Light, Shadows, and Ostriches

Be joyful. For light casts no shadow.

As night came to an end and the sun lit up the wilderness around me, a group of ostriches came out from the shadows and into the open.
The light of the morning seemed to make them joyful, and the world around them was without danger in that moment.
They could see that in that moment, everything was safe.
Because the sun was gleaming in brilliance over the earth, and all that was before them was clear, and without shadow.

There is a lot of shadow in the world, and I find that this seems to be the main focus of many people. There is so much focus on “what’s wrong”, (the shadows), that it is literally overwhelming. 
Yes, we should be aware of dangers. But should we really be embracing the shadows? Should we allow the shadows of “what COULD happen” to determine how we act in “what IS happening” in the moment?
These ostriches arose as light touched the earth. Of course they were aware of the dangers that are in their world, but they were merely aware of it, they were not focusing on all the shadows alone.
They were joyful. They were enjoying the truth of what light is, of what positivity is.
The light showed them that, in that moment, there was nothing to be afraid of.
But did they gather and say, yes, but there are still so many shadows out there.
No, they embraced the positivity of the moment. They embraced the light.
We should all try to follow the example these birds set, for if a moment is good, enjoy it. 
Feeling joy IS good. You are allowed to feel it, and embrace it.
It does not mean you are disregarding troubles, but it does mean you are not making that your only focus.
Shadows should not be your master. And you do not have to allow them to be.
How amazing is it, that even in the blackness of night, a single star can shine, and it does not cast a shadow?Maybe if we embrace more of the overwhelming light instead of the overwhelming darkness, we might see our own lives as something a little brighter, and maybe, a little bit more joyful.
These ostriches defiantly had the right idea.
I believe wildlife often has so much more to worry about, and to be afraid of, there are so many shadows that they could focus on…but I can’t say I’ve ever seen any animal choose to focus on something negative when something positive was happening.

“Fun is Important.” says cheetah cubs

These little ones are going on an adventure, they are off to enjoy the world, and feel no pressure from anything that might judge them, because they know themselves. And they focus on their own lives.
Having fun, did you know it’s important?
We see so many young animals having fun, despite a wild world they have to survive in. They still take time to enjoy life.


As long as we are alive, we should be LIVING. We are not intended to live our lives in rigidity. No one should ever be afraid or to proper to try, to participate, to take a risk. No one should ever be so concerned about what others will think or say, because, what others think or say is their choice and their issue, not ours.
We have enough to make enough choices about for ourselves as it is, so worrying about what another person is doing or saying or thinking really does not even make sense. Why waste time trying to figure out if someone is judging you? Why try to force someone else to think differently?
Let them make their choices and learn from them. And we can do the same for ourselves.
Do not be afraid to make mistakes.
How many times do you think these little cheetah cubs tried to climb, or to hunt? How many times do you think they made a mistake and failed?
But did they stop trying?
No, they kept trying, and they continued learning from their mistakes, until they finally succeeded.
They did not dwell on what they did wrong, but accepted it, and learned from it.
And then they had fun. They always took time to have fun.
So go forth, like these cubs, and go on an adventure. Just try.
You might fall a couple times.
But you can get back up. Try again. And just have fun, enjoy the journey, and keep going. Because the end of the journey is worth it.

Lions and Relaxing

Relax.

I’ve seen many lions in my lifetime.
Each one is beautiful and made perfectly.
Each one is an individual.
But one thing I always notice with lions, and I’m sure many can agree…they seem to sleep a lot.

On on gorgeous morning patrolling in South Africa, me and my team stumbled upon a lion pride on the reserve. All of the lions were resting in the sun, quite content.


The lion in this picture I took certainly looks very relaxed.
But why?


His life is not so easy. He has to be the protector of his pride. And he has to travel miles and miles, far from home, to keep his territory safe from other lions who, if they can, will fight and kill him, and kill his cubs.
The life a lion leads contains so much danger and fear, and it takes a ton of work every day, and every night to just live.
So again, why is he relaxed?


