The elephants watched as I approached—a bull and a female with a newborn squeezed between her front legs. I had waited my life for this moment—to actually see elephants in the wild in Africa. Tarzan of The Apes was the only thing missing.
I grew up in the Ozarks, as “wild as a March hare,” my Mom used to say. The forest was my home. I roamed it gathering wild animal pets like some kids collected marbles or comic books. Coyotes, raccoons, skunks, crows, dove, hawks. . . A menagerie of “critters” that followed me around.
I even tied ropes into trees and swung through the treetops as Tarzan did. I had the best Tarzan yell in school.
I still live in the woods. Donna Sue insisted we add a special room for my “critters” when we built our home—Marvin the sparrow; Rocky the squirrel; Bird the dove. . . She told people I can speak with animals, like Raven’s Wing in The Yearling.
My African friends in Tanzania dubbed me “Babu Simba.” Swahili for Grandfather Lion. Africans respect and value older people, as well as courage and strength.
And now, after all these years of dreaming about this day, there I was face to face with my heroes in the animal world, the symbol of strength wild and free. Not a hundred yards away, the big bull’s head kind of nodded, as though he understood. I chuckled.
“Babu?” Vada asked me. “What is you say to him?”
The masculine heart needs a place where nothing is prefabricated, modular, nonfat, ziplock, franchised, on-line, microwavable. . . A man needs to feel the rhythm of the earth, he needs to have something real in his hands—the tiller of a boat, a set of reins, the roughness of a rope. . .