Visiting the savannahs of Africa, I sought to capture the essence of an animal, a remarkable Hippopotamus I had taken to calling Humphrey. Humphrey, a name bestowed upon him in honor of his colossal size and the glistening charm he carries, is perhaps as unconventional a hippo as one might ever find.
After some days pummeling through the lush and the thick of the African wild, I first spied Humphrey one cool evening along the lush riverbanks of the jewel-like Luvuvhu River. He sat like a silent custodian of the river, his massive body leisurely half-submerged in the cool calming water, displaying a tendency to enjoy aquatic leisure that was truly admirable – in no way dissimilar to the way humans luxuriate in their spa retreats.
Awhile later, a curious meerkat, named Mavis for her inquisitive stance and ever-alert eyes, approached Humphrey. I imagined the exchange between them like a feudal encounter from an old English drama. Courageous Mavis, approaching regal Humphrey, questions, "Bathing again, sire?" To which Humphrey, unwavering, retorts, "And what else would you have me do, Mavis? Your burrowing is no less monotonous a sight!" Banters exchanged, each left to their enjoyment, with mutual respect intact.
My hunch suggested that Humphrey was a gentle behemoth, a water-loving creature whose daily chores were bathed in ripples of tranquil self-indulgence. For two days and nights, I observed this giant serenely occupy the same position, lazily shifting his mass to adjust the water's cool embrace upon his fatty, armored hide. At sunrise, he ceremoniously disembarked from his liquid throne and grazed on the refreshing grass by the riverbank, his large yet tender mouth indulging in the dew-kissed sweetness of the fresh blades.
And then on the third day, I noticed a break in Humphrey's routine. Out from the edge of wilderness lumbered a slow-moving, robust rhinoceros that I took to calling Rodney. Rodney, unlike mousy Mavis, was no fan of pleasantries. "Make way, Humphrey. Some of us are parched here," he'd grumble. "Rodney, my boy, there's room for two in here," the hippo might belch back, calmly accommodating his new companion.
In these hours of observation, I found that the orthodoxy of Humphrey's habitat was counterbalanced by an unorthodox dynamism in the relationships it fostered. True, everyone in the African wild followed a primal routine, Humphrey included. But within this traditional structure was a whimsical carousel of interactions, activities, and negotiations that diffused a sense of camaraderie and equilibrium.
In the early dawn of the fourth day, Humphrey disappeared beneath the water – his tail, flopping like a flag in the wind, diving last. Mavis took to her wild prancing and Rodney gallantly tested his horn against a nearby tree trunk. The spectacle of the animals, each immersed in their routine yet unified by the place they called home, was illuminating.
As I receded from the riverbank, parting the tall grasses of the savannah, I caught one last glimpse of Humphrey breaking the surface of the water, his tiny eyes squinting at the sky, sighing a silent farewell. A farewell not tinged with melancholy, rather painted with a promise – a promise to uphold the delicate dance of harmony that each morning sun softly spotlights in the untamed wilderness.
With Humphrey, Mavis, Rodney, and every life in between, the African wild was a grand stage, each character telling its story, each story winding into a flamboyant narrative of survival, solitude, synergy, and sass. Being privy to their lives in their habitat was a rare privilege. Back to my tent, I packed my gear with a heart heavier with affection for the wild, and a mind richer with the enchanting dialogues of the wilderness inhabitants.