Solana Travel Writing, Spring 2021
It was indeed a delicate moment. If we had made the wrong turn, if we left the bush early, I’d have never seen what happened. In fact, we were so drowsy and sun kissed that the six of us barely caught it out of the corner of our eyes.
What I saw early October, in 2018, was not an opportunity for an unforgettable memory, but a permission - a blink of an eye in the planet’s history to show me how significant the insignificant can be.
On my last morning in the bush of South Africa, deep in the wild of Hoedspruit, I thought my witnessing natural wonders had ended. After all, the month I’d spent doing volunteer conservation photography brought my dreams to life more than I could have hoped: herds of elephants and buffalo converging at a watering hole; a leopard futilely stalking oblivious prey; rhinoceros mother and child nuzzling under a sea of thorns. See, this morning was nothing more than a farewell drive through the best place I’d ever been. I’d expected nothing - nature, after all, is not simply a proscenium on-demand for human entertainment.
But wonders, it seems, had not account for miracles.
The photography team and I were cruising back to the lodge, laughing, reminiscing, making chat. I packed my trusty camera away, content to just let my face soak up that African sun. “This is a nice send off”, I thought.
“GIRAFFE!” shouted our North English bush expert, breaking the silent bush. “GIRAFFE!” She turned to us, eyes twinkling. “Giraffe, everyone, givin’ birth!”
The jeep curved sharply. Five cameras unsheathed like a high noon pistol draw. Drowsiness be damned, heat exhaustion be damned. If we didn’t capture every moment to come, we’d never forgive ourselves, or at least I certainly never would.
She stood in a nondescript portion of the bush, rotating slightly, gifting us the chance to see those little infant legs hanging in the air from her towering body. I winced in a way I’d never have, some kind of discomfort to my body that had nothing to do with the animal - and then it dawned on me that this was the first live birth I witnessed.
What if it were the last? I thought. Oh god, I hope nothing happens to it. I wish my family were here to see this! Wow. What would me a month ago have to say to this? Am I really witnessing such a thing right now?
Trapped in endless thinking, but could you blame me? I’d not been prepared to see new life. I didn’t even think I would see something like this in my wildest expectations before I left America.
Cameras clicked and hummed. Our resident bird expert, Marilyn, was weeping to the point where her Canon nearly short circuited. The rest of us didn’t even try to fight back our tears, so this sight could overwhelm us. We weren’t just in awe; we were grateful.
The sun kept beating down, the legs kept poking out of the mother. The process, we were told, would take about an hour in total. Fine. Who were we to question or complain? The scorch of the now noon sun wasn’t even a bug, it was a feature to a moment that could have only happened here in this one spot and that made it precious.
Precious…and everything else began to flood my head. Suddenly, I remembered every butterfly I saw float amongst flowers, every fox scream during my adolescence in upstate New York, even the Brooklyn pigeons on telephone lines I’d gaze at in childhood. I was struck with a tranquil calm, the sort you feel when you drift a few feet under the ocean. My camera lowered slightly in my hand.
Does this happen every day? It does, doesn’t it?
The giraffes were the pigeons of Brooklyn. The giraffes were the ants on my dorm room window. The giraffes were my dogs at home, the stinkbugs seeking shelter from winter. I’d taken them for granted, when they’re the most beautiful things to have ever lived…
“It’s comin’ out!” shouted our expert again, and I was yanked from my trance.
The child, drenched in afterbirth, hovered in the air - and drifted to the ground like a leaf. We would have applauded if the sound didn’t frighten the giraffes. And now is where we were permitted to fear for a bit.
“If that baby doesn’t stand up in fifteen minutes, a predator will swoop in,” said one of the photographers. Our bodies stiffened; we could scarcely click our shutter buttons.
Mother leaned down to prod her child. It stirred. Someone asked if we should name this young giraffe, but why should we? Does a life only begin with a name?
This happens every day, I thought again. This happens every day, all over the world. Get up, baby giraffe!
The child stumbled up, fell back down. Nine minutes. That precious space of ours suddenly became part of a much larger ecosystem filled with wildlife. Filled with dangers and predators, and the child didn’t even know. How ironic - this baby of pure beauty would walk past other births in its lifetime, perhaps never touched as its own existence touched us.
The child stumbled up, fell back down. Thirteen minutes. We sweat even more than we did under the sun. “Get up, get up, get up,” sounded the chorus of whispers, for if we shouted it’d worsen the situation exponentially.
The child stumbled up - and stayed up. Its mother licked its ears and face before extending up herself; so mightily humble, all thirty feet of them both. Nothing could touch them in this hour. We broke into fresh tears, and hugged each other. You know, I’d barely keep in touch with some of those people, and yet I’m sure when we all think of Africa, we share the same thought.
Laughing in relief, we turned our heated cameras off. Amongst us, we’d accumulated hours of footage, great amounts of gigabytes. But I don’t think I needed to watch it again - I wanted to show the world that space in time, and take nature’s most occurring feature and jam it in their brains.
This happens every day, all over the world, I’d say. For the rest of the day and the next, I felt as light as a feather. Even in my farewells to my new friends, there was nothing bittersweet. How could we think of sorrow when the planet reaffirmed its magic, and let us witness?
I thought of my family, and how I wanted to show this to my own mother. I wanted to show it to my children and their children, until in decades and centuries passing, the video would fade through time or loss.
Yet that thought comforted me - after all, technological recording is incidental to life. I was a molecule watching another molecule, afforded a reminder to what lies around me. I didn’t have to write songs or poems about the giraffe birth, nor thrust my video all over the internet. Nothing has to matter, if an animal reproducing on its own can, to another species, be the greatest thing they’d ever seen. Maybe just living in a world where this happens is enough.
Peter Carellini is a photographer, filmmaker, and overall adventurer who longs to see the world and capture it through art! He is based in NYC, and currently works in film and tv sustainability while producing a podcast on the side.