September 22, 2011 - Car-Free Day

AND Elephant Appreciation Day

Today is special for two excellent reasons: it is a day when many people all over the world will give up driving their cars and take to the streets on bikes and foot, reclaiming city streets and enjoying a slower pace; and it is also a day to learn about and honor elephants.

Some people, somewhere in the world, might combine the two, parking their car and catching a ride on their elephants!


In his famous song “Imagine,” John Lennon didn't say, “Imagine all the people walking and cycling car-free...” But can you imagine it, anyway? Can you imagine a cleaner future with no freeways and traffic jams and car accidents? How would people get around without cars?

Well, of course people already take trains and subways, walk and bicycle. New York City is famous for being a city with a lot of people on foot and in subways; London boasts its “Underground,” Paris its “Metro,” and many other cities offer rapid transit as well. Some cities have wonderful bike lanes and bike trails, including Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon, in the U.S., and (worldwide) Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  

But futurists and science fiction writers sometimes picture different sorts of transport. Isaac Asimov pictured cities with moving strips like those at airports – but a series of strips of increasing speeds. Pedestrians would hop onto a slow-moving strip, then move to faster and faster strips; as they neared their destination, pedestrians would move back down the slower strips until they reached the unmoving sidewalk. Many sci-fi writers have aircabs and flycycles and other air-borne vehicles in their future worlds, and of course there is the longed-for jet pack! 

Take a peek at these pictured possibilities. 

For information about the people who organize Car-Free Day, go here.

Now, for our pachyderm friends...

Elephants are unique for their incredibly useful trunks. Elephants use their trunks to tear plants and raise food to their mouths, of course—but did you know that an elephant's trunk is delicate enough to be able to pluck a single blade of grass, yet also strong enough to rip up small trees? Other uses for the trunk are to suck up water and then blow it into their mouths for drinking, or spray it onto their bodies for bathing. Elephants also spray dirt and mud onto their bodies for a sort of sunscreen. Trunks are also used as snorkels when swimming.

Elephants use their trunks to make “hand”shake greetings, caresses, wrestling moves, or threat displays. Elephants even defend themselves with their trunks! They sometimes flail their trunks at attackers, and sometimes they are able to grasp and fling away intruders.

Trunks are also useful in smelling. An elephant's trunk is like a periscope for odors – the elephant can raise its trunk into the air and swivel it from side to side to determine the location of other elephants, possible attackers, or food,

And let us never forget the most important use for elephant trunks – to hold a paintbrush. Just kidding! But you've got to see this and this other video of elephants painting, if you've never seen them before!   By the way, these videos are not “tricks” – the elephants really do apply the paint to the canvas, as you see, although humans load the brushes for them. In the case of the elephant painting an elephant, she was trained to do the particular brush strokes that make up the picture, but it is interesting to see how carefully she goes over previous brushstrokes to make them darker, and I also find it interesting to see that, although she has good control, it looks like hard work for her to maintain that control. The abstract paintings that elephants make are supposed to be unique, original, the elephants' own creations.

To learn more about elephants, even the ones who don't paint, check out the National Geographic Kids site or the page “About Elephants.”

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