So you love elephants. You know they’re fighting for their lives across the globe and they’re losing the battle. But what can you do to help? How do the choices you make help or hurt elephants? What about your entertainment and travel dollars? Here are 10 things you can do to make a difference in one or many elephants’ lives. This list is not intended to cover everything, but it might give you a place to start.

elephant eye

  1. Ivory: Don’t buy Ivory, even if it’s sold as “antique.” No one who is an elephant advocate is going to knowingly buy new ivory. But the market is flooded with items that are being sold under the guise of “antique” ivory. It may just be a miniscule amount in a pair of earrings or knife handle or musical instrument, but all ivory contributes to the decimation of the world’s elephant population.
  2. Trekking: Don’t pay to ride elephants in Asia. There are many opinions on whether one human astride an elephant will actually cause physical harm to its back or neck, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. Where did that elephant come from? Was it “broken” in one of Asia’s infamous “crush” sessions? (If you don’t know what that is, Google it, but be prepared to have your heart broken.) No matter where it came from, paying for an elephant to entertain you or haul you around only encourages more operations to provide these animals for our enjoyment, and they’re usually maintained in less-than-optimal conditions.
  3. Circus: Never attend an animal-centric circus that uses exotics. No exceptions on this one. Every dollar you spend at such a circus allows them to maintain these imprisoned animals.
  4. Zoos: Do not support a zoo with your entry fees or donations if they’re keeping animals in substandard conditions. Elephants are social animals who can wander up to 50 miles a day. If the animal(s) at your local zoo are kept in small enclosures and/or they are kept alone, petition your zoo to transfer them to a larger, more suitable facility.
  5. Africa: Going on a photo safari? Research your tour operators & destinations. Most African tour operators offer photographic safaris, but some also offer hunting safaris or are affiliated with operations who do. Know what type of outfit you’re supporting before you support them. What about the locations you’re traveling to? Is it a country that either outlaws or severely restricts big game hunting? If not, spend your money elsewhere.
  6. Donate. There are wonderful organizations in the US and abroad that rescue elephants and provide the care and life they deserve. In the US, there’s The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and PAWS in California. Saving Ganesh supports Sri Lanka’s elephant population, and the Elephant Nature Park is making strides in protecting Thailand’s elephants. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust operates in Kenya. The Serengeti Foundation helps elephants and other animals across the world. Five bucks a month doesn’t seem like much, and it’s not, but if enough of us do it, we could provide the funds these sanctuaries and organizations need to help the world’s elephant population. Twenty bucks will do the trick even better. Before you donate, research who you’re donating to.
  7. Petition Lawmakers. Laws need to change. Proposed legislation in the US is either meeting serious resistance or is completely ignored. Ever heard of TEAPA – the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act? Probably not. Same with your state Senator or Representative. If you care about the laws regulating ivory sales and traveling exotic animals, write your state legislators and tell them how you feel. Need more information? Visit Animal Defenders International or the Humane Society. Both can provide information and instructions on how you can make a difference.
  8. Act Locally. Does your city or state allow animal-centric circuses? Connect with others in your community who share your compassion for elephants and try to do something about it. How do they restrict the sales of ivory?
  9. If You See Something, Say Something. If your friends, family, acquaintances, etc. are wearing or using ivory, attending animal-centric circuses, or traveling to places where tourism has an effect on elephants’ lives, speak to them about your feelings. Explain to them how their choices make a real difference.
  10. Share Something. When you come across a hashtag such as #dontflywild (asking airlines not to fly big game trophies), retweet it. Share blogs, facebook posts, and Instagram images to raise awareness. One of these beauties will love you for it!

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We can all do something to help elephants. Sometimes it may feel small and insignificant, but if many people are doing the same or similar things, we will have a cumulative effect and make a difference on the local and world stage. If this post has helped to inform you, please start by sharing in on your favorite social media platforms.

If you can add to this list, please do. Comment. Tweet. Do something, and do it now.

Kathleen Cremonesi an ex-circus performer who supports elephant sanctuaries and recently petitioned the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee to pass SB 913 banning most ivory sales in Oregon. Her 2015 memoir, Love in the Elephant Tent: How Running Away with the Circus Brought Me Home was released by ECW Press. Find out more at http://KathleenCremonesi.com

The Grateful Dead are turning 50 this year, and a party is in the works for the July 4th weekend at Chicago’s Soldier Field. I too am turning 50 this year, and I’m more than happy to share the celebration with them.

