I have fond memories of riding on the top of my Dad’s hunting rig keeping a watch out for his bird dogs as they looked for quail. I was always content to just be outside looking for animals and enjoying the landscape. It was peaceful, quiet, and soothing to my soul—a sharp contrast to the city where we spent most of our time.
It has been decades since I did that with any frequency… By the time that I was in Junior High School, swimming workouts and competitions dominated my life and kept me from weekends out at the hunting camp; but those early years with my family hunting on cattle ranches in South Florida gave me a glimpse of what I wanted my life to be like. The quiet solitude that I found in the rural Lake Okeechobee area opened my eyes to the complexities of nature and gently steered me to the life that I live today.
My children take for granted the quiet solitude of rural life, and have learned early to respect the awesomeness of nature. They watch the challenges that their daddy and I face everyday farming and caring for livestock amidst the irreconcilable force of Mother Nature. Our life revolves around animals which both fascinates and frustrates them (depending on the day!).
When Matt’s parents suggested a family trip abroad, the idea of a safari appealed to us because of our fascination with animals. However, it was not until I stood up for the first time in the safari jeep that I felt the sense of déjà vu taking me back to my childhood memories of riding on the top of the hunting rig. I remembered trying so hard to spot animals and keep track of the dogs…I remembered the rush of pleasure when my dad would tell me what a great “look out” I was…I remembered the quiet beauty of the grass lands and the marshy swamps…
As we spent our days riding around in the jeeps on safari, I smiled watching my middle daughter, Megan, look for animals with the same tenacity and fascination that I had as a child. Her expression of awe and pleasure as she took in both the animals and the landscape warmed my heart and reminded me so much of both myself and my dad. As the saying goes, the apple does not fall very far from the tree.
My oldest daughter, Ashley Grace, brought home memories full of facts on the animals and the culture of Kenya. She is a twelve year old walking encyclopedia with a keen ability to remember facts and details, and soaked it all up like a sponge. I am fully expecting for her to periodically surprise us with random facts from Kenya for many years to come! I am also trying to get her to write some poetry about the trip, and hope that she will accommodate us and put some up on Ashley Grace’s Corner soon.
My youngest daughter, Karyn (age 7), had perhaps the biggest epiphanies on the trip. The afternoon after we visited a tribal “homestead”, she looked at me and said: “Mama, I learned something today. Not everyone here has everything that they need.” As a parent, I cannot think of a better lesson.
About two days after this, a cheetah jumped up on the roll bar on the jeep that she and Megan were riding in. Karyn and Megan were riding in the back seat (right below where the cheetah jumped up), and Karyn amazed everyone with her ability to move with ROCKET SPEED to the front of the jeep! Megan had just remarked early that morning that she really wanted to see a cheetah—After the cheetah jumped on their jeep, Karyn told Megan that getting THAT close to a cheetah “really was not necessary”.
Although Karyn remembered with clarity, sometimes it was challenging for the rest of us to recollect that the animals were wild and untamed. The guide told us that the first thing that the animals learn when they are young is who their mom is. The second thing is what a jeep looks like. They view the jeep as a “cage”, and as long as we stayed inside the jeep it was just a natural part of their environment.
The same cheetah that jumped up on Karyn and Megan’s jeep also jumped up onto the jeep that Matt and Ashley Grace and I were riding in. As awesome as it was to see it that close up, it was incredibly disconcerting every time that the big cat looked down into the jeep at us. I have to admit that it even made me a little bit nervous. Interestingly, as you can see from this picture, Ashley Grace (my cat lover) was without fear and completely enamored by it.
Although all three of my daughters created their own independent experiences and memories in Kenya, they all brought home a new perspective. They gained a new appreciation for both nature and for the blessings of living in a country where food, opportunity, and modern technology are aplenty.