I am not adventurous by nature. In fact, a flickering shadow can send shocks of adrenaline racing through my veins. That is why daily safaris in search of the world’s most dangerous animals was not something I imagined I would ever do.
My husband, John, is a big part of the reason I found myself in an open-air Land Rover consciously choosing to search for these grand beasts. One of his bucket-list wishes was to safari across the African savanna and come face-to-face with a lion.
I was more interested in bird-watching.
Yet, there we were, tracking the king of kings with fervour, delight and slight shimmers of fear.
As our indomitable tracker and ranger pressed on, I lost myself in the chase. On occasion, my eyes would glimpse my husband angled forward in a perpetual state of exhilaration as he scanned the horizon for any evidence of lions.
These were the moments that made everything worth it.
John is a hard worker. He does not complain about the responsibilities of life and he keeps his work separate from family. He does not often have an opportunity to connect to joy in a regular way except for when his Ohio State Buckeyes storm the field (an American football team at the university level). Being able to witness him in such a pure state of wonder, my heart stretched with gratitude.
This gratitude did not completely negate my fear, but it sure helped.
We were graced with innumerable lion sightings. Males and females of every age and stage of development showed up at unexpected times and in unusual groupings. Sometimes we stumbled upon loads of cubs protected by a few fierce lionesses. These cubs batted and swatted at each other – not unlike human siblings – and mucked about as swirls of earth floated over them. Then, once tired, they would dot the hills and mounds of the bushveld and laze the day away as the beams of sun grew longer, ushering us all towards dusk.
As night fell, we had the privilege of witnessing four lionesses stopping to quench their thirst at a small watering hole. In perfect alignment, they exemplified sisterhood and how reliance on one another is crucial to survival.
On another afternoon, we caught a lion napping in the centre of his massive pride. Who knows what obstacles he had overcome to reach this pinnacle in the hierarchy of lion-hood. Therefore, no one begrudged him this moment of pause and rest.
The highlight for us came in the form of a lone male lion. His pride had relocated and he was making his way to them.
This was where my heart froze and all thought evaporated. In the absence of thought I became a configuration of sensation. My breath quickening, leaving and entering my lungs in rapid succession. The soft thud of my heartbeat echoing in my ears. Feathers of fear caressed my back and chest as this magnificent being approached.
My thinking mind coaxed itself into functioning. It spoke to me in reason.
“You are safe. Be still. The lion is not interested in you. Everything is okay.”
One of the tricks I learned on safari was to watch my tracker and ranger intently. Their body language and demeanour helped me gauge danger levels. They both were relaxed and exuded ease. I trusted that. This gave me the courage to keep snapping photos as the lion slinked past our Landy less than a few feet away.
The entire moment was extraordinary made better by seeing John’s face lit with awe. He was living free and wild. Being fully himself and open to whatever comes next.
Hopefully, that means more lion sightings in our future.
If not, I am forever grateful for the lions we did encounter, their images forever branded into my memory reminding me to walk the wilds of my own life with silent courage and strength…