Tuesday, February 10, 2009

India Journal - Entry 3 - Apparition in the Mist

After my first encounter with the tiger cubs, I had retired to my room at a nearby resort at midday. I elected not to go on safari that afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing. Two days later, I would return to the park once more.

I embarked through the cool mist of the forest on another cool morning, my eyes and ears sharp to the sights and sounds of the forest. If a tiger moved, we would know. I remained vigilant, standing in the jeep and scanning the surroundings.

The jeep slowly traversed the meandering dirt roads of the forest for what seemed like an eternity and we emerged in a grassland where the rising sun was setting the fields aglow. Materializing out of the mist was a set of buildings. We had arrived at an elephant camp. The driver stopped and casually set forth on a bathroom break and afterwards started a conversation with one of the camp staff.

I started to get anxious. I looked back across the field into the forest. We certainly weren’t going to see any tigers at the rate events were unfolding. I made my point by staying in the jeep, hoping others would get the hint. We eventually creeped back into the dark forest, where morning light was penetrating through the trees.

We met other jeeps periodically and after drive-by chats, we found out that no one had seen a tiger yet. This increased my anxiety. The first tiger I saw had left its mark on me... I wanted more, like a drug-user in need of a fix.

We turned onto a path that seemed scarcely used and soon after we heard the silence broken by the trumpeted cough of a sambar warning call. There was a tiger out there...and it was on the move.

Everyone in the jeep switched into high gear and we raced down the path. The driver eventually came to a stop and another jeep pulled in right behind us. We stood still, staring off into space and focused our energies at listening...imagining where the tiger could be. The calls repeated once more, but they were closer...it was coming toward us.

We turned to face where we thought the tiger would be and fixed our eyes to the deep blue distance, hoping for a flash of orange and black. Someone had spotted something, which sent everyone’s eyes darting madly. A tiger was there, but obscured by a wall of forest. My heart was racing and my mouth was dry.

My eyes located a clearing through the trees and I was soon rewarded. Like some sort of ghostly apparition, a tiger had strode silently into view.

I was mesmerized once more, as if the very sight of this creature had cast a spell upon me. The world around me seemed to melt away...all sound seemed silenced save the drumming of my heart in my chest. It was like something out of a dream. After the tiger appeared, it seemed a glowing light floating through the mist. The creature dominated the forest with its very presence...yet, its magnificent form made not a sound. I remember the determined placement of paw after paw and it’s gaze held forward, and though I could see it making contact with the forest floor, it nonetheless seemed to glide. Like a river of flaming gold, it flowed through the trees and once more fell out of view.

I was awoken from my daze my the sound of tires spinning in the dirt. The driver, knowing where the tiger was headed, had turned around and was speeding through the forest. The bumpy ride was cause for a tightened grip on the jeeps handrails and while being jostled around, I began to wonder if what I saw really happened and regretted not getting a photograph. However, I didn’t linger in memory for too long...the tiger was still out there.

We pulled onto a road which seemed much more open. The trees seemed more widely spaced and the forest was buffered by plenty of grass. We eventually picked a spot and settled down, waiting for the tiger to make one more appearance. Sure enough, it emerged among the trees and it seemed to be using the road we were just driving as a pathway.

It retained its determined composure, a wild dignity and flawless form while silently walking 100 ft before us. It seemed unconcerned with us and took the time to leave scent signals on trees and on the road to let other tigers know it had passed.

Before entering the forest once more, it stopped for a few moments and took in its surroundings, bathed in mist. It sniffed the air, taking in the sweet fragrance of the forest that no words can properly define and then slowly faded into the trees.

I exhaled and took it all in as well.

Its moment’s like these that you live for: where everything seems to slow down, where the sublime beauty of life takes hold and you are left in awe. Perhaps people like myself are more susceptible, but I consider myself luckier for it. Life is so much grander.