Engine off, I sat motionless as the light faded, Mother Nature cast her spell and my mind quietened. Admiring the glowing pin pricks in God’s canvas I waited, I waited as I have countless times before. Months of paying attention and patience had led me to where I was, and this time I was feeling good about my chances. The coarse crackle sent a shockwave through the air and instantly I knew I was in the company of a ghost.
I had been fortunate enough to hear that powerful rasp on many occasions in recent months but now I was close. Grateful yet helpless and unsure I froze, hearing only my anxious heartbeat, time passed and an accustomed level of acceptance began to dawn upon me once again. Taking solace in this small victory and others like it, I felt the anticipation ease until the silence shattered once again, he was even closer, seconds later the vaguely moonlit sky revealed a pale shape emerging from the foliage. That moment was a culmination of effort, a healthy pursuit of happiness accentuated by an instant, to be adored endlessly. This was an answer to which held more value, experience or money.
I hoped he would stay yet I respected his fear, it kept him alive for this long and by the same token I had envisioned our meeting but never expected it. One most pleasant surprise followed another as he came to rest, metres away from me and without cover. As darkness enveloped the landscape I was left with anticipation and only the sound of my jacket gently crackling with each breath. Again he sawed, with nothing to hinder the vibrations between us I took in one of natures most harsh and treasured sounds. It was just us, in a heartbeat an hour passed, my only notifications being the King’s intermittent announcements, until, paws on earth. ‘He must be standing’ I whispered to myself. Finally I plucked up the courage to shine the spotlight I had clasped onto for the last age. A full belly, bulky frame and heavily notched ears, this leopard’s reign has withstood the test of time. His tail down and gaze piercing through me I realised he had truly accepted my presence, where to from here?
Calm and happy to accept any outcome I switched on the engine, he cared not. I followed at distance as he weaved his way through the thickets and criss crossed one road after another marking his domain, often heading where I could not so once again I relied on the sound of a ghost to pursue it. My only regret was to witness his majesty alone, knowing how minute the chances of finding the King again would become, I decided to venture off and collect my better half. Together we made our way back into the wilderness, parked near a body of water and sat, speechless. A distant rasp, we remained, another rasp, not so distant. Another age of anticipation began and passed before I heard the scrape, scrape, scrape. With his vast kingdom to traverse the King had chosen a route straight past us, how fortunate. Katie had seen him and now the experience was complete, we respectfully followed as he drifted through the night striking fear and stirring alarm amoungst scores of other inhabitants, he cared not. Eventually entering the part of his territory we were unable to follow, we were left behind, grateful. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing the King on the odd occasion since our meeting but never the privilege of seeing him again, still , he is about and maybe he will show himself again. Either way, to me that sound that breaks the silence means he is still alive and well, in an increasingly hostile world.
My journey to follow the sounds of a ghost all started over a cup of coffee with Villiers Steyn who over a 5 year period had kept track of the leopards in our area as much as possible, thank you Vil ?.