Frank Parlato

The lion and the hyena

The lion and the hyena

At the Buffalo zoo I saw at dusk a male and female lion sitting side by side in the tall grass. In the stillness I watched, lulled by the power of the big cats in repose, when, suddenly the lioness roared.

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Lower in pitch, and louder, the male roared in answer.
Then, first punctuated by stillness, the female roared again, a little lower, and louder.
Then, as they sat together in the green grass, he roared, again, lower still, and louder.
Then she roared lower again and yet even louder.
Then he lower, louder.
Was it a competition in depth and volume?
It was dark almost, and as the day surrendered, the purple clouds melted into midnight blue. I waited. Once again, after a pause of less than a moment, the lioness roared, mightily this time, a roar, a genuine roar, straining the boundaries, it seemed, of what I had previously imagined could be the roar, itself.
Deep it was, and low in pitch; she roared into the night, perhaps, to be, I thought, forever unanswered. There was a time of stillness.
Was he silenced by her roar? Was it myth of pride of both man and lion?
So little time has passed when men were pridefully compared to lions. But what the eviscerators failed to note as they came mincingly to our town, and to our nation and told how we are diminished, our manly strength of little purpose, our values: to be less of courage, than lust, the metro-sexual’s effeminate ideal: to trade dignity and freedom for safety and comfort - as they tried to tame the wild, there is a place beyond where it cannot be so. Where it is never so: There is a home for heroes.
In answer to the lioness’s last stupendous roar, he but looked it seemed to the tip of his nose.  This was after all a lion. Then he dropped his voice a full octave lower than her last and roared a lion’s roar that shook the night. Easily too it overwhelmed all the other roars before it and broke the stillness as if it was a bombshell exploding. The sound rustled through the trees, out into to the tame, and urban landscape -- orderly, effete, dissipated -- and called, “remember me? Remember?
At the Buffalo zoo at dusk, a lion roared lower and loudest, beyond what any lioness could have equaled.
And if it were the silent night, in places where lions run free, it would have echoed across the windswept veldt, down the rushing river, to be carried to the sea where all things merge. It would have been known to the wild:  a lion is on the move tonight.
Nothing complete until the king had spoken, the lioness seemed satisfied with his final roar. She was now silence, herself. There was no more roaring – as if he had given the final satisfactory answer.
Earlier that day, I had seen hyenas in a pen where females