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I’ve shared a lot with the Dead over the years. It started quite by accident, way back in August, 1982 in Veneta, Oregon, home of the Oregon Country Fair – or as us high school kids called it: When the Hippies Came Town. I was working at the local Dairy Queen, and ratty-haired freaks in flowing clothing had been wandering in all day. Of course my coworkers and I were curious why these hippies had come back to town – the Country Fair had ended a month ago. I recall this one lanky guy with a turban of dark dreadlocks cradling his head telling me, “It’s the greatest show on earth. An experience you’ll never forget, and can never get enough of. You should come over and check it out.”

And that’s exactly what I did, thanks to a coworker’s boyfriend who mistakenly showed up at that DQ an hour too early to collect her – right at the moment that I was finishing my shift. So we tooled on over to the Country Fair lot to see what we could see. I remember sun reflecting off the long line of chrome motorcycles parked in the grassy lot, how we meandered into the concert unchecked, the craft booths lining the perimeter selling things such as hair wreaths of dried flowers. Most of all, I remember the dancers – this one blonde girl in particular, twirling circles in her paisley halter dress, hair streaming out behind her like the tail of a comet. I do not remember the music.

Another three years would pass before the Grateful Dead whirled onto my radar again, and that too was a serendipitous accident – or fate, depending on how you look at it. I was in L. A. at the time. One of the security personnel I worked with ran another outfit which provided security for the Dead’s Ventura concerts. When he mentioned his upcoming gig to me, I did not recall the band’s name from that concert in Veneta three years before, but this coworker was convinced I’d like what I saw and offered me 4 backstage passes. Who would turn that down – for any band?

My roommate and cohortJamaica with Tonya in all crazy adventures at the time promptly borrowed the American Beauty LP from our local library. Music is what kept our hearts beating in those days. Beatles, Bowie, Stones, Doors – we immersed ourselves in it all, drunk on an era we could only imagine, saddened that those days of beauty and freedom were long gone. Two flower children, born 20 years too late. The Grateful Dead tunes we listened to from that scratchy LP did not evoke the same sense of wonder. They were okay, we supposed, or at least good enough to hitchhike up to Ventura to see a show.

I don’t recall even trying to go backstage. Walking through the crowd was like a carnival fun house filled with smiling hlast day of workippies, beautiful freaks that welcomed us into their space, taught us to dance from our heart, and cracked our minds wide open. The music was all right too. Turns out these Dead guys were “good enough” for that friend and I to hitchhike all the way up to Tahoe the following month and down to Chula Vista the month after that. Good enough that, by winter of the following year, we quit our jobs, sold most of our worldly goods, bought a VW Bus, and “dropped out” to follow their tours across country.

The friend fell in love, her first true love, and we didn’t end up traveling together on tour, but we still saw each other regularly at concerts. The world that we dropped into was quite a place, filled with the most free-thinking, generous and beautiful characters I’d never imagined. I put nearly 40,000 miles on that bus over the next 18 months as I toured back and forth across country on America’s blue highways, selling bead work to pay for gas and food. Though I never had a ticket ahead of time, I boogied my way through 100-some concerts, venues such as Brendan Byrne, NJ; Hampton, VA; Alpine Valley, WI; Red Rocks, CO; and Angels Camp, CA; and each one felt like home. I learned to fend for myself and live life on the road, to adjust that VW’s engine valves on the fly and to navigate my own path. I learned to enjoy life deeply, and I learned that detours were an integral and inextricable part of living, no matter which direction they veered.

Kath GD 3 Bus

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I didn’t realize the lessons I was acquiring at the time, or how those years prepared me for the next stage of my life – dashing off to Europe in search of adventure, landing in a traveling circus, and spending then next two-plus years with an even zanier cast of characters, one of whom I would fall in love with. My own first, and only, true love. Things didn’t always work out as I hoped during those circus years, in fact, sometimes things went very wrong. But they did work out, due to those years on Dead Tour, a strong thirst for life, and the fortune of sharing that path with someone I loved.

The centrifugal force of the circle of life is drawing me “home” again. This July, as the Dead take stage at Soldier Field, I’ll be there in the audience, with that “love of my life” at my side, waving my freak flag wide and high. And I will feel immensely grateful for one last party with the counter-culture which provided the lessons I needed to make my way in a traditional world.

