Wild Feminine: Lessons from Animals of the African Bush

It’s been five days since arriving home from our South African Adventure. Part mountain bike trip, part safari — the experience is easy to describe as epic.

Settling back into our lives in the Pacific Northwest, my mind keeps going back to the wild animals of the African bush, and most of all, the impactful experience of witnessing the women of the wild, the primal feminine expression alive in these beautiful animals. As I go through my pictures and memories, I feel awe, curiosity, jealousy, and fervor — a feverish motivation to learn how to apply the wisdom of their lives to mine.

It’s a tall task, “rewilding” myself as a human woman of the western world. I’m still not sure where or how to start. Perhaps just sharing the stories here, however small, can be a first step.

The Lioness

It’s our first safari drive. I am bursting with anticipation, trying to settle my excitement and expectations.

Seriously five minutes into the drive, we turn the corner around a bush, and there, seven feet from the dirt road is a pride of lionesses. A big one in front picks up her head to take us in, assessing the disturbance. The other mature females do the same.

After this breath-holding moment, one by one they casually put their heads back down, close their eyes and resume their midday nap. Around them, their cubs tussle with each other, bat at flies and branches, a few suckle on a napping mother.

The Breath-Holding Moment

At this point, all that’s going through my husband’s and my mind is “HOLY SHIT.” This is our first safari. We are in an open jeep. And a few feet away from real, live, wild lions. Holy shit.

Now, from the comfort of my safe, lion-free apartment in my post-trip reflective state, I realize how jealous I am of these beautiful creatures.

The lioness’s life exists within a community, a sisterhood. She does not mother alone. She does not protect her family alone. She is not required to hunt alone. Caring and providing for her children is a community affair. She spends her life with her feminine-community, with her mother, her sisters and her closest friends.

WHAT?! Can I have this? Please? This was apparently how we, humanity, operated once. In some places, not so long ago. Life was a village affair. Women, mothers especially, didn’t do it all alone. Closeness was woven into cultures.

And now…? I’ve wanted this even before meeting the pride of lionesses. But they served as a live, wild, close-up reminder that this way of life is fiercely beautiful and effective. As a female animal, my desire for more sisterhood and feminine community is deeply primal, natural and worthy of honoring.

The Leopard

Our safari was three nights, four days. Mid-trip, on a bright morning drive, a call came across our guide’s radio that a fellow guide had sited an “Ingwe” — the Zulu word for the ever-elusive leopard. After a quick fifteen minute drive through the bush, we found ourselves across the pond from a beautiful, adolescent lady leopard.

She eyed us. And slowly drank from the pond. Eyed us again. And drank again.

She massaged herself on a nearby tree. Closing her eyes, taking it in.

And finally, she found an exceptionally beautiful, big-branched tree. She leapt up the trunk, assessed a branch, and finding it worthy, let all her limbs hang loose, relaxing into a midday nap.

BITCH. Why can’t I let myself do that? Taking solitary time away to nourish, stretch, and relax deeply.

I certainly try to do this. But you know what, whenever I do, I also battle a judgemental voice that pokes at me, asking if I deserve to take a break right now. Have I been productive enough to earn this? Who I am to do something so self-indulgent?

Does this leopard question her desires and instincts? No.

Actually, she probably knows, on a more embedded, primal level than I could hope to, how necessary this is in order to be a productive contributor later. Nourishment, play, and rest fuels her focus, physical stamina and ability to hunt.

Guess what? As animals, this law of nature is applies to me, to us, as well.

The Elephant

Our last day arrived. We awoke at 5am — per usual on this safari — for our final drive. I was feeling supremely satisfied having seen lions, a leopard, rhino, cheetah, wild dog, buffalo, elephant and hyenas. This definitely rates as an incredible first safari. Sipping coffee before getting into the jeep, I viewed this final drive as a bonus run to say goodbye to the bush. Little did I know, it would be the most epic yet.

We started the drive joining in on a party of impala, zebra and wildebeests on the open savannah. We had our coffee-stop at a watering hole with some resident hippos floating nearby.

Then back in the jeep, another turn around a bush, and there, smack in the open road, was a herd of 20 some elephants. They were having a sand bath in the dusty path. Mommas and adolescents trumpeted sand onto each other. One big momma in front acted as a guard, sticking out her trunk to sniff us out.

Our guide and tracker took note of the body language and knew they were perhaps annoyed but not threatened by our arrival. We could slowly continue down the road and shimmy past the herd.

And so we did. But as we shimmied, parallel to the herd (at this point my heart is in my throat), our guide whispered, “Look guys, there is blood on that mother’s leg…” and underneath her huddled the most innocent newborn baby elephant. Our guide and tracker deduced this mother gave birth last night to the little one. Everyone in the herd was partaking in a sand bath to help scrub off the blood from momma and baby so the flies didn’t swarm them in the midday sun.

Continuing our slow shimmy, the momma stomped her feet and wagged her trunk. She didn’t like us stalling to take in their collective majesty. “Yes, something special happened here. You’re not invited. Move on.” And so we did.

With awe for creation, with wonder for life, we drove on, everyone quiet, mouths open. I felt like I had seen Divinity peering back at us through the eyes of that beautiful baby elephant.

I honestly have never been more terrified or in awe. I was literally shaking. Somewhere in that intense moment, I had crawled out of my seat and into my husband’s lap. Laugh — it was ridiculous — but I guess it was just too much to experience alone.

To see life so new, mother-love so pure, was searing.

I am not going to try to unpack the lesson of the elephant. There was / is too much to try to put into words. For me, it was a spiritual encounter with the divine, as mother and child, as new life.

The awe-some-ness and divinity of the wild mother and new life, that is in all of us on Mother Earth, every species.

Maybe that’s just it. That’s all I need to take. That this is another law of nature, code of life… life itself is sacred, terrifying and worthy of awe.