A macabre grimace that tells a desperate tale of struggle and defeat. The left incisor is cracked and chipped, so perhaps this young male lion had taken a fatal kick from the mighty bull giraffe; perhaps he had been injured in a confrontation with the pride male and, hurt and banished from the pride, eked on to a slow and terrible death. Or perhaps, still inexperienced, he had lingered for too long in this distant place and could not make it to water and nourishment; perhaps he had run afoul of the deadly mamba…
Yes, it is unlikely to have been quick and merciful. To us, it conjures thoughts like cruel, sad, terrible, merciless. But those concepts do not exist in the wilderness, or at least, they are mostly irrelevant. The wilderness simply moves on resolutely, with absolute detachment. As Robert Ingersoll had said once, in nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.
And yet, we have evidence of affection in wild animals in their natural state – even of tenderness, loyalty. But then at other times, of dispassionate brutality. It is an enigma. We would do well to remember that we are interpreting what we observe from a human perspective – mostly a Western perspective. We attach labels to it from our human-invented arsenal of words. Is our labelling correct? Some would say “yes” with emphatic confidence. Others, who had perhaps seen more might think a bit and say, “perhaps…”
I have dropped in a short excerpt from Paths of the Tracker, where Craig is confronted with the reality of nature…
After an hour he stopped and checked his GPS for the distance covered. It showed a straight-line distance of seven kilometres from the camp. He had wanted to get to at least twelve or more. He was feeling more tired than he should after an hour’s running. His legs and arms were bleeding in several places from thorns and branches, and he could feel that the residue of grit left inside his shoes was beginning to chafe his feet. He felt uncertain; a little anxious.
“At this rate it’s going to take you four days to get to the village. It’s pathetic. You should have followed Henry’s advice and gone to the elephant path along the Lullese. What the fuck are you going to do now, you damn fool,” he raged into the screaming of the cicadas, but they carried on, unmoved by his tirade.
Over the last few days before the shooting incident he had felt he was beginning to master the bush, but now he sensed the vastness of its mysteries and the cruel indifference of its ancient rhythms. Here, he was nothing. And he knew almost nothing. But he could not pledge ignorance as motivation for just a fraction of leniency. He could not pledge anything. There were no excuses to be offered. He had no influence, no right to demand, no hope of compassion. He was just…, ignored. Whether he found a way to exist, or perished did not matter in the least.
Craig felt as if he was standing defenceless and bared to his very marrow by the vastness that towered so impassively over him. For a desperate moment he had an impulse to slink back to Henry for advice. But he knew he couldn’t. He simply had to make this work by himself. After all, this had to be his finest hour!