He moved forward slowly, the sweat dripping from his forehead, the sun baking down between sparse mopani canopies. The warmth of his dusty environment challenges him every step through the thick brush, the dryness overwhelms, but he must progress, ever on the lookout for any guiding sign. The wisp of a warm breeze brings the mild aroma of the African bush, the sweet spring fragrance of new tree blooms. He is silent, hopeful of hearing a twig break underfoot or the crack of a branch broken by his browsing quarry. Alas, the silence of the bush is broken only by the cry of a distant fish eagle, down towards the river’s edge, or the excited twitter of birds above, betraying his presence. The signs are few.
The gentle monster is there, somewhere, but stealthy, silent and aware of his pursuer, although not fugitive. He is not feeding in the heat of the noon hours. The bull moves without a sound, his huge feet pliable and sensitive to the trail that he follows, occasionally stopping for idle moments in the shade of the larger trees. His uplifted trunk scans the air with periscope movement for foreign smells, for his sight is not good in the mid-day glare. The beast offers the occasional rumbling, a distance communication mostly inaudible to humans, and then moves on in the sweltering heat.
Suddenly they are upon each other, face to face, surprised and both cannily brave. The bull elephant towers at almost three meters, just huge, the largest land mammal. Weighing five tonnes or more with ears flared, tusks protruding and startled. He trumpets his disapproval, stands tall, tossing his head. Extreme dangers prevail upon the man. Instinctively, the camera is levelled at the big fellow and film flows through its sprockets, while photographer seeks to capture that ‘perfect shot’, oblivious to the threat for those critical seconds. Both of them stand down, back off a little, but not loosing eye contact. The adrenaline begins to flow, heart rates accelerate, and the camera begins to shake mildly. Discretion dictates that the photographer should be the looser here, but in his own special way he is a winner too.
Life is full of encounters which bring you to the threshold of victory or defeat and by standing forever tall against your opposition you will triumph, even as the vanquished – Andrew Field – October 2009