Lions find time in their day to rest. They take a moment for themselves.
You will never see a lion try and “look busy”, and dedicate every second of his day to “staying busy”.
The life a lion leads is already busy enough without adding unnecessary complications to it, and that type of “busy” accomplishes nothing except adding to stress.


So what this lion, and most all lions, can teach us is this: take time in every day to simply relax.
You do not have to fill every second of the day with “doing”. There’s a difference between simply being “busy”, and actually accomplishing.
Rest is super important, and highly overlooked.
Taking five minutes to relax will probably accomplish more than five hours of “busy” work.
It is very important to take a moment for yourself, for you are not actually able to help anyone until you learn that you must also take care of yourself.

Finding time to rest


A lion knows that if it’s injured, it might have to rest more.
Its not resting because it’s lazy. But it is wise enough to know how important it is to take time for itself to recover.
What good can a lion do for it’s pride if it can no longer stand? What good can it do if it stays busy, but remains injured, and does not rest?
For us, we do not need to “physically” be injured to relate to this. But by refusing to relax, and staying busy without purpose, we are injuring ourselves in ways far harder to heal from.
Take a lesson from this lion, rest, relax, and enjoy those moments. It does not take a lot of effort, and it will accomplish more in the long run.

The Message in the Elephant’s Skin

I was taught during my Field Guide training that an elephant’s skin lacks moisture, and so it needs to be loose to provide the necessary flexibility for motion. And the wrinkles in an elephant’s skin helps to contain moisture, and thus keeps the skin in good condition.

When I took this picture, I wanted to try and show the beautiful complexity of an elephant’s skin in this picture, because seeing it close up really show the details of the wrinkles…

But there is more to it than that…the elephant’s skin, to me, holds a remarkable lesson.

And so in this, I find myself reminded of how amazingly complex and perfect each of our own individual lives are. Throughout our lives, we find ourselves going up and down. 
Some days we walk in a valley.
Some days we climb a mountain. And some days we reach the top of the mountain. 
Some days we try to climb, but we fall instead.
However, whatever trial we might be facing today, every wrinkle in life comes with a purpose.
There is a reason. 

The elephant needs wrinkled skin for moisture and to remain healthy. It’s wrinkles are necessary for a happy life.
Just like the ups and downs, or “wrinkles”, we go through in life, are necessary for our happy lives.

Success

A successful hunt, after a long time with many failures

This was a picture I often scrolled over when going through my photos. It just wasn’t one I thought much of.
But then I took a moment to really study it, and contemplated the memory I have when I took it…
And I realized it holds quite a powerful message: This cheetah is a picture of success.
But this is not the normal, heroic image we have in our minds when we consider what it means to be successful.
Looking into her eyes one sees the struggles and terrors she had faced to arrive in this moment.
This cheetah is haggard and exhausted.
She has pushed herself to the limit…

Preparing for another night.

This is often what true success looks like.
Success takes dedication and effort, it takes much pain and turmoil, and it can take many failures.
It can seem so hopeless and bleak at times. Let’s be honest, bad things happen.
Yet what this picture shows me, and what this cheetah wordlessly tells me, is that through these difficulties we ALL face, we CAN get through it. This cheetah, like most wild animals, had to fight every single day to achieve her goal…which was simply to live.
She often went hungry. She would face the cold nights, the freezing rains, the blazing sun, and the terror of larger predators that wanted to kill her.
But here, depicted in this image, I believe is what victory should be when we have put in the true dedication to reach our goals…we don’t always come out looking like heros with beams of light shining on us…

We carry scars and weariness, but with these, comes a silent declaration of undoubtable power. This cheetah does not speak or boast of her success, because seeing her is enough to hear the story she tells.
And so it should, and will be, for all of us who never give up.

