I can smell the smell of recent death.

And I can still taste the presence of those three ponderous male elephants that slowly walked by my tent, the quiet whooshing of their massive feet through the tall grass. The low deep rumbles nearly impossible to hear emanating from their bodies that I could physically feel. I could feel the hairs vibrate in my ear. I disappeared for a moment into their world.

In the Japanese art of flower arranging, Ikebana, negative or empty space is just as important as the plants themselves. The key to success is knowing when to quit arranging. In my business I have to know when to not talk. There is information and there is wisdom. I can give you the facts on cheetahs and how they hunt but until you watch one quietly stalk a gazelle, burst to full throttle, turning this way and that in rapid pursuit, knocking the legs out from the prey, and then watching the gazelle's last gasps, hearing its death rattle ... then you may have a gained a little knowledge about the world and you didn't hear a word from me.

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This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

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