Sunday, January 07, 2007

Lions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My


Woody Allen, move over. Harpo Marx! You’ve got competition. Never doubt the human capacity for developing two left feet. I look down. Yup. There’s a right one and a left one but they’ve both become the wrong one.

Two days in the Corbett Tiger Preserve and two sightings—a leopard yesterday and a tiger today. That’s by everyone in my group except me.

“You didn’t see it?” This from Monique. She’s pretty and blonde. Her sport is running, and her job is public health. “It was right there in the road. It swished its tail and crouched the way cats do … you know … then it ran off.”

“Didn’t you see it?” Everyone else cried. “It was a leopard. Brown.”

“Watch,” Yogi, the guide, says in a hushed voice. “It’s there in the bushes.” In a whisper, he adds, “This is the first leopard sighting in six months.”

For the next half hour or so, we watch. I’m standing on the front passenger seat of the open-topped Jeep now. The seat and its placement was part of the problem before. With no leg room between the seat and the dashboard, I had turned around to see the road behind but my view was blocked by five people standing up in the next two rows of seats. By the time I’d dumped binoculars and camera off my lap and clambered upwards, the cat was lost in foliage.

If it reappears, we don’t see it. Oh, well. Easy come, easy go. So what if it was the first sighting in six months. So what if everyone had seen it except me.

Then, we had a long drive back in the cold and colder night air. Then, I went to sleep, missed dinner, an open fire in the lodge and a nature movie. Then, I slept through the 6:00 wake up call for the next Jeep outing and seeing the tiger. While I was snug in my bed, tucked under a thick comforter, the rest of the group bounced along in the Jeep, came to a river crossing, and there was the biggest of the big cats.

“He saw us. His tail swished. And he just melted into the jungle.” This from Mary. She’s a nutritionist by training, currently the deputy for America’s health assistance programs in India, running a multi-million dollar operation. She’s ecstatic … can’t stop smiling. “It was like magic.”

Two sightings in two days. “Two of the big cats,” the restaurant manager said, having heard the news before everyone got back. “This is fantastic.” He looked at me in pity.

Tucked into my front seat … well insulated against the freezing temperatures in my bed, though, I had dreamed of … lions, tigers, and bears.

Oh, my.

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