Success that was hard won

The Lion in the Bush

The lion in the bush

It was a cold, dark morning.

The dawn was still far away.

It was only starlight that gave shadows in the bush.

I always started my mornings earlier than anyone else, because I found it was the best way to know the wildlife.
I liked to them from how they arose in the mornings. From the moment they started their day, or ended their night.

Lions coming out in the morning

Amid the mist laden valleys, the low roars of lions filled the cold air.
And based on the general direction, I had an idea of where the lions would be.

So I followed my instincts…
It was still very dark.
But I had a feeling, if I went to a particular place and waited, eventually the light of day would show me what I was certain would come…

I knew could try and follow the calls of the lions alone, and hope to pinpoint where they were, but I paused. Simply reacting to their calls I felt would more likely lead to confusion. The echos were to untrustworthy for exact direction.

So I instead trusted my instinct.
I went to the place…and waited in the silence of darkness.
Birds began to chirp as a pale light touched the horizon.
I hoped I was not wrong.  But perhaps I was? Maybe they would not come at all. And I was waiting for nothing…
But then in the darkness, I saw the eyes.
Not because they were glowing, for I was not using a light.
Only because it is always the eyes that stand out to me first.
An animal in the bushes can be completely hidden, but I always catch the movement of their eyes. There lay the great lion.
As the light of the world increased, I was able to snap this picture of the lion in the shadows.

And then all around came through roars of his pride, and one by one, each lion arose from the hills and shadows, and padded out into the open.

Lions coming out from hiding, calling to each other softly

And such is the glory of this lesson…In the darkest of times, when all around us the answer seems to be to follow the loudest call, we often think it would be much easier to simply react, and fall into the temptations of what we see as “safety”, for that can be such a loud and easy call.
Yet when we arrive, we realize it is not safety or peace.
It is in fact the same shadows as where we were before. 
Sometimes, we need to rather pause, in the darkness, and allow light to come on it’s own, and thus bring clarification. 
We cannot force the dawn to rise. But we can choose to pause.
Simply reacting and running to the first loud call will lead to the lions you cannot see.
But pausing, and choosing your reaction, because it is always your choice, this will show you the lion in the bush.
And then you will know the glory of the lions’ roar, instead of the terror.

Two male lions leaving their hiding place to begin the day

Finding Peace (A Cheetah’s Advice)

At peace.

Taking time with Ava to find peace

I was out one morning, checking up on a cheetah named Ava.

I had come to know Ava so well, I could often find her without even tracking. I knew her well enough to go directly to the area she would most likely be in, depending on the weather, how much she had hunted, and whether or not she had caught anything.

She has always been one of my closest “friends” among the wild animals. Ava probably taught me the most about myself of all the cheetahs I’ve come to know.

When I found Ava, she was lying comfortably in the morning sun. Watching me. She had seen from afar. And having become so accustomed to her, and her ways, I had spotted her from a long ways as well.

I came close. And Ava purred a greeting. As she always did.

It was an extremely peaceful moment. I had Ava’s respect, and she had mine. And so with her, I knew I could squat down where I was, and she would not be bothered. As I did, Ava shifted to a even more laid back position. And for a few moments, we both had our own thoughts. Observing the awakening world around us.


It can be a extremely difficult task to reach a point of feeling at peace with yourself. Especially when, all around, you are constantly being overwhelmed by negativity coming from others or unpleasant happenings and circumstances.
The issue tends to be, we as individuals think we can control others and events.
We think can convince others to change their ways, that if we just keep trying, they will finally listen.
Problem is, no matter how nasty and truly wrong another person might be, we cannot simply change them.
We can’t force them to stop.
We can’t force them to change. 

But that’s not our job anyway. 

This does not mean we have to cease giving guidance and advice where needed, or love. But it’s not our job to just give these things because it’s demanded.
It’s our choice. 
No one should force us to give these things.
So we should never force others to give these things either.
Or to simply change because we want them to.

