African Beauty.

 

I turned forty and went to Africa.  It was time.  My twenties were spent in New York, establishing a writing career.  My thirties were spent practicing law.  When I turned forty, however, the long banked aspirations of a little girl began to take precedence.  And so the winds blew me in the direction of Africa.  I arrived in Tanzania on February 25, 2012.  I walked into my room in the Arusha Coffee Lodge to find a gigantic bed, romantically draped in gauzy netting, a barrier to mosquitoes.  Old pipes delivering nonpotable water.  Outside, the southern cross hanging overhead.

I have been lucky in life.  I have been able to stare at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, trying to take in the whole of Michelangelo’s work.  I have seen the sun rise over Kata Tjuta rock formation in the Australian Outback.  I have lived a high pressured life with its demands, responsibilities and disappointments, but have these images to look back on as a touchstone of what beauty can be in the quiet of existence, when one has taken oneself out of the expected ambition of living and just looked around.  And now, fortunately, I have also seen Africa.

I had signed up for a ten-day photography trip in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and the Serengeti National Park with a photographer out of Houston, Andy Biggs, whose photography I coveted and whose approach I appreciated—take in Africa…slowly.  Sit.  Allow it to reveal itself to you.  Wake up early enough to watch the light shift and then wait for the magic.  And no place is more magical than the Ngorongoro Crater, a volcanic candera located in the heart of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  It is the fact that this area is a crater that allows for such dynamic photography.  Images taken here have layers—striations of color, beginning with patches of dark green and yellow running through the grasses, then moving up to the hazy rock formations of the Crater itself, until your eyes rest on smoky or cumulous clouds that drift up into a deep blue African sky.  It is against this background that images of zebra, lions, elephants, wildebeest, and antelope are captured, resulting in dramatic effects.  The stark black and white stripes of a herd of zebra set against the graduating green hills of the Crater’s rim.  Each image cannot help but tell a story.

Not surprisingly, my best photographs came after long periods of time watching an animal, and fortunately, I was on a tour that allowed me the luxury of this time. One moment, we were watching a skinny lioness fight back six hungry hyenas from stealing a zebra kill from her cubs.  The next moment we were witnessing the birth of a wildebeest, watching the small animal take her first wobbly steps, and then, not ten minutes after birth, after recognizing solid ground, canter off with her mother to join the protection of the rest of the herd.  Over two days, we spent almost six hours watching a mother cheetah and her four cubs play—sometimes in the open sunshine, other times in a heavy rainstorm.  Just watching and waiting to see what would happen next. I can say that sometimes I was uncomfortable with the unscripted nature of the trip, and often the most foreign territories I encountered in the Serengeti were my own thoughts.  An introduction to Me, in an unprocessed environment, without electronic stimuli to harness the wandering mind.  Without the staccato interruptions of tweets, emails and text messages to attend to.  The struggle to decompress and just be.  To be a witness to…whatever happens that day.

It is late April now, and I am back on the grid.  The ebb and flow of life has brought me back home–to my struggles and responsibilities and to continue to face the daily obstacles to my aspirations.  But I can say that I am happier now. I have been buoyed.  For a short period of time this spring, I looked at the world through a wider lens and became reacquainted with the fact that in the periphery of my narrow focus there is still beauty.  There are four cheetah cubs playing in the grasslands of Africa.  There are leopards staring down from Acacia trees.  There is texture beyond the computer screen.  There are still beautiful places in which to momentarily escape.