This morning, very early, I helped a spider out of the pool. It was either a Grass Spider or a Wolf Spider. So, does it bite and is it poisonous? I haven’t a clue. I had been chopping some banana up for the Bulbul birds, plus team of ants, and had this kitchen knife in my hand, so I employed it. Saving things with legs and wings from pools is my thing. I absolutely can not watch all those waggling legs flattened by the surface and do nothing. That spider, those Christmas Beetles or moths landed themselves in mortal danger, when what they sought was re-hydration.
From the stoep of the cabin I hear hippos grunt and puff down by the river. This river, when full, is wide as a mile and alive with danger. We walked along the Kruger fence yesterday in 40 degrees to catch sight of them but saw nothing. We didn’t see the elephants either, nor the crocodiles, nor the leopard lying in the shade, but we knew they were all there. A lone giraffe, tall as the tallest tree, appeared and then was gone. Gone where? The trees are not a forest. The spaces in between them is clear to our eyes, the tundra laid out flat and empty, but somehow this huge creature just vanished. Various buck wandered along the sandy banks and, in my whispering head I wish them safety as they make their way down for water. Crocs and hippos look like rocks, after all. From this side of the river, this side of the high barbed fences we can fix binoculars to our faces and marvel at each glimpse of the wild things. Someone has dropped a crimson flipflop over the wooden rail of the viewpoint but nobody in their right mind would climb down for it. It lies incongruous on a sand-dusted rock, way down there, in Kruger Park, out of reach, a something out of place, a human footprint.
We drive back to the cabin for supper. A wildfire sunset settles into dusk as the African night awakens. Now the leopard will stretch and yawn as her belly rumbles. Her eyes see everything in the darkness, and everything is jumpy as hec. I hear lions roaring in the distance and am only too glad I’m not an impala. My night concerns are nothing by comparison. I spray myself with citrus and lavender against mosquito bites and put down a banana for the bush babies. They will come eventually, those cute little long tailed things with huge eyes and long fluffy tails, and then, just as quickly, disappear again through the scrub. 3 kudu, long-legged and graceful, come asking for food and take it from my hand. Although the feeding of wild animals feels odd to me, I cannot deny the thrill of watching warthog, kudu, or bush buck up close and personal. They look right into my eyes and I look right back. In my eyes there is awe. In theirs, I see fear, and, yet, the risk is worth it for the game nuts.
This evening, as the sky squashes the African sun into a crimson brushstroke, we go again to the viewpoint. My eyes traverse the land that falls down towards the river, across its shining back and on up into the bush. From up here I am safe, but down there would be a very different story. Vulnerable, and on two unfit legs with not much running left in them, I could be dinner. It thinks me of life.
Without risk, life is tame, and I am not interested in tame. In order to cross a dangerous river, metaphorically speaking, I must risk being out in the open. There is safety in just looking, but just looking is not enough. The eyes that look back from the bush are all my own. This is me watching me, and I cannot pretend they’re not there. For a life to be really lived, the dangers must be faced. We all meet our own croc-infested rivers, at some point, and we would do anything to avoid a crossing. Let’s stay safe, we say, up here, away from all those nasty eyes and teeth, from all those things I know I could do, from the inner changes I need to make, and then to work on, but the river still rises in response to the rain in our minds, however much we try to turn away. Circumstances always change without our permission and the river divides us from ourselves if we just stay here in the safe place.
What does that mean? I think it means we don’t risk crossing it because we cannot know, from the safe place, what opportunities lie on the other side. We can’t see anything, so there must be nothing, but nothing is something. It’s just hidden from our view. Yes, going down there, moving into the lazy, deep and potentially dangerous flow of our own river, is a risk. A huge risk. But life is a wild, crazy, unpredictable risk.
Or it’s nothing at all.