Two vintage cameras — a Brownie and a 70-year-old Argus Argoflex Seventy- Five — are propped on the fireplace mantel in The Explorer, one of five themed rooms in the
Two vintage cameras — a Brownie and a 70-year-old Argus Argoflex Seventy- Five — are propped on the fireplace mantel in The Explorer, one of five themed rooms in the Elmwood 1820 Bed & Breakfast Inn in Washington. Next to those cameras, a stack of wilderness books: Jack London’s Tales of the North and a few worn Wolf Cub Scout handbooks, their spines crinkled and cracked. On the hearth, a wicker basket holds old National Geographic maps, just like the ones I pored over at my grandmother’s house as a child: North America in the Age of the Dinosaurs, The Historic Mediterranean, The African Continent. On Sunday nights back then, I’d lie on the floor in front of the television, transfixed by Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, the white-haired, white-mustached Marlin Perkins carrying me far away from my home in Asheboro.
I was riveted by the slinking movements of the Siberian tigers of Asia and the humanlike behavior of the lowland gorillas of Africa. I delighted over the graceful antelope: gazelles and greater kudu and the slender oryx, balletic on the African plains. On those evenings, I fell into the exotic dream of grasslands and deserts, of rain forests and sand dunes.
At the Elmwood 1820, inspired by the innkeepers’ thoughtful details — a cowhide rug, a bed draped in sheers meant to mimic mosquito netting — that wanderlust came rushing back. I settled in for the night and planned an excursion to one of the greatest places I know for adventure.
I wouldn’t have to go too far.
A few days later, I boarded an open-air safari vehicle at the North Carolina Zoo with a handful of other passengers for an hour-long, “in the wild” tour of the Watani Grasslands. They call this excursion, which is an extension of the standard zoo admission ticket, Zoofari, and after making it through two sets of safety enclosures and bouncing down a long dirt path, we found ourselves less than 25 yards from eight southern white rhinoceroses.
Our guide, Anna, a marine biologist studying at UNC Wilmington, explained that our clay soil tints the rhinos’ skin — “Randolph County red,” she called it — when they wallow in the mud to keep cool. She introduced us to Olivia, who, at age 53, is one of the three oldest rhinos in the world, and Linda, who, with her two-foot-long primary horn, is clearly the one in charge.
As we roamed in our truck, a couple of greater kudu walked right beside us, just like the ones I’d watched on television, their curling, twirling horns spiraling toward the sky, a breathtaking sight, and then, around a bend, a herd of East African oryx came into view. We were close enough to spot the ridges on their upswept horns, close enough to see them bow their heads to the ground, leisurely grazing the grass and shrubs of the habitat, unconcerned by our presence. Such magnificent creatures. Content, I’d like to think, with this beautiful place that they — and we — call home.
Editor in Chief