Beyond the Big Left Turn - Happy Birthday Tom
Tom conceived of this story while we were on our trek in Kruger National park. In honor of his birthday, I'm posting it here for him!
Life’s Intersections- Thomas P Brown
As a milestone birthday gets closer and closer, I seemed to be forced to look back at my life, and take stock of just how I have spent these past 60 years. Now of course, the first few were a bit out of my control, but once I got closer to adulthood, I will have to assume responsibility. So, in those 45 years or so, there have been a pretty huge number of decisions made by me, all based on some form of priority. A preference to turn left or right, stop or go, fast or slow. None of this is, for me, new insight, but the process has been brought into the spot light recently by some time spent travelling. My wife and I travelled to South Africa, and specifically the amazing Kruger National Park to do some extended photography work. Me, always looking for birds, and my wife, well, pretty much everything else. The draw to see the incredible animals of Africa, the Lion, Elephant, Giraffe, and Zebra, just to name a few, got stronger and stronger as the arrival date approached. One of the strict rules in a park like Kruger, is you do not get out of the car, ever! Basically, there are a lot of things there that will eat you, or in the very least do you grievous bodily harm.
As such, you spend a lot of time driving around looking for the wonderful animals, in their natural environment, with their natural coloring and camouflage. This is where the intersections come in to play. We saw dozens of cars, all zooming around at 20, 30, even 40 miles an hour, hoping to see the animals. I am not sure if they just had limited amount of time, or figured the faster they go, the more they will see. But no matter their speed, or ability to spot wild animals while driving, it all came down to timing. If you look at it like this, the cars are all moving north to south and the animals are all moving east to west. If you are in the right spot, at exactly the right time, both parties will meet. Be off by just seconds, and it will be like there was never an animal in the whole park. There are a couple of examples that brought this severely to light. We are driving down the road, having just left the Hippo Pools, just in case you are familiar with the area. I had spotted a White-crowned Shrike (A bird) and was photographing said bird out my driver’s window. I just happened to look out the driver’s side rear view mirror, and saw, much to my surprise, an elephant walk right behind our car. If we had not stopped for this Shrike, we would have continued on down the road, none the wiser. It turned out, as we sat there watching a huge progression of elephants walk right behind out car, nearly 30 of these truly amazing animals paraded right by. That is not the kind of thing you might miss, unless we were 100 yards on down the road when they crossed. Example number two, is an encounter with a Rhino. We were driving towards the exit gate, having spent some time at Dukes Waterhole watching a large group of Zebras, when out of the thornveld, a dense thick thorny bush, walked a very large Rhino. It stopped in the middle of the road, just 3 car lengths away, looked at us and walked on across the road. The whole encounter was less than 10 seconds. I quickly drove up to the spot where it entered the brush, and it was gone, vanished like it was never there. Again, if I had driven just a bit slower, or faster, spent two more minutes looking at those Zebras and the chance to see a rarity like a Rhinoceros would never have occurred.
These two examples are glaring ones, easy to identify, and understand. The question then comes to mind, what about the other side of that same point? How many times did the elephants walk right behind me and I never saw them? As I have travelled thru the woods, meadows and country sides of my life, looking for birds and other things that I personally have deemed important, I have always tried to go slow, smell the roses as it were. I have convinced myself that the more moderate pace is best way to enjoy the world, but now I have to wonder, is it really? Or is life really just a whole bunch of intersections, chance encounters that are as random as the pace we live our lives? Does it really matter, or at some point do we have to decide how important those “elephants” really are in our lives? Perhaps it is not the speed, or the lack of it that matters, but our desire to observe. Observe the things that go on around us, whether it is the elephants or the White-headed Shrikes; these are all just metaphors for seeing our world. Our priorities, the big and little things that surround us every day, most of the time being missed, because we were just at the wrong intersection, at the right time.