Finding peace with yourself means you can except what you can do, and what you cannot force to change. Life is going to happen whether you except it or not. But how you live your life, and the choices you make while you live, is ultimately your choice. 

You can make a mistake.
Guess what? It’s actually ok.
Because you can choose to fix it. 

You can be successful too.
And you can choose to enjoy it.
This is also ok. 

My very first morning with Ava

From day one, I observed how at peace Ava was with herself.
There was no action or circumstance that ever had an effect on her. Because she knew herself.
She knew what she could control. And excepted what she couldn’t. When she missed her prey, she excepted the outcome and tried again. 
And it was her choice.
When a new cheetah entered her territory, she faced it, and then they both went their separate ways. 
She excepted the circumstances that could not be changed.
And even when Ava was relocated and released onto a brand new reserve…I will never forget how she stepped out of the crate, took everything in around her…and made her choice to except it.
And keep living.
And to be at peace with it.

The last day I saw Ava, released on a new reserve to begin her final journey as a wild cheetah

Of Love and Lions

I was on my first date.

With my first boyfriend, (and still the man I am in a relationship and SO in love with today.)

Enslin is a field guide from South Africa.

We met at the reserve we both worked on.

So for our first date, I accompanied him on a game drive for the morning.

Amber rays of the sun

It had been a glorious morning. The rising sun giving off rays of deep amber light across the Karoo.

We took the guests to search for the rare Black Rhinos. And along the way, we each gave interesting stories and facts on the wild world around us.

Gold morning

We tracked the rhinos for awhile, but there was nothing to be found. So instead, we decided to look for lions. And this proved a better call.

We found four lions lounging in the sun together, overlooking a dry river bed.

It was simply a stunning morning, the sun was warm and golden in a sapphire sky. The grass, bushes, and flowers were covered in sparkling dewdrops, as if the stars had descended from the heavens.

Cheery birdsong filled the slightly cool, crisp air.

And they guests all enjoyed the magnificent scene before us.

One of the female lionesses arose after awhile, stretched and yawned, and padded slowly towards one of the big male lions.
She came up to him, they both looked each other in the eyes for a moment, and then touched noses.
The female rubbed her head across the male’s face in a kind gesture.

And then she brushed passed him and began to make her way towards the riverbed with a flick of her tail.

Almost instantly the male arose, and padded after her quickly, and gently took her tail in his mouth. As if he did not want to lose her, and they walked off together like this, perhaps this was the equivalent of lions holding hands?
I found it to be a very beautiful moment. And it made me consider love in human form…

Love may be highly unpredictable.
It may be one of the most incredibly beautiful and mysterious things in the world.

But one thing that it is not, is painful.
Love is not abusive.
Love is not cruel. 
Shaming another person and saying ‘it’s out of love,’ is not love.
Hurting another person and ‘calling it love,’ is not love.
Love will endure all things. But it is not meant to used. 
It cannot be used. 

True love will never be the cause of suffering. It will remain the stronghold THROUGH all suffering.
Love is not hardship. 
But it will ALWAYS overcome hardship. 
When I observed this male and female lion, as they paused a moment, and stared into each other’s eyes. And then touching noses, I was reminded of what love is…eternal and enduring.
It happens in single and often unexpected moment.
And in its purity, for love is certainly pure, love never fails. 

Always a Student

Practicing his mother’s stalk

One beautiful, gold morning, I found all four cubs practicing the new skills their mother had been teaching them. Their mother lay nearby, observing them proudly. They were so focused and serious about their practice.

The cubs were trying out over exaggerated stalking poses on each other. And they would be so clumsy, tripping over themselves, crossing the wrong paws which made them stumble.

The stalk

And of course, as soon as one made a mistake, the other three would quickly take advantage and pounce! All the cubs would squeal and make little sounds of protest, or challenging squeaks of courage.

Streaking through the dew enveloped grass like spotted comets.

