Teri Orr: At the source…
Sunday in the Park
Park Record columnist
I asked my new amazing friend, who happens to be a best-selling author, “How are you feeling right now?” We had just seen ALL the stars in the Southern Hemisphere — including the Southern Cross. Eight of us had already spent three full days together and this is Day 4. We worked through the time difference lfirst with a road trip from our tiny lodge into Arusha and now-on safari in Tanzania. We had seen hundreds of elephants and zebras and wildebeests all down at the river’s edge at the end of the light of day, a day that included a swamp with hippos and flamingos and pelicans and storks and baboons trying to get into our car.
We had just returned from the only sanctioned, night-spotting excursion allowed in the country where spotters have shown us jackals, and hyenas and dick dicks and zebras and elephants and ornyx and a huge owl. We rounded a corner and there stood a lion pulling away the flesh of a Cape Buffalo. His brother was asleep near him. We watched for several long minutes and then he walked over to his brother and woke him up for his turn on the carcass.
We were no more than 12 feet away in an opened- sided roofless vehicle. Rick had answered my question quickly and with passion. “Insignificant … and I love feeling this way.” And I completely understood what he meant.
Dinner was as if we were in an elegant restaurant. Our group of 10 sat at one, long, polished wooden table with woven place mats and pressed linens. There were platters of pork, green beans, red cabbage, mashed potatoes, South African fine wines and frosted chocolate cake for dessert. There were candles on the table — all in a kind of tree-house deck in the Tarangire National Park. This is glamping taken to a new extreme.
We shared appreciation stories around the table along with why we all ended up on this particular TEDadventure. The media specialist, the best-selling author/doctor, the wildlife animal-rights lawyer, the venture-capital guy, the philanthropist, someone who advises large donors where to give…and the rest of us. We are all together for this magical time-suspended night and grateful for the moment in time.
The staff reminds us we have adventures early in the morning and bid the larger group goodnight. Four of us head to our two tent cabins with a guide and a guy with a gun. We are in the middle of this conservation area and signed risk forms when we first arrived. We are chatting and continuing our stories when we hear softly, at first, from the guide … “lion” and again “lion” and soon the alert is coming from the guards and the women ahead of us headed to their tent. The guards turn us around to head back to the tree house lodge space.
That’s when I see her –the lioness, sleek and sure of step and six feet in front of me. She does not stop to look at me. She keeps on her path. By now there is some panic to return us to the lodge and we do and sink into the leather couches.
Meanwhile the guide comes in and tells us he had just spotted the male lion also. We will be there for a while. Like the good travelers we are we grab a bottle of the lovely South African wine and start a new conversation to wait out the wildlife.
In about an hour the guards return and escort us to our rooms and we listen for hours as the lions (we learn later there was an entire pride around, 14 in total, calling out to mark their territory. (And one wandering leopard). I slept surprising well. In the quiet hours before dawn someone from the staff has come to our tent and lifted the canvas so we wake to the slow light of the bush. The sun comes up and we are delivered tea and my roommate hurries to walk with a guide. I have opted to take the morning slow and I watch: first an elephant family walk to the water about 50 meters away, then birds of all feathers land and take off and then a family of gazelles decide to come pass me by, about two meters away. They leap and head downhill and the male, with those stunning horns, is last.
TED has started this unusual conference by having us understand the land, people and culture and maybe for the C-suite folks — a real version of “eat or be eaten.” I am content this morning in a primal kind of way which seems especially appropriate since only two days ago we were in the Ngorongoro Crater where the remains of Lucy, the first human relation was discovered just years ago. Lucy- it is believed-gave life to all humans as we know it.
And Rick’s response to me makes even more sense in the light of day… What a gift it is to realize how insignificant we are in the circle of life. Which fills me with gratitude this Sunday in the Tarangire Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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