Fare thee well ~

Pilgrimage to Porto

June 2, 2011

The Portuguese have a saying about their cities: “Lisbon shows off, Braga prays, Coimbra studies, and Porto works.” On our recent trip to Portugal, we absorbed the beauty of Lisbon, skipped the praying and the studying, and took a fast train north to Porto to work very hard at sampling as vast amounts of port wine.

Old Porto across the Douro River

Northern Portugal is known for its lush river valleys, forested hillsides, and the world’s oldest demarcated wine region. Its greatest landmark, the Douro River, runs some 900 miles from deep within northern Spain, across Portugal, and into the Atlantic. And it is there, at the mouth of the Douro, that people from around the world gather to sample Portugal’s famous fortified wine.

The river divides Porto from the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, home to about 30 port-house tasting rooms and cellars (“caves,” pronounced cavesh). From our rented apartment in Porto’s old town, a quick stroll over the Ponte Dom Luis I, a bridge designed by a student of A. Gustave Eiffel – which happens to look a lot like the Eiffel tower tipped on its side, brought us to “Gaia.” Dow, Graham’s, Taylor Fladgate, Kopke —  all the famous brands beckon the thirsty traveler with free samples of their inexpensive white and ruby ports, and then charge anywhere from $10 to $100 and beyond for a mere taste of their finer tawnies and vintages.

Kopke, "The Oldest Port Wine House"

Trekking up and down the cobbled streets, we sampled our way from tasting room to tasting room, making sure to soak up the alcohol with a Porto specialty – la Francesinha (little French thing) – a layered concoction vaguely reminiscent of lasagna that packs a year’s worth of cholesterol in a single bowl. Strata of bread and melted cheese are piled with cured luncheon meats, a slab each of pork and steak and halved sausages, which are topped with more bread and another layer of cheese. It’s all bathed in a peppery tomato sauce, topped with an egg, and baked just long enough to set the white of the egg. And as if that weren’t enough, they spread a helping of French fries around the centerpiece to soak up the extra sauce. I imagine the French are horrified that this dish is named after them, but my husband and I enjoyed it so much that we ate it two days in a row.

Our highlight of Vila Nova de Gaia was touring the Sandeman caves, a centuries-old building on the river’s edge, where the cobbled floor is made from wooden blocks so the oaken barrels aren’t damaged when they’re rolled around.

Hundreds of years of port wine production have stained the floors and infused the stone walls with the musty aroma of fermenting grapes. We heard more information than we could absorb about the differences

Endless Kegs at Sandeman

between whites, rubies, tawnies, late-bottled vintages, vau vintages, and true vintage ports. And all the while, I couldn’t keep my eyes from settling on the barred and locked cellar that stored crates upon hundreds of crates of vintage port – a single bottle of 1906 recently sold for 3000 euro – nearly $4500 dollaresh!

Locked Cellar of Vintage Port at Sandeman

On our last day in the “port zone,” we traveled by train a couple of hours up river along the Douro to the town of Peso di Regua, the historic home of the port wine trade and home of the port wine museum. The hills are comprised or schist, the rocky “soil” imperative, we’ve learned, to producing perfect port. Terraces rise from river to sky, and most of the vineyards are too steep and narrow for modern machinery to navigate—their entire bounty must be cultivated and gathered by hand, as it has been done for hundreds of years.

And there in Regua, in a back-alley-hole-in-the-wall café, we ate the next best thing to a home-cooked meal, ordered with bit of Portuguese, backed up with Italian, hand signals, and peeks in boiling pots. For a mere 13 euro (less than half of what an average meal-for-two has run), we had a bowl of locally-cured olives; bread; cheese; two full plates of meat, veggies, and rice (plus an extra dish of “grellush,” the broccoli-raab like greens sautéed in olive oil and doused with lemon juice that I’ve come to love; a full liter of house vinho tinto (house red); topped off with to-the-brim glass of “illegal,” unlabeled port from a dusty keg in the corner. The lunch and the port—especially the port—is some of the best we’ve yet enjoyed.

After all our hard work tasting port, it was time to fly south to Portugal’s southwestern tip for some rest and relaxation. The sandy coves and rocky cliffs of the western Algarve were once considered the edge of the world and are the former home of Prince Henry the Navigator’s famous navigational school (Magellan studied there). With the sweet taste of her wine still on our lips, we left Porto longing for the days before a precious collection of 3-ounce containers of liquid had to fit inside a quart Ziplock bag, when it was still okay to carry-on a stash of a favorite liqueur to share with family and friends back home.

The Edge of the World