Enchanted by the opportunity to photograph these magnificent great cats up close, Mary and I stand in the tall grass at the edge of the enclosures oblivious to the perils we have placed ourselves in. Sunlight dances off the leaves at the edge of the clearing. It sparkles on the water of the ponds. It fills the crystal-clear, azure-blue sky over-head providing us with great lighting. Only gradually do I realize that it’s also quickly burning the exposed skin on the back of my hands, my face and neck. In rushing to get here, I have forgotten to use the sunscreen. I cover up and promise myself not to make the same mistake again.
But I am already just a little too late. The heat is also bringing out tiny black bugs. They rise with the heat coming up off the warming ground into the air around us. They look like miniature flies and draw our casual attention only when walking on those same small areas of pale skin left uncovered. Innocent enough. Not swarming. Dismissed without a thought. A mild annoyance. That is – until they sting.
That first painful stab deep into the tender flesh between my fingers sounds the alarm! OUCH! I swat. It circles. Another attacks – this time on the back of my hand! On the palm of my hand! In the crease of skin just under my wedding band! My cheek! Dang! Enough! I see Mary spinning away – swatting at them – quickly pulling out her gloves. Smart. I follow her example and pull my cuffs down ‘til only the tips of my fingers protrude. We back away quickly walking towards the dirt. Lesson learned.
The sunscreen, I am soon to discover, miracle that it is, will keep both sun and bugs away.
A tiny clear blister will soon make an appearance over each wound. A speck of black will inhabit the center. A stinger? A droplet of blood? A parasite? A medical colleague examines the photo we send and thinks it’s not a parasite. Thank goodness, but we really – actually – have no idea. We ask and no one seems to know. We will be mindful to keep these wounds clean as we come to live with them in the weeks ahead. And, in the middle of the night – they will itch like crazy!
Howard, the vet, will name the bugs: “Flying Teeth”.
It will be weeks from now, long after I am home, when the last of these wounds caused by my carelessness will finally be completely healed.
This is not a vacation. The dangers here are real. Most will turn out like the “Flying Teeth” to be more annoyance than tragedy, but only if we are careful, vigilant, respectful of the world we have entered, mindful to wear the spray that will tell the bugs to stay a safe distance from us. They, too, have the right to live.