It's early July and I'm in my studio, scouring the internet for some photo reference of a particular exotic animal. Through the window, I notice a gentle breeze blowing through the trees. I close the blinds and get back work.
The more I click through photographs the more critical I become of the images I'm seeing. Where can I get the best photograph possible? I wish I could take photos of the animal myself. Is there a place in North America that has an exhibit for this beast? Google reveals a place in North Carolina that is relatively close to my studio.
After contacting the establishment to ensure they’ll be open, I travel to the destination.
Upon my arrival, I meet Cindy, an attendant who shares her knowledge of the various species they keep. I tell Cindy I am on a mission to get photographs of a certain rare but well-known animal. “You’ve come at just the right time!” Cindy says, “She’s feeding. Do you want to go into her cage?”
“Is it safe?” I reply.
Giving no audible response, Cindy leads me to the animal’s cage. I switch lenses on my camera and tentatively follow her, still hoping for an answer to my question. I am relieved to see an expert handler inside the cage feeding the animal. Cindy opens the cage and I warily cross the threshold. The cage door locks behind me.
Attempting to remain inconspicuous, I begin snapping shots. My excitement for this opportunity grows until the animal hears my shutter clicking. I freeze. It’s too late. The intrigued beast leaves her meal and glides towards me. Anxiety wells inside me but I don’t want to miss this. Maybe if I get one good shot before I die, National Geographic will set up a fund in my family’s honor. I begin shooting feverishly with the few seconds I have left.
This beast’s claws scrape my lens as it chomps down with razor sharp teeth, but I am still alive.
My heart is pounding and for a split second our eyes meet, man and beast.
The handler intervenes with more food and the creature relents. I pull my camera down and back slowly towards the cage door. The animal is distracted, and I am able to escape.
There are other less fearless animals at the zoo such as wolves, porcupines, kangaroos and peacocks. I get some decent shots of the animals, and call it a day.
On the way home, I replay the moments in that cage over and over in my mind. Back at my studio, I look out the window and reflect.
Cages can help you avoid or confront your fear.
I often avoid conversations, relationships, and experiences that cause me anxiety. This adventure showed me that when it comes to fear there are two cages. We can exchange one cage for another anytime we want. One cage will keep us safe from fear, but limit our ability to live life to the full. The other cage will force us to confront our fear and find a way through it. The second cage may seem unappealing until you realize it is the only one with an exit.
If you’d like to know what animal "attacked me" that day and see if the photo I got was worth it, join the fan club where I periodically reveal a new painting in my growing Animal Kingdom collection.