The night begins slowly. Giraffe. Elephants. Another civet. Seth and I work the antenna and receiver in the back of the vehicle when Simon hits the gas and we zoom down the road, bumping and jerking with utter excitement. We jet down the red earthen roads all the way to the Kisima outcrop. A pair of lions had been heard roaring here. And now we are out to find them!
Near Pica Pica water hole, we turn off all the lights and sit within the dark night. Under the Milky Way. We become one with the blackness. The thick, wet tar in the sky seeps over and through us. The silence moves within me. Anchors me to the earth. To the sky. To everything in between.
No roars. No eye shine. So we move along the road, continuing our search for our simbas. We drive up along more rocks when Nicola (on the spot light) locates a golden set of eyes, staring calmly back at us! The eye shine of a lion!
Adrenaline pulses through me. My body tenses. The vehicle creeps up and around boulders and acacias. But the lion is nowhere to be found. Yellow baboons that live up on the rocks and in the trees howl. The vibration of their alarms ring through us. The lions are near. We follow the calls, which increase in intensity. Our hearts thumping with the rising and falling of their panic.
Then the spot lights him up a gain. He has no collar. This lion must be a young male--possibly one that was spotted breeding with a female in this area last fall. Then he moves out of sight. We follow him parallel to the mountainside, but he remains elusive. We drive slowly and quietly. And then I spot him! "One o'clock!" I yell, pointing to my right. "There!" The words stick. The sounds bubble up in my throat.
We stop. We are silent. Breathless. In awe.
The lion is amazing! He blinks slowly with large, sincere eyes into the brightness of our spot. The simba's ebony nose, still slightly speckled pink. A sign of his young age-probably 4-5 years old. A dazzling, small dark and healthy brown mane. A shared coat of brown and gold--perfectly matching the warm stones that lay behind him.
He lies down. Moves from one spot to another. Rests again. Yawns. Huge, healthy, complete canines (whoa!) Then he faces away from us. Tolerating us. But longing for us to leave him at peace.
We watch silently, while Andy and Nicola take hand-written descriptions every 5 minutes of his behavior. We all take photos.
We inhale his rawness. His magnificence.
This lion is passive, yet inquisitive. He takes one last sigh as he lays his head down to rest.