I turned 35 last month.
The arc of my life has not followed the curve I had laid out for it; naively, I assumed it would, twenty years ago when I decided to become a wildlife photographer. I was going to be like Nick Nichols, Paul Nicklen, Art Wolfe, and others who roam the earth in search of moments worthy of capture. I was going to traverse the deepest jungles of the Congo, camp for months along a game trail in India in pursuit of tigers, and broaden my horizons as I immersed myself in a vast array of cultures. And one day, all that will still happen. But in the meantime…
I write this as I sit at my day job. I work at Brevard Zoo, for anyone unaware, as the Lead Adventure Guide in the Adventure Services Department. That is the department that covers the Zoo train, as well as the kayak and paddleboat tours that we offer on-site. I like this job; I’m outdoors and communing with nature, though on a more structured scale than my life map described above. Right now, I’m waiting for a polite young couple from Maryland to finish Paddleboating around our restored wetland area…or succumb to heat exhaustion, whichever comes first. At the moment, there are about 30 black vultures circling overhead; not an uncommon sight at the Zoo, but on the disgustingly hot days, I have to wonder if their attendance indicates an ulterior motive. On days that paramedics were called to the property multiple times for heat-related illness, wheeling carrion-eaters seem a more ominous presence. July this year was dangerously hot: what I call “stupidly hot.” As in: it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, not a cloud in the sky, the sun is blaring, it’s 97 degrees with a heat index of 114 and 90% humidity (but no rain), I sweat out of the top of my head (that has never happened in all of my 35 years until this past July, and I have lived in Florida every day of my life), so I feel stupid for even being outside, when common sense says to stay indoors; because surely there is something that I could be doing THERE. See? Stupidly hot.
Summer is technically over for us down here. I can say that, because lately I can walk 100 feet without feeling like I have entered the Gates of Hell (which, if real, will exactly match the conditions we felt this past July, AND I will have to spend eternity in it doing the dishes). I have been feeling a breeze without an accompanying thunderstorm, and that generally indicates a pending change in the seasons. There were others who liked the heat, however. This past summer was great for reptiles; I saw more snakes in June and July than I usually see in any given six-month stretch. Now the end of September, they are still out and about, surprising visitors and zoo staff alike.
Many of the images I have made recently have been of Zoo animals. Even though they’re not roaming in the wild, I’ve known many of them for years, and love the personality that flows from each one. From the giraffe to the kangaroos, the gibbons to the jaguars, the dingoes to the giant anteater, I have had a new “animal crush” about every week. Even at the Paddleboat dock, the wild aquatic turtles trailed our boats, and the resulting images were different from other images I have made of them.
My son—who is six—asked me on my birthday, as our family sat around the dinner table, “How old are you today? Sixty-three?”
Yes, I let him go, unscathed.
As a child, he has a way of putting things in perspective for me, even if it isn’t exactly the way I would prefer to hear it. It reminds me that I still have plenty of time left to fulfill my original plan.
I just don’t want to wait too long.