The Only Camera That Matters

I was in the middle of the Serengeti, about to witness a kill.

Our guide received word of at least two lionesses stalking the edge of the great wildebeest migration, which has come several weeks earlier than normal this year. Tens of thousands of wildebeest stretching to the horizon as far as the eye can see. A lesser, yet still large, number of zebras intersperse the herd as well. They are a cooperative species and the zebras provide some protection as they have better senses than the wildebeest and can alert them of such a danger.

Yet, with numbers this large it is still fairly easy picking for the lions and, with the migration starting early and the grasses still very high, today was going to be easy work for them.

When we arrived on the scene, we quickly spotted two lionesses in the grasses, watching and waiting. Carefully scanning the herd for the right mark. This was a patient game, for them and for those of us watching. Every few minutes, they would move a few steps forward, stop, sit, wait, and scan. The wildebeest herd, moving and shifting — oblivious. The zebras, beginning to sense danger slowly shifting deeper into the herd, as if to sacrifice a weaker wildebeest or two to save themselves.

I was shooting the scene with my good camera. Trying to get the shots that would tell the story well. I wanted to capture every single moment once the lions decided to strike.

Then, my camera died…

Dead. No backup battery. I had decided not to charge the one I had the night before as it was a little over half full and I thought it would survive another day. I was wrong.

This is the last shot I took with it before it died:

Lioness scanning anhead for wildebeest and zebras in the Serengeti

My wife offered her condolences and empathy. My daughter was slightly incredulous I’d let that happen. She knows I’m usually better prepared.

But, here’s the thing I said to them. Your mind is the true camera and the one you always have with you. A camera may take a snapshot of a moment but it is your senses that really are the record. Pictures are simply a trigger to be able to recall the experience in the future. A way to spark the story you’ll tell. Now, with the camera dead, I can be fully in the moment and take in the full fidelity of this once in a lifetime event that I’ll never be able to witness again. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but that’s true only if there is a story worth telling with them.

I have, right here inside me, the only camera that matters. I have the one that tells the story.

Because I have that, I can tell you that one of the lionesses sensed an opportunity open up and pounced on it, weaving around our vehicle into a blind by a stream, taking one of the smaller beests down into the water. As she held it down and it whined and whimpered as much as it could with a paw on its submerged throat, a dozen other lionesses suddenly sprang forth from the grass one-by-one to join in the spoils. The same grass we’d been scanning and watching intently for nearly 45 minutes and the whole time and could only see two. Obviously, they had the herd surrounded and were so good at using the environment for cover even we could not see how many there really were. Unbelievable.

Thirteen lionesses weaving around our safari vehicle and the couple of dozen others safari jeeps now joining us on the scene. It was a sight to behold. Wondrous.

To top it off, this is one of many such once in a lifetime moments we experienced on our trip. And, though I have the pictures to trigger the memories, the experience is a part of me now and I was a part of it and I don’t need a photo to know how that feels.

There’s no camera that can do that.