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?
Our arrival at camp came after a long flight. We had left Botswana, and chartered a small aircraft to fly us to our next camp in South Africa, leaving earlier that morning.
Matt met us at the runway, he is a tall guy, perhaps a few years younger than myself, 28 maybe. He had a genuine smile on his face and proper, old world way about it.
"Hello, and welcome." He said. "Lets grab your things, get you settled in real quick, and get after it."
I liked him already.
It was a short trip to camp, a few minutes drive in which we passed elephants, giraffes and impala. Camp was beautiful, but I will save that for another story.
We dropped off our clothes, I am not one for lounging when there is photographing to be done, and we were off.
The start of the drive was as standard as they can be, which is not standard at all. I have come to learn that all drives, no matter the area, no matter the scenery, are all different, each unique and overtly special. Hours passed, and sundowners were had. Gin and Tonic is always my selection . . . something classical about that, refreshing and old school. The perfect drink while watching time passes us by.
We packed up into our car . . . it was time for our first night drive in this location. We readied our gear. Not much to it other than adjusting a few settings, and making sure we know where everything is. Matt took out his spotlight, placed his headset back on, and we were off. Not minutes later, the sun had already set, and we were driving quickly, very quickly.
The road straightened out, the headlights illuminated the road ahead of us and Matt took a quick opportunity to turn over his should so we could hear him properly. "Lions are on the hunt" he said smiling.
When we finally came upon them two other cars where there. We could only see spotlights at first. They were weaving this way and that, trying to keep track of everything that was going on. It was overwhelming at first. The darkness keeps you on your toes. We pulled in next to the other cars just in time. The small pride was just starting their hunt. Working along the road, or through the high grass trying to pick up a scent.
They were all around us, walking within inches of our car. I could not tell you how many times I would be taking a photo, only to look just below my lens to see another one walking by, silently. Erie does not begin to describe that feeling. Matt kept us in the action, following along just behind the lead lions as they worked their way through the brush and tall grass. They were all around us, often you couldn't even see them, only hear them breathing, or catching a glimpse out of the corner of your eye as a spotlight passed over one. At this point you are working by feel on your camera, hoping that you can keep up with it all. Unfortunately, the hunt ended unsuccessfully, after a good while, the lions just lay down, deciding it was time to rest. This photo came at the end of the night, a simple moment, calm and peaceful.
The mother and her cubs were walking toward us, from behind, as the rest of the lions began to lay down. The smallest of the two brushed up against the mother multiple times, almost begging for attention. It was a sweet moment, simple and calm. The tension had subsided and there was almost a tranquil feel to the air. Their was a soft cool breeze as we sat there, ending our first night. The lions lay down next to our car, cuddling up and grooming each other. We lingered far longer than the other vehicles. There was a weight keeping us there just a few moments more. Almost as if we could sense something.
The next morning that we learn that those photos captured the night before, the ones of the small cub, were the last images ever taken of him. Not hours after we left, the pride was attached by a raiding male, killing this cub . . . and so starts the story "Moment of Reflection"
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