Can you picture it? It’s 1980-something. We have a small (like 13-inch small) black and white television with dials and an antenna on the back. Six channels. No cable. No Netflix. My little brother and I were allowed to watched Family Ties, The Cosby Show, and anything on Wisconsin Public Television. No surprise then that we were thrilled to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. A daring host and his sidekick in foreign countries investigating animal habitats we’d never seen. And grainy action and adventure. Wild America was our American Ninja Warrior in a world without HD, special effects, and flashy graphics. Would the antelope make it to appear in another documentary? Would the big cats miss their prey and face starvation? Which animals would escape Jim’s nets and ropes to make it to the final round?
Flash forward to summer 2017. I’m settled under a tree watching my son catch frogs and explore the edge of the water. I spotted three moms standing in the shade drinking bottles of malt something or other. I swiveled my head between the two worlds in front of me and decided the Mom-on-the-Beach world was boring. Muttering “Screw it. I’m going to explore, too,” I stood up.
There were so many frogs, whenever P took a step, they popped up like popcorn. He caught frog after frog after frog, gently returning them where he found them. Jeans rolled up, I headed to the water’s edge to look for cool rocks and feel the water on my toes. My search took me to a marshy area. I slowed down, taking in the details. I peered into the grasses and there was a cool little garter snake. I called P over to see it. And then the snake caught and ate (in one long, massive swallow) a frog. A FROG.
All those years of watching Wild Kingdom paid off; I had my phone out and recording in a flash. Before I knew it, I had my own Wild Kingdom documentary.
Unbelievably, it happened again. And again. We saw two more snakes eat frogs in two days. Each time I watched breathless, fascinated, and a little teary for the poor frogs. Seeing an anaconda eat an animal on TV is interesting. Seeing a live snake catch and eat its prey 14 inches from you is something else.
I’m sharing our video clip here. Don’t watch if you’re not cool with snakes, even harmless garter snakes, or the food chain. (A snake’s gotta eat too, you know). But if you’re cool with snakes, the food chain, and predator-prey relationships, watch on.
Until that moment I didn’t realize how unobservant I’ve been. I thought I was experiencing nature sitting in my lawn chair, reading a book, watching my son fish from the lake’s edge. What I saw was the surface– an eagle flying overhead, loons calling to each other on the lake, chipmunks scurrying among the trees. The snake showed me there’s more to experience (the frog showed me life is short). There’s a Wild Kingdom out there and I’ve been missing it for three decades.
I’m sure we could find hundreds of snazzy documentaries on YouTube these days. Now that I’ve experienced the real thing? No thanks. I’ll be slowing down and filming my own Wild Americas. It won’t be Marlin and his sidekick, Jim; it’ll be Terra and Paolo. Though I’m not sure which one of us is the sidekick…