Relay: Rear-Ish Window

We all know it’s been cold, and we all know how to procrastinate. What do I avoid doing? Paying bills, sorting through the junk drawer(s), going through old papers and magazines. You know the drill. 

But one has to do something when not doing the thing that ne to be done. 

Enter the time wasters. 

There are those little nuggets of time to be found while waiting for disks to burn, a return e-mail, or files to upload. Sitting at my computer with the big screen, while waiting for electronic things, I have been known to play a kind of scrabble against a computer. I tell myself that this is strengthening my brain and vocabulary, and, thus, I am actually not wasting time. Ah, but there are other things that engage me.

Much like the Jimmy Stewart character in “Rear Window” — both of us being photographers and both of us being indoors (he for a broken leg, me hiding out from the cold) — we have found entertainment in “the window.” He watched a murder; I am watching the peaceable kingdom. He watched his neighbors, I watch Africa from my computer window., is a website I found years ago when my family had just gotten back from a photo safari to East Africa and I could not get enough of anything Africa. The site features live fe from remote cameras in the South African wild. I found myself staying late at the office to watch the watering holes in the African daytime. 

Enter the polar vortex and Africa once again seems a really great escape from the chill. I have abandoned the faux Scrabble game and begun to watch Africa, streaming live, in my house. 

The time difference messes up your creature watching big time. When it’s 2 p.m. here, it’s 9 p.m. in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The watering holes are lit up, but not a creature is stirring. Anyone who watches animals knows you never know what’s going to happen. At Tembe Elephant Park, as I watch, two impalas are illuminated on the screen. Turning up the volume I hear the sounds of the South African watering hole. The animals are doing what I am doing, a continent and an ocean away — we are just hanging out.

I notice that their eyes glow at night, when the transmission looks black-and-white, little spots of glowing impala eyes. The remote camera sometimes zooms in for a close-up, zooms out and then gives a wide angle, and then scans the viewing area. The crickets and other things buzz, and the impalas never seem to blink. They must have spectacular wide-angle eyesight. Their eyes glow when seen from the front, the side, and even when facing away. Like goats, they sit down front legs first. When they get up, they get up fast.

As a kid I looked at animal books all the time and visited the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History and saw all the Disney movies. I figured I knew my animals, but when you visit a game park on real safari or “window” safari, you realize there are animals you have never heard of: topi, for example, and nyala. Nyala, which visit this watering hole, and are yellow-legged antelope with a long-haired strip down their spines and they have stripes. Their babies are really cute. I learned this yesterday. Educational time waster. 

I can identify the Egyptian geese by their call, and I can tell a young nyala (vertically striped) from a young impala, and I bet you didn’t know a waterbuck has a bull’s-eye on his/her backside.

I can’t control when the camera moves and scans, and it’s a bit frustrating when you hear a splash and wonder what happened and you can’t see it. There are five cameras to check on the Africam site. My favorite location is Tembe Elephant Park in Maputaland, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (I found it on Google Earth). See, I’m also learning geography. This is not a time waster; this is interesting. 

In the past week I have seen a genet being startled by some elephants coming in for a drink. A bunch of impalas carefully avoided what appeared to be either a dead thing or a big bone by the edge of the watering hole. They each stopped, took a look, and gave it a wide swath as they passed by. I felt like I was watching an open casket funeral. Two days later they paid no attention to it at all. I watched a thunder and lightning storm and the animals didn’t care at all, but it was loud in my room and my cats did not enjoy it.

For the truly addicted, the site has an animal alert app for personal devices that lets you pick the animals you want to follow. And for the truly lazy, you can check in to see what was photographed and video-ed by the remote staff while you were otherwise engaged. One of the latest videos showed a small herd of elephants wallowing.

When does a time waster become a hobby? 

Last night I left the site on, with the sound low so the crickets and the crows and such wouldn’t bother me. This morning when I headed to check my email before getting ready for the day, there on my screen were two giraffes mock fighting! They swing their necks and kind of hip/shoulder bump each other — standing hip to shoulder, each facing a different direction — with the goal of moving the opponent sideways. This was going on right outside my “window.”

How cool is it that on my way to the shower I can observe animal behavior, learn a few things, and be totally transported before brushing my teeth. There is even a photo feature, so I can have my own “ safari” memories to .

Some may say I’m wasting my time, but isn’t real life better than a video game?

While writing this, I have the site open to live feed for all of the watering holes. It’s now 4 our time, 11 in South Africa. The impala have yet to blink, as far as I can tell. There is a loud kind of splashing and I have been trying to reach the camera remote guy to scan the view at Tembe to see what’s making that wet noise, but to no avail. Maybe a goose landed and belly-flopped, but no. The sound gets louder. As I stop typing and go to full-screen mode, an elephant comes in from below the camera. First the head, then shoulders, then the rest of it showed up. The sound I was hearing was chewing and slurping. The impala got up, hind legs first, and got out of the way and the elephant went to a puddle, not the watering hole, and slurped like a kid with an ice cream soda. He slurped up the puddle with his trunk, swung it up and gave himself a drink — in perfect profile to the camera and to me. I took a picture.

I have not yet paid my bills but I did write this.

Durell Godfrey is a contributing photographer to The Star.