Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

Thursday night, January 15 2004. On a wildlife drive in Kruger National Park.

Slow drive down hot road – sandy ground scattered with brush and pale green trees, gray-leaved thorny acacia. Elephant droppings. Trying to keep my eyes always sharp to spot animals. Our guide is stopping the truck to talk about a tree, somehow significant to his people, or perhaps some one else’s people. What would it sound like here if he weren’t talking, talking? If the fifteen people in our truck weren’t laughing and chatting and clicking cameras at nothing in particular?

Impala, lots of elegant dainty impala, grazing and twitching, sharp black spots on skinny ankles and rumps catching the light, the herd like a twittering moving mass of dots. Far off on the opposite hill a pair of white rhinos, perhaps three? So far away that they are barely visible with the binoculars, and look like nothing without them. Way back in the woods a few zebra grazing, hardly visible among the brush and the grasses. More impala grazing in the woods among the zebra. Impala everywhere. Pair of hornbills with huge yellow bills weighing down their black heads. Four ground hornbills, large black birds with red on their heads, scurrying away from the road as we watch them. Endangered, apparently, there’s a program to bring them back.

And then the lions! Four of them, a lion and his three ladies, crossing the road, sitting beside it to watch us, stalking off into the woods, then ambling along to come out on another road where we met them again, to follow them slowly for a quarter of an hour. So close we could almost touch them – not that we were going to try. Our guide put out the word on the radio, “lions!” Other vehicles drove up, we all moved slowly down the road behind the cats as they ignored us and continued their walk.

In our truck one of the boys stopped watching the cats and admired instead the grins on everyone’s faces as we marveled at being able to watch these creatures from so close for so long. I thought of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, of being able to run one’s hands through the lion’s mane, of the lion as king. Why is that part of western culture, when we have no lions ourselves?

Finally they shuffled off into the brush again and we couldn’t follow them.

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