The clock was winding down at this point, there were only hours left before our single prop engine plane landed on that dusty runway signifying the end to our most recent adventure.
We had been in country for just under two weeks at this point, in the bush the entire time, deep in the middle of the Okavango Delta. We had no cell service, no internet and limited electricity and truthfully it gets hard to want to go back to civilization. You don't miss those things, you don't want for them or even think about them in a place like that and its a luxury.
I was dreading getting on the plane, I wasn't ready to step back into the world of loud noises, neon lights and crowded streets. A part of me never left Africa after our last trip and this one is no different. Its a feeling you have in the pit of your stomach and deep in the hidden places of your heart. It holds onto you, it sticks with you and it never really goes away.
The morning had started out like most others, however at Duba, its either a half day, or full day trip, there is no real middle ground. A drive out to the plains made famous by the National Geographic films like "Relentless Enemies" and "Last Lions" took well over an hour from camp, and since we were on a half day schedule we were not lucky enough to head that way this day. We found a trio of lions early on in the morning. A male with a pair of sisters, and it wasn't our first day with them. This was the fourth day in a row we found this group, typically early mornings on our way over to the plains, but they were always around. They were a different sort. The two females were playful, like large kittens. They spent the morning before playing hide and seek. Jumping out to surprise the other from behind logs and termite mounds. It was a joy to watch.
We found them early and with little problem. The male had been quite vocal this morning so we were able to pinpoint his location quickly. While finding them was easy, but sticking with them was much more difficult. They moved through the tall grass and patchy brush with relative ease, while we, stuck in a all terrain range rover were just a bit more clunky. Kabelo, our driver, dodged and weaved as best he could around brush, fallen trees and stumps but it was slow moving tracking them. We finally caught up to them as they crossed a shallow creek and we were able to get out in front. It took some work and fancy driving but he was able to get us where we wanted to be, and as we crossed the creek out in front of them the deep water filled the floor of the car. It was funny. I am not sure my feet had been completely dry in almost two weeks, and I was going to miss it.
Kabelo parked the car, and we pulled out our gear to prepare for a good crossing image, one that would likely be the last of the trip. Of course, just as we were able to anticipate their next move and prep for a few images, they threw a wrench in our plan, and half way thought their crossing they decided to turn back and lay down just out of view in a thicket of stub brush. We shared a good laugh, its never easy, even when it looks effortless, I assure you it is not. The car started up again and we crossed the shallow channel again, and again water filled the floor of the open air cab.
We pulled next to them, or at least as close as we could and started to do what we had done all week. Wait. It was the last few hours of our trip, and we spent them exactly how I wanted to, in almost complete silence, watching, waiting for that one moment. A single moment from an animal I could barely see, hidden almost completely from sight showed something just a little more. Waiting for that moment when she lets us, just for a instant, see into her soul.
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When I was 18, I spent several summers in Alaska. One of those summers I worked at a fishing resort. During that summer we would typically have most evenings free after our work was done. I was still new to photography, but loved it very much. I had an old film camera, and a single 55-100 lens.
I can still close my eyes, and if the world is just right, I can make it back here. My heart grows calm, my mind is at ease. It's moments like these that I live for. Through all the action and excitement, drama and chaos, these are the moments that I relish. These are the ones that I long for. Its a moment that can last an eternity, living forever somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow.
This was just a moment that happened. Like all the rest. You grab your camera and snap a photo. There is nothing difficult about the act of taking an image, the difficulty lies in the interim. It lies with what I see, how I feel, what I am thinking, and ultimately, what I want to share. This is what takes a photo, and turns it into something more.
If there is one thing I have learned from years of street photography, moments just happen. They happen all around you. Don't expect to capture all of them, don't expect to capture even a fraction of them, but try your best.
Sometimes you just get lucky. You can see a moment developing, you can see it just before it happens.
The first attempt didn't work. I had crawled out the side of the car, and as soon as they saw me, the retreated a ways . . . our profile is just too pronounced to them. And they don't like it.
The eyes tell the story here. We had been sitting, photographing the cubs for an hour or so. They wrestled and played as if we weren't even there. All except this little guy.
It boggles your mind the first time you really experience how little the animals care about your presence. This wasn't our first time, experiencing it, but even for little cubs to ignore us as if we were just part of the background, it gives you a surreal sense of place.
The things we remember, and the way we often recall them is a marvel. I can remember how dark it was, how dark it felt. I am not someone who is afraid of the dark, the unknown, but in this moment, there was something chilling about it, terrifying. Perhaps it was the lions hunting all around us, who's to say?
There are very few things more hilarious than watching kittens wrestle and play. Now imagine watching giant kittens play. Can't do much more than just chuckle. Thats how it is with lion cubs. I think when you first see them in person, you expect something different. Perhaps more serious. Perhaps a little more wild. But what you really have is very little different than the attitude of a house cat.