THE CASE AGAINST CARPE DIEM
Sometimes, seizing the day means missing the moment.
My husband, Jim, and I have traveled all over the world together. And when we added Yao Yao, our daughter, to our little family, she simply joined the adventure. We’ve taken her wherever we’ve gone: Southeast Asia, Africa, Malaysia, Europe, South America. Sometimes we’ve wondered in retrospect whether we’ve exposed her too early to some rough, real-life situations – Bahia was one good example, where the sight of children in poverty was overwhelming for her. That’s why we waited until she was older to take her to India. (Okay, if you consider nine older!)
India had always been “in the plan.” It was to be part of my graduate studies in architecture, but for complicated reasons I ended up studying in Italy instead. (I know: Hard to complain!) Anyway, right from the start, Yao Yao loved India. Each day brought new sights, new tastes, new smells. Her one big complaint was the usual one, wherever we go: We make her keep a journal of her impressions and experiences, with photographs. (Her early journals were . . . let’s just say rudimentary, including mostly line drawings of the things she liked and didn’t like. Her first photographic journal, during a trip to Buenos Aires when she was four, consisted mostly of Christmas decorations and floor coverings.)
Yao Yao often teases me about my Nikon and iPhone going everywhere with me. I admit, I’ve missed a few magical moments, because I’m so intent on photographing it, I forget to experience it. Yao Yao, on the other hand, just seems to be in the present, going with whatever unfolds. What is it that keeps this kid so centered? Who really knows?
Fast forward to India, to the tiger preserve in Ranthambore. We’re with our best friends and their son, and our home for the week is copious canvas tent with a massive four-poster bed, a smaller bed for Yao Yao, a sitting area complete with British colonial furniture, including a writing desk, and a gigantic bathroom. Every tent has a dramatic view of the nature preserve and a private outdoor area to take your morning coffee. There are neon-green wild parakeets that flock to the trees around the dining area where breakfast is served alfresco. Each morning after breakfast, we don sweaters and scarves (it’s cold in the morning in Northern India) and pile into open-air jeeps and head out to see if the tigers will grace us with their presence.
There are strict rules in the preserve as to how many vehicles can enter, and what quadrant of the preserve can be visited on which day. We’re on Day 3 of our stay, and we’ve had fantastic luck so far: We go out every morning and evening, and we’ve seen tigers every day – which has made us (and our driver) minor celebrities around camp. Today, we hope to see the larger adult tigers with their cubs, and I can’t wait to get photos. Our guide drives us slowly and quietly through the dense scrub, and an hour later we begin to warm up and are able to push aside the blankets the resort has given us for the morning drive. We hear the slow humming of another jeep to the west of us, and our guide circles around to avoid company.
And then we see them.
Five beautiful tigers: an adult male, an adult female, and three cubs. It’s hard to spot them through the thick undergrowth, but we know the drill – if we sit tight and are really patient, they’ll move into a clearing so we can get a better look. An hour or so passes and now there are six jeeps all trying to get close without invading the tigers’ space. Suddenly, the tigers are on the move, and now everyone is craning to get a better look. Yao Yao is smiling, stark still, staring at the young cubs. Her little Nikon is on her lap and she continues to look. I can’t seem to get a good photo through the low grass and scrub.
I try standing up, moving to the back of the jeep, and still I can’t seem to get a decent shot. I switch positions with Yao Yao, and then with Jim, and it’s just not happening. I notice the vehicle next to us is positioned more advantageously, and I can see that the tigers are in better view from their vantage point. So I do the unthinkable: I jump from our jeep to the next jeep, which only has three other people in it. I do the head-nod first, asking “permission” to board, but I know I’m going to do it anyway. The people in the other vehicle are too shocked to react.
Our driver gasps, my husband shakes his head, our friends close their eyes in shame and pity. The heck with them, I’m in. Like any good “photojournalist,” I know it’s all about the shot! I lean down to take the photo and can’t believe my eyes: While I was doing my acrobatic act, the largest of the tigers had moved! I couldn’t see where he had gone, and by now the cubs were hidden in the tall grass. It was fruitless. The worst part, or so I thought, was that I had to make my way back into our jeep, without further inconveniencing anyone else. I did a graceless balancing act on the top of the last seat and jumped back into our vehicle, banging my hip painfully on the way.
Then I heard Yao Yao: “Mommy, I’m so sorry you missed it. He was beautiful – really beautiful and so big.” Then she hands me her camera, showing me a stunning close-up of the tiger’s face. A minute later, she’s forgotten about me and her camera and is watching two large birds circling overhead. In the moment.
Now why can’t I do that?