Wild Elephants : A Truly Breathtaking Encounter
For a number of years now, I have been taking safaris out to Southern Africa. To the point, most might say, that I am spoiled by my ability to leave my humble home in the mountains of North Carolina and lose myself in the African bush amongst the free and roaming wildlife that relatively few people on this planet actually ever get to see (at least not in their true and natural habitat). I love being this close to nature, and I’m truly humbled and in awe at almost every creature I see as I putter down the dust and rock pathways of a game reserve, or sit idly on a beautifully crafted deck, drinking coffee and basking in the intricate dance of a world so foreign to the bubble in which I so regularly exist.
The ebb and flow of bird, mammal, and reptile species almost effortlessly going about their day, yet so keenly in tune with the subtleties surrounding them, provides a fascinating insight that, when pondered, seems to often be missing from our fast-paced and modern human experience. To be a part of the African bush is to be present. It is to be humble, and aware, and observant. There are many reasons to love the different wildlife encounters one may have when enjoying a real African safari. But for this reason and more, and of all the encounters I have yet had, it is still the wild African Elephant that so consistently takes my breath away.
To see your first wild elephant from a distance brings a jolt to your spirit and a wider gaze to what might, moments before, have been a furrowed and squinty brow brought evermore narrow by the glare of the late morning sun and the sting of the dust-laden wind. Your toes tingle at the idea of pressing hard on the gas pedal, even when you are not the immediate operator of the vehicle, so-as to make haste for a more up-close and prominent view.
But even more surreal, even more deserving of that truly jaw-dropping and muscle-tightening visceral reaction, is that first time you pull around a hidden corner of dense bush and come face-to-trunk with one of these massive and mighty beasts. That quick intake of breath as you pump the brakes, voices dropping into hushed tones or, more often, into complete silence. You fall headlong into the moment, all other thoughts and worries quickly fading into the cranial abyss. You are suddenly aware of each little sound, each movement, each flick of a tail or fan of an ear. And if you’re lucky enough to be at arm’s length, you stare into eyes so filled with depth and calm, that they almost bury you in awe, only to be brought back to the surface by the slow snapping of a tree branch or the sharp trumpeting of a nearby family member.
Instinct kicks in as you come to the natural realization that you are not, at this moment, on the top of the food chain. It’s a humbling presence that we don’t often feel anymore, but that has always existed for other species with which we share the planet. That intricate dance, that ebb and flow, becomes palpable. You are suddenly keenly aware of those subtleties around you. Both admiration and respect come rushing forth and, without even a conscious effort, you want to both live entirely in this moment and create a respectable and safe distance.
I often feel this is but a glimpse into the daily experience of wildlife across the planet. This natural world is humming all around us, not steeped in humanity’s socio-political constructs, but in survival, balance, and co-existence. Living in the moment.
Of all my encounters, it is still the wild elephants that consistently bring me to this place. It’s like a heavy slap across my face, pulling me out of my head and putting me right there. And now, every time I make a visit to this beautiful continent, strap on my camera and my clay filled shoes, and venture into the territory so perfectly designed by mother nature herself, I go with excitement and unbridled anticipation. I peer sharply into the distance, searching for the plodding amble of the great grey beast. Listening for the crackle of branches and the trumpet of alert. Hoping to once again have that moment, where the world stands still and my breath stands even stiller.