Monday, February 28, 2011

Wildebeest Lessons

Turning the Corner (Southern Serengeti Under Canvas)
What I learned on the way to seeing the "great migration" is that it's more than getting safely across the Mara River. That's just one point in a big and endless movement of herds that varies only in its timing from year to year. In a nutshell, the herds are following the rains -- it takes a lot of new grass to feed the approximately 1.5 million wildebeests. Along the way, they are eating, having babies, fighting amongst each other, eating, making love, and falling prey to predators.

Those are all facts about wildebeest and the migration -- for those with an appetite for such facts, they are easily found elsewhere on the Web. As for me, I've written about how I return to Africa time and again in Unexpected. Truth be told, I was hoping that this trip -- my third -- would get the dark continent out of my blood, leaving space for all those other adventures on other continents.

A Rare Sighting of a Baby Wildebeest
 (Southern Serengeti Under Canvas)
But then, I saw the wildebeest pounding over a ridge and down to the water. I saw them trudging single file across the great plains of the Serengeti. I saw them mixed in amongst the zebras and fighting with each other. I breathed in the beauty in their ugliness -- the ungainliness of their stride, their overly large heads, that weird little beard that they have. I imagined what it would be like to be a wildebeest.

I am a baby wildebeest standing on unsteady legs having just been born on the southern Serengeti. I have no clue about the journey that lies ahead and am intent only on learning how to be a wildebeest from my mother. I frolic with little care protected by the adults in the herd around me. Soon it is time to move on and we gallop away across the plains of Africa.

I know I must stay close to the herd for it is safest to be one among many. That is a lesson I learned when I narrowly escaped falling prey to a young male lion -- saved only by his ineptitude at the hunt. We come to a great river and roil the waters with our passage as we seek out the new grass.

I am a strong Wildebeest
I learn that we will always be following the rain for that brings the grass that we need to stay alive.  I grow bigger and stronger with each passing day.  I find I like this nomadic life.  Not for me the permanent home -- rather each day brings a new adventure, new scenery.  Over many years, I retrace my steps as we complete the great circle that swings us from north to south.  Occasionally, I stop to stare impassively at strange vehicles filled with pale two-legged creatures as they talk excitedly and gesture towards me.

I am a strong wildebeest but gradually my strength wanes, I fall behind as the herds head north towards Kenya -- I think of all the times that I have made this journey and I am content with my life.