They were stumbling and rolling about. Awkwardly throwing themselves at trees and climbing to a point which really gave them no advantage at all. But it gave the idea of power.

The cubs were so interested in practicing, that they did not even notice my presence for a long time. But as soon as they did, they saw an even more exciting opportunity to practice!

They all four ran up to me, and tried to puff themselves up and walk in a “threatening” posture just like their mother showed them.


All the while, their mother lay close by, relaxing in the sun, her eyes narrow slits of pleasure. She knew she had done her job well.

The cubs all came up to me, one even stood on my foot on accident. And they starred up at me with their deep, amber eyes. Their sweet little faces all alight with energy and playfulness. After a time, three of them went back to playing amongst themselves.
But one of them, the same one that always took an interest in me, laid down where he was at my feet.
And began washing himself.


Finally as the morning sun rose higher, and the earth began to heat up, the mother cheetah called her cubs. And they all five disappeared into the cool shadows of a nearby riverbed.
These moments were so special to me, and I also found it inspiring.
Even when cheetah cubs grow up, they never stop learning. 
Wildlife cannot foresee the challenges ahead, they learn to read the natural signs of the world around them. They never stop learning.
Most adult cheetahs know their prey, and they know their territory.
But when seasons change, or prey patterns change, the cheetah will watch and learn.
A consistent student to the world.

None of us should ever be an expert. Ever.
You should never stop learning.
Or being a student.

And observing these cubs learning and putting to practice what they had already learned, was a good reminder of what we should all strive to be…students.

There are far to many experts in the world. There are so few teachers. And even fewer students.

Never stop striving to learn. There is NEVER a point in your life that you are not able to learn something new.

And when you do learn something, it is never right to withhold information from others simply so seem “better”.

Don’t hold back others in order to remain an expert.

Any true expert should dedicate their expertise in teaching others.

Knowledge is beautiful. And to be able to give knowledge by teaching is an honor.

Like a mother cheetah, we should feel great pride when those we have taught move forward in success.

And like the cheetah cubs, we should jump on any opportunity we can to learn something new.
I must say, that the greatest experts on the planet that I know, are all wild animals.

Mother cheetah with cub copying her every move

The Great Hunt

Catja is a very special cheetah to me…

Catja

A first time mother of four male cubs, and they were very energetic, and confident little boys.

I absolutely loved monitoring this fantastic family of wild felines every day!

Catja really had her work cut out for her!

Though she was a first time mom, she showed superb maternal instincts, being highly protective of the cubs, and an amazing consistency in hunting and providing food for them.

Catja worked tirelessly day in and day out, raising those little cubs into the strong males they are today.

There had been a severe drought in the area I was working. And this, coupled with the fact that Catja was so efficient in making kills, drastically brought down the numbers in her preferred prey species, blesbok.

Therefore, Catja had to resort to hunting smaller, and quicker game.

This meant she had to start hunting springbok, impala and other small game.

But with four growing boys, a single springbok antelope is not enough to suffice such hungry mouths. 

Catja began working twice as hard, so efficient and clever she was, she would often kill two springbok a day. She was a phenomenally proficient huntress.

But as time went on, the springbok herds became even more vigilant and learned her ambush methods, and so her kill streak began to dwindle. 

Then came the hardest time, Catja began missing her prey.

She still managed to kill small animals like steenbok and hares, but this was barely enough to sustain herself and four cubs.

My job was the daily monitoring of the cheetahs on the reserve.

So it was of great interest observing how this particular mother cheetah had been raising her young, and the struggles they faced, and how she continued to adapt to overcome the turmoils…

Catja resting in the shade with cubs

I found Catja and her cubs, they needed food desperately. And Catja was entirely exhausted. The evening was gray and overcast. The world seemed entirely quite. Catja starred into my eyes, her eyes like deep pools of amber. They always seemed to much darker than the other cheetahs.I knew already what she had been going through, the struggles, the hardships. She was exhausted. But her eyes told me, she was confident. Her eyes told me, victory was certain. I believed her…

I was on foot the next morning.

