During the first weeks of sheltering in place, in an attempt to provide some at-home education before the schools sent along actual curriculum, our family watched a National Geographic nature documentary entitled "The Flood." Narrated by Angela Basset, "The Flood" traces a year in the life of Botswana's Okavango Delta. Packed with wildlife footage so intimate and unbelievable that one is forced to ask aloud, at regular intervals, how the filming was even possible, the documentary follows the lifecycle of the flood plains — capturing everything from underwater vegetation, to insect and bird life, to the antics of a herd of elephants.
Then, of course, there are the big cats. Americans love a big cat — as another recent smash-hit docuseries has made abundantly clear. Though lacking the dramatic flare of Joe Exotic, the big cats featured in "The Flood" are captivating in their own right — their grace and power at times breathtaking.
A scene featuring a leopard lying in wait for an unsuspecting antelope to come grazing beneath the tree that she has scaled has us at the edge of our seats. We jump back and cover our mouths in horror as she pounces from above, taking the antelope by surprise and tackling it to the ground. Nature, I am reminded, isn't pretty.
Grocery shopping during a pandemic is a strange and stressful endeavor. In my densely populated suburb, it entails masking up and donning gloves upon leaving home. Once inside the store, the goal is to spend as little time in the actual building as possible. In preparation, I make a comprehensive and precise list so the whole thing can go down like a surgical strike, and not like a meandering stroll. To shave time off my trip and incur less human contact, I master the self-checkout. All this preparation means I can be in and out of my local store in less than 20 minutes, securing just what we need to subsist for two more weeks. What this also means is that an activity that once filled me with joy, acquiring the food necessary to feed my family, has taken on new significance. Where I was once gatherer, I am now hunter.
Patience is a hallmark of the feline huntresses of the Okavango. These lady cats do not pounce on the first clueless impala to cross their path. Instead they wait, watch, and bide their time. The aforementioned leopard spent a day observing under which tree her prey was most likely to congregate. Then, she plotted a course to the base of the tree, finding a quiet moment to climb it — largely unnoticed by those around her. Once precariously perched on her branch, she remained poised and ready for hours — her camouflage and stillness luring the antelope back with a false sense of security. Slowly, they returned to continue grazing under her tree, unaware.
When at long last one of the herd began to move within her range, she continued to wait and hold, releasing her grip and springing from up high only when she was certain to land her target. Watching the giant cat sail through the air toward the antelope's waiting back, it becomes abundantly clear what a high stakes gambit this hunting is; thoughtful preparation is all.
Despite the fact that my sons are 11, 14, and 16, and have appetites commensurate with their ages, I have managed to keep the shopping to a minimum — heading to the store roughly every 10 to 12 days.
Shopping at this frequency, or — rather — infrequency, has required something of all of us. For my once selective eater, it has meant expanding his palate and eating food that has not been customized for him. For my eldest, who is no great fan of leftovers, it has required an openness to a dinner-lunch-lunch sequence made up of the same bowl of chili.
For me, a suggestible home cook inspired by foodie websites and not my pantry, shelter-in-place cooking has imposed new discipline. Meal planning has become a weekly ritual, as has actually adhering to this plan. We have changed the way we approach breakfast and lunch — the question no longer, what are you in the mood for, but instead: What do we have? Or, more commonly, "Anyone want a quesadilla?"
Toward the end of the 10-day span, pickings start to get slim. No one really wants the soggy neon dill pickles that I cut up and put on a plate to accompany lunch. Everyone is over scrambled eggs. The boys begin to agitate for me to go to the store. Are you going today, they ask, pouring another bowl of Cheerios for breakfast. Not yet, I tell them, I think we can put it off for one more day. I make peanut butter and jelly for lunch, again. I wait and hold.
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