I think what I remember most about this moment was the taste of dust. That gritty, sandy feeling on your tongue. I could taste it, and it wasn't good, dirt rarely is. Sometimes you just need to cross your fingers, hope its really just dirt, and move on.
The Land Cruiser powered its way up the steep edge of the dry river bed. There was little water left. It was the middle of the dry season, and dust easily kicked up in every direction. These vehicles can handle more than I imagined possible, and as Eric shifted gears, we cruised up the edge as if it were nothing more than a speed bump.
We crested the edge, and its as if the world opened. In front of us was an expansive scrub brush plain. Tall trees hugged the edge of the river, but little vegetation remained further away. It was approaching 8:30 am which meant time for coffee. For those who do not know, I love my coffee, anytime of the day, any weather. There is something nostalgic about it, calming.
Eric followed the dirt road towards the hill in the distance as we sat in silence, just enjoying the view. This was only our second day, and it was all still quite a bit to take in. I covered the front of my lens, working as hard as I could to keep dust out.
We arrived at the top of the hill, the vehicle spun around to face the road we had just come from we could see the entire plain below. There was a small herd of elephants in the distance. They were heading along the edge of the tree line, following the river, with any luck their path would take them within about 100 yards of the car, but at their pace, it would be a while. They were only visible occasionally, moving in and out of the thick brush at the edge of the river.
I set my camera on the seat as I hopped over the edge of the car. The dry earth and gravel shifted under my shoes as I hit the ground. Greg was already out on the other side talking with Dad and Adrienne (my wife) about some odd thing. I could hear them laughing as I walked in the other direction. Greg had a wonderful way about him, both serious and funny. His jokes cracked me up and by the sound of it, he had told another one. He and I had completely different styles of photography, but his spin on wildlife had a tremendous impact on my vision when taking photos. I was thoroughly enjoying my time working with him.
Eric and Gums were at the back of the car, pulling out coffee and rusks. This was my first morning on Safari, I love coffee, but have never had a view like this will enjoying my morning cup. I stretched for a second, watching the elephants work their way over.
A few moments later Eric walked over with two cups of coffee, handing me one. I smiled and thanked him, turning back to the elephants. We stood there together in silence for a few moments more. They elephants were working their way toward a clearing between us and the riverbank, the tall scrub brush masked much of their movement, however, elephants are big, and can only hide so much when on the move. Both Greg and Adrienne joined us, rusks in hand. Greg handed me one of the rusks, a small, biscotti type bread, just much less sweet. But they were delicious, and went perfectly with coffee. A few moments passed, and I headed back the car to fill up on both coffee and rusks. It was amazing how good they both were this early in the morning.
As I turned to head back to the group, Greg and Dad were already on their way back, with much more haste than would be expected. Greg jumped into his seat, grabbing his camera, a few elephants had worked their way a 100 yards or so from the car and offered a great opportunity to capture a few shots. I set my coffee down and grabbed my gear, setting my tripod as I headed out for a good shot. By the time I made it to a decent viewing spot, there was a lot going on.
A herd of perhaps 20 was now wondering by, often stopping to bathe themselves in dust. Many of them were covered in mud from their romp in the river and had a wonderful sheen and texture to them. Within moments, there was dust and dirt everywhere, three or four at a time sprayed dust in every which direction, it was often hard to know where I should focus my lens. After missing a great deal of good action, I decided to focus on just one specific elephant, I picked the closest small male and just waited. He moved this way and that, tossing dust across his back, as well as underneath his belly. I was lucky I waited, after a few moments more, he shook, spraying dirt across his body. The light was perfectly positioned to the side, allowing for beautiful side light, highlighting the dust, but not so overpowering to take away from the elephant.
I snapped hundreds of photos of this encounter, but I had already mentally selected my favorite. We continued to shoot as the elephants passed, perhaps 5 minutes more. As they moved from the clearing, into the higher scrub brush, we could still see the dust rising high into the sky. They didn't make a lot of noise, the it was clear in which direction they were headed. The excitement was over, I exhaled, leaning against my tripod for support. Both Greg and Dad were to my left. "I need some more coffee," I said as I turned back to the car.
One final thought, remember that no cup of coffee is worth missing a great photograph, but often great photographs come about because of great coffee. Just make sure you know for sure which hand is holding the coffee, and which has the camera, that could be one expensive latte, seriously.
"Morning Dust Bath" is part of my collection "Of Things Large and Small" and is offered in three sizes, each in a limited edition. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this photo will go to conservation efforts in East Africa.
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