As I've written many times on Huffington Post and elsewhere, I have two great loves in life: I love travel, and I love the United States Supreme Court. (OK, I'm pretty passionate about my husband, our two kids, our three dogs, and the guys who play at Fenway Park, too, but that's not what this story is about.)
It's pretty rare that my love for one overtakes my love for the other.
I went to Kenya on a retreat, so to speak. Work was more stressful than it had been in years, although only temporarily so. My husband and kids were wrapped up in French horn rehearsal and skating practice and pre-algebra. I was on school vacation, but my mind was still reeling from too many things on my to-do list. And so I flew across the world, in part to decompress, in part to lose myself in the animals and the people and the landscape that was Africa.
I started my African adventure at Elsa's Kopje, a lodge-like camp in the Meru, the national park where Joy Adamson did her work and where a rhino sanctuary is home to almost seventy of the endangered giants. And although I'd never before heard of the Meru, I soon realized it would be hard to forget. From my room's balcony, I looked out over a massive green valley, full of Cape buffalo and impala. From my king-sized bed, I listened to lions roar at night. From the privately guided Land Rover, I watched mother elephants guard their babies and shepherd them from the rain. I thought about my children and wondered whether they were remembering to wear their rain boots. And then I went out looking for cheetah.
I did not read the news. I did not think about what was happening in Washington, D.C., at the United States Supreme Court, where things were ramping up. When I got a weak internet signal, I did not open the questioning emails that were starting to pile up in my inbox.
Next stop: Joy's Camp, in the Shaba, where birds sang all night long. I slept in a tent in the spot where Joy Adamson had camped, then listened to the cheetahs who learned from Elsa to come at night. I bundled myself into my bed. I felt safe and calm as the wild cats screeched. In the middle of the day, I learned not about jurisdiction or state sovereignty but about proper use of binoculars and bush croquet. I ate. A lot. I watched the birds. I recorded their songs to play for my daughters back in the States.
I did not read the news. The emails continued to pile up.
On a tiny four-seater plane to Laikipia, I saw herds of zebras and elephants running across the plain. At Loisaba Lodge, I sat on a high, wooden deck and watched buffalo drink at the nearby watering hole. I rode a camel through the bush, then ate granola and eggs riverside, served by Samburu tribe members who pointed out bee hives and swallows' nests. I attended a Samburu wedding. I shared in the joy of the tribesmen and women, of the children who danced around the village green. I tried to jump as high as the tribal dancers. I feasted on roasted goat.
Warmed by two hot water bottles, I slept in a treehouse in a "star bed," a four-poster covered in green mosquito mesh and open to the stars. It was my wedding anniversary. I wished on a Kenyan star that my husband and I would celebrate another sixteen years together, perhaps surrounded by grandchildren.
I did not read the news. The emails continued to multiply.
I ended my trip in the Masai Mara, the fabled center of the great migration. Although the zebras and wildebeest were relatively quiet, they roamed all around us, even approaching my tent at Cottar's Camp, where the next morning I found evidence of their visit. I watched a pride of lions wander across the border from Kenya to Tanzania and a coalition of cheetahs attack an impala kill. In the main tent, I sat back in British Colonial elegance. And I checked my email.
As it turned out, the Supreme Court had granted certiorari in the gay marriage cases a few days before, on the very same day I attended a Samburu wedding and celebrated the anniversary of my own. It was the first time in many years that I had failed to be on my computer at the very moment that a major Court event had occurred. The students and professors and bloggers and journalists with whom I worked had been worried about me. Why wasn't I online?
I wasn't online, I answered eventually, because I had been losing myself in Kenya. Losing myself in the zebras, and the cheetahs, and the lions, and the mother elephants. Finding peace.
Back home, I started to write. It was time to think about the Supreme Court and marriage equality for all.
If you go to Kenya:
• Book a safari with a reputable tour company. Extraordinary Journeys works with Cheli and Peacock and can customize a safari to camps and lodges of your choice. The stellar service includes booking all transfers between camps and the airports.
• Pack very little. Especially during high season, you will not be allowed to take more than 30 pounds of luggage, including carry-ons. All camps offer free laundry service; plan to use it and take only a few items of clothing. Leave room for souvenirs!
• Explore the country. Before I went to Kenya, everyone told me that the Masai Mara was where all the action took place. Yes, the Mara was fantastic for wildlife viewing, but so were the other areas I visited. By spreading out my trip, I saw a larger variety of animals and met some incredible people.
• Support the local economy. Kenyan natives are skilled artisans; plan to bring back wood carvings and beaded items as gifts.
• Buy a good camera and a great pair of binoculars. Although they were relatively heavy, I couldn't have seen half of what I saw in the bush without a decent pair of "binos." The photos I took were priceless - and my kids loved seeing the video when I got home.