“Men are from Mars,” a friend reminded me last week when I told her my husband, Bill, was shooting large animals in South Africa. Truer words were never spoken! Many people have asked me why I didn’t go with him. Really? As much as I love to travel, the thought of flying 20 hours ONE WAY, then driving 3.5 hours to get to a hunting lodge, staying six nights, then returning to the airport did not appeal to my sense of adventure. Neither did the thought of walking through the bush, carrying a gun with which to kill poor defenseless mammals. In reality, I wasn’t invited. I guess my husband knows me well enough to know there’d be no offense taken.
The planning began a year and a half ago, when Bill went to an election night party without me. I was home celebrating, and he was with other like-minded, unhappy folk. In what I can only imagine was an attempt to distract themselves from reality, Bill’s colleague and friend, the host of the party, showed off some of the mounted trophies hanging in his home. My husband viewed them with adequate appreciation, I’m sure, as he grew up hunting deer and birds with his father in the Texas Hill Country. He also enjoyed the occasional duck hunt with his cousins on the Gulf Coast. After we married, he began hunting in DeWitt County on our place outside of Cuero. The thrill of the hunt lessened over time, but then this friend mentioned he was thinking about going on an African safari. When Bill got home that night, I was surprised to see him in such a good mood. He mentioned the proposed plan to me, and I found myself agreeing that it sounded like a good one. Looking back, I thought it sounded so far-fetched, I couldn’t believe it would really happen.
My husband spent the next 18 months reading about Africa, picking the brains of experienced travelers, and buying various necessities (including a large gun). He was ready when the big day finally arrived last Friday. I took him to the airport at noon, and approximately 24 hours later, he texted to say he’d safely landed in Johannesburg and was en route to the hunting lodge in Thabazimbi. I was hugely relieved to hear from him. Your mind can play tricks on you when a loved one is flying on one of the longest non-stop flights in the world. (Not to mention that CNN is still reporting on a certain missing Malaysian airplane.) I spent Sunday trying to imagine what he was doing on his first day in Africa. Was he walking miles in the bush, tracking an exotic beast? Were there monkeys swinging from the trees around his lodge and giraffes peeking over the fence? Could he hear the lions roar at night? Was the food any good? Did he have any stomach troubles? (I’m a realist, what can I say?) The day progressed slowly until it was finally time for the Spurs game and I was able to think about something else. As soon as the game ended, I went to bed and saw my cell phone lit up. “How’s it going?” It was him! “Fine! How’s it going with you? Wait, isn’t it 5:00 am there?” No reply. “Is it awesome?” Nothing. “Spurs just lost.” “HELLO?” Then, finally, he answered, “Yes. It is very awesome but very tough hunting yesterday all in brush country that looks like South Texas. I got nothing.” Well, now I was wide awake and worried. No longer about his safety, but whether he’d traveled all that way just to be in country akin to South Texas, but without any animals. What if he went on safari and no animals showed up?
The next morning, I was staring bleary-eyed at my computer, catching up on emails when a new message came in. “Great day yesterday and today. I have shot 4 animals. All were taken 3 hours northeast from our base camp.” I was thrilled for him. “WHAT four animals were they?” Before long a picture came through of my happy husband kneeling behind the biggest cow I’d ever seen with a face like a deer and two large, curved horns. “It’s beautiful,” I gushed. “What is it?” “Gemsbok,” was his succinct reply. Over the course of the week, despite the reserved nature of his emails, I got the impression that he was having a wonderful time and bagging all the animals he’d hoped for. Soon, it was time to return to the airport to welcome him back. He was smiling broadly as he slung his gun and bags into the car. “Wow,” he said. “That was awesome.” By the time we got home, I learned there would be six additions to our home decor in the form of mounted heads and shoulders, skulls, and horns. “I’ve got pictures,” he said.
We arrived home and promptly uploaded his pictures. Our daughter and I gathered ’round to see. The first few were of customs agents inspecting his gun at the airport. Then there was the truck they’d traveled in. Next was of a man fixing a flat tire. “That’s our tracker,” he said, excitedly. UGH, cried my daughter, What’s that? “Oh, that’s the back of the truck with blood dripping out from the killed animals.” Then there was the “hanging room,” where they skin the animals and hang them to dry. “Check out this license plate from the Limpopo Province!” Finally, I got to see the actual heads of all the animals he’d killed. Wait. Is that a wildebeest? After 100 or so of these photos, I saw a few shots of majestic giraffes lazily grazing on the tops of trees, and some pretty photos of the landscape. I got excited when I saw a video, imagining herds of game animals thundering across the plain. We watched and my hubby narrated, “Here we are tracking a wounded animal. We’re watching for hoof prints that are turned out a little, evidencing his wound on the right side.” Oh. Then, he told me about sitting alone in the truck one afternoon, when he had a close encounter with a kudu, which Hemingway stalked in “Green Hills of Africa.” “Did you get a picture,” I asked, excitedly. “No. I didn’t want to reach for my camera and scare it,” was his reply. I smiled thinking how different we were. I would have taken hundreds of photos of every animal, mountain, and acacia tree I’d seen. I would probably even have videos of animals running. And, I would have emailed and messaged constantly, trying to explain the excitement I felt of being on a continent in the Southern hemisphere, looking at animals I’ve only seen in the zoo, eating exotic food and admiring the unique landscape. “What did you do while I was gone?” he inquired. “Oh, I had a great week,” I said. “I went out with friends, saw a couple movies, organized some closets.” Wow. We really are from different planets. I’m glad we’re inhabiting the same one again.