talking to animals

“Yes, you, the little springbok. Get you head up.”
“No, not you.. the one behind you.”
“Please do not cover his horn with yours. Please.”
“Now, move to the right and stop scratching. I cannot see your head when you do this.”
“How about a drink? And may I see your lapping tongue?”
John and I are huddling at a remote waterhole in Etosha National Park in Namibia, and I am trying to communicate my artistic needs to several dozen animals who drifted in from the surrounding flatness of the desert to get a drink. And the more actors appear on my stage, the harder it is to find a composition which moves the heart. I see my monologue falls on deaf ears but hey, it does not hurt to try.
“Please don’t move! Not one step.”
“Turn… turn… turn… a bit more. More. Thank you. This is really good.”
“Stay there if you can. Please. I am still waiting for that oryx.”
“Where are you going? They may finally all drink, and you will get in front of them.”
“Keep moving! Now you are overlapping with my ostriches.”
Only this morning I realize that as soon as I bring my eye to the viewfinder of my camera to photograph wild animals, I begin to talk to them, usually in my mind. But here in Africa I actually speak. Softly, in a low and constant patter. I am polite but also maddeningly persistent. And I offer a string of suggestions, even though the animals are oblivious to my desires.
“If you just move left, this foal could also get in and get a drink, too. And I need him there.”
“What are you doing? Please stay out of my frame, just for a moment.”
“You are about to cover my oryx, and you don’t want to get into this mud anyway.”
“See? This was no good. Just stay where you are: your ass looks perfectly good there.”
“Oh no! This was such a wrong move… My mistake. Sorry.”
Persistently, and at times desperately, I am trying to choreograph the animals coming into my frame. They do what they want, but I do not quit. But why am I not content with what I see, and instead try to direct them, even if what I do is so ridiculous? Perhaps some ancient cultural imperative of all humans is making me try to rule this wild and unruly roost. Or maybe I want these photographs to show the awe I feel when I am in their presence, and I need my animals to help me. But this is not it.
I just love them. The little springbok, who ruins my composition. The ostrich, who shows me his plucked ass when I need his head and overlaps with another giant bird. The oryx, who seems to walk on someone’s back.
And I feel this love makes them my good and tolerant friends. They may not do what I want but at times they will suddenly do far more than I had ever asked them for, and overwhelm me with their wild and boundless generosity. They will suddenly show me what I could not even imagine possible. And it will be perfect in every way.

Not today, but maybe soon.     ©Yva Momatiuk