If you slow anything down, a scene of a chef cooking ramen, water flowing over a rock, a child running into its parents’ arms, the romance in the moment reveals itself. The emotion of a simple gesture. The beauty is revealed because you’re compelled to let your glance, your attention, linger. The moment catches you in its extended dance. In these moments, we lose ourselves, we’re rapt.
There are scenes in the wilderness that are naturally this way. And the effect is the same. A feather falling in a gentle breeze, a cat’s eyes slowly closing as it falls asleep, an elephant gliding through a quiet river.
When necessary, an elephant can easily outrun you, but with its guard down, it has nothing but time. Bathing in a dam in the heat of midday or rolling and play-stick-fighting with siblings in the water, there is something so unhurried about their movements.
With the Zambezi’s low levels this dry season, the elephants have been swimming across to the island sandbank opposite River Lodge – between the lodge and the Matestsi National Park on the Zimbabwean side. They do so every year, but we never quite tire of it.
We can spend hours in the boat, watching their steady slog across the shallower river, their amble onto land and slow but constant munching on reeds and bushes – reaching out for inviting green stalks and leaves with their trunks and plucking them from the earth like a picker in an apple orchard… Their saunter back into the water of the island’s little bays, step by step, as though inspecting the terrain with each pensive move, so as not to put a foot wrong. And then sinking, for a cool dip.
A trunk rises gradually from the water and then the crown of a head, an eye, the spine of a back… Each body part, each detail, each movement, slowed down, drawn out, holds our attention. We are absorbed and in that moment nothing else quite exists.
Watching these great wild animals in their calm, content dance, we are calm, content, caught in the dance with them. Only the flutter of kingfishers above the reeds or the piercing call of a fish eagle in the unseen distance reminds us that this isn’t time slowed down – at least not through the lens of a video camera. This is, simply, the way of the elephants, enjoying the peace of the river, our private slice of it.