Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Whisper of a Lioness

Here's what a safari in South Africa's Kruger National Park feels like.

You ride in an enormous truck with massive windows and all around you is tall grass, exotic flat topped trees and the steady hum of vibrant African wildlife. The sun is very hot on your skin and the stark scent of pure life crackles in the air.

The first time you see an impala, the whole bus goes bugshit and there is a frenzy of camera clicking. Before long you see hundreds of them. There are so many, so close to road that you simply yawn and shrug after a while.

There are long periods of relative quiet with people staring intently out the windows, each one trying to be the first to glimpse an animal that is not some form of deer.

Suddenly someone hollers (despite repeated warnings to keep our voices down) "LION! THERE'S A FRICKING LION OVER THERE!!!"

Everyone on the tram oooohs and ahhhhs...even the people who don't see a thing because no one wants to look like some loser who came all the way to Africa and missed the fricking lion.

I look hard into the bushes and at first I don't see a thing. Sheree is snapping and enthusing like crazy.

I look in the general direction of her lens and then I see something move in the bushes. It is the slightest movement and when my eyes finally make sense of what is before me, I see a lioness and two cubs, hidden, unmoving in the tall grass.

Cameras around me are clicking and people are whispering excitedly to each other that it's a 'lion' (which is, without doubt, most useful information).

To be honest, I realize I should be taking pictures. But something so profound is going on inside me that I can't raise my camera.

It is a M.T.M. (Magical Travel Moment) because I am mere feet away from a beautiful animal and I am seeing her in her own environment. She's not miserably pacing the confines of a cage in a circus, or looking out with trapped eyes at the hundreds of people examining her mysteries in a zoo. This is a lioness seen the way she is meant to be seen.

I loved that I really had to look for her. I loved that she started grooming one of her cubs and the moment seemed so tender and natural that some part of my spirit soared at seeing it.

I did take a picture, of course. But I think that for a flash of a second, I truly understood Africa. An instant later that understanding was burned away like morning mist and I was reduced again to being an outsider, looking with absolute wonder at what can only be described (at the risk of sounding a little trite) as a savage beauty that was far far beyond anything I could possibly comprehend.