It had been hard to watch Catja over the previous days, she was exhausted. And she was hungry.
And so were the cubs, who were a constant worry for her.

They NEEDED food.

I walked about, looking for tracks and signs.

I knew Catja was going to be in the area.

I walked through a vast scrubland, shrouded in mist.

I looked upon a ridge to the north, the herd of springbok which Catja had been sticking to over the last several days, were grazing along the hill. And in amongst them were the quick and clever impalas, another species of antelope. I knew this would make matters even more difficult for the huntress. 
I knew Catja was around. She had to be.

I kept going along quietly and slowly, looking for the familiar spotted camouflage of the cheetah pelts.

Then, I saw a little ways ahead of me, Catja’s four cubs.

They were sitting under a bush together, watching the herd on the hill intently. 

The cheetahs here are accustomed to seeing me on foot or in my vehicle every day, so they had little interest in me.

One of Catja’s cubs coming up to investigate me

I did not see Catja. I knew she would be hunting.

So I got down low where I was, in a bush near the cubs, not wanting to disturb the scene.

And this way I could watch the impending action that was to come. I just knew Catja was hunting.

All eyes were on the herd, the fog from the early morning was lifting, Catja would come out eventually. She had to.

Maybe, this would be her day.

We seemed to be sitting there forever…suddenly, one of the cubs made a little squealing murmur of excitement, they all sat up straight, and I saw the reason why…

Ahead of us on the ridge, the impalas started alarm calling, and they began to scatter, the springbok scattered with them, all in aflurry of panic.

And then there was the cheetah.

Catja sprang out from the underbrush where she had been hiding, but I thought, it’s too late surely, the herd is so far ahead now, but then I saw her target…

One of the springbok had been further apart from the rest of the herd, but now was it was too late for it to react.

At that moment the cheetah’s speed increased to a full on high speed sprint that only a cheetah is capable of, and I witnessed then the most beautiful chase I have ever seen.

Sprinting between 75-80mph (120km/hr), to the point all four paws would in midair as she sprinted fully stretched. Catja was incredible!!

I never would have thought I would have the privilege to witness such speed except in documentaries, yet here it was happening before my very eyes.

Over the ridge they went, and the cloud dust went up, followed by the sound of the kill.
We knew Catja had done it. She was victorious.

Silence reigned over the world.

The cubs were staring ahead, wriggling with excitement. They looked at me, they looked at each other, and looked to where their mother had gone down.

Then her chirping calls echoed across the silent Karoo earth.

Catja calling her cubs
Catja calling her cubs

The cubs sprang forward, sprinting towards the sound, chirping like excited birds in an excited response.

Catja with a kill, cubs in background

I followed behind and found them all together, the cubs digging into the springbok, practising their strangle holds on the carcass, while the mother lay panting and exhausted in the shade from all her momentous effort.

I was overwhelmed by the wonder of this experience, and so inspired by Catja’s determination and strength.

It was Catja’s devotion and and willingness to get through and overcome any obstacle, that ensured her cubs’ survival. Now as they are entering adulthood, all four brothers follow in their mother’s footsteps in confidence, energy, and ability. They’ve made their first kill. And I foresee these once tiny babies to become as highly efficient and gifted as their mother Catja was.

Catja with a a kill, and one of her cubs copying her

Catja had been at a point of hunger and exhaustion. 
A point where the heaviness of life’s hardships seemed suffocating.

I’m sure most can relate to this feeling.

This cheetah had been in a state of haggard weariness.
Yet, she did not stop. 

Giving up never crossed her mind. She was focused. 
Focused on the success that was certain.

This cheetah would never stop as long as her heart was beating, and as long as our hearts are beating, whatever the circumstances, we should follow her example…