You can’t always do what you want. You can make a plan and a damn good plan too, but then you have to change it. And then change it again. When you’re walking in the bush, a certain degree of flexibility is a good thing, for all sorts of reasons. Staying alive is only one of them.
Our first heroic change of plan came about because of a vulture. It was perched in a tree, and it was clear that something was up. Vultures drop from the sky and take up this waiting-room posture – capable of coping with endless delays from the wrong kind of lions – whenever there’s a large mammal in a suitably dead condition.
But this was unlikely to be a lion kill. The country was thickly wooded, not a lion killing-ground. Chances were that this was a leopard-kill and since the vulture was waiting, it was likely to the point of certainty that the leopard was still there. Leopard on a walk: not something that happens every day. So we changed our plan and walked towards the vulture.
The kill was surely in a tree close by. But we never got close. That’s because we suddenly became aware that there was a party of three male elephants between us and the leopard. We waited under a fine tamarind tree, growing, as is their habit from the midst of a vast world-conquering termite-city, and wondered if the elephants would consider moving on.
Waiting on the convenience of elephants. I seem to have quite a lot of my life doing that. And without resentment. Sure, it would have been nice to see the leopard, but it’s seldom disappointing to see elephants. And besides, the spiritual exercise does you good. It’s pleasing to contemplate your personal insignificance: the notion that you are a nugacity in the elephantine scheme of things.
We didn’t matter. Not a jot. So we waited, and eventually, leopard-less, made a change of plan and retreated. Trespassers, yes, but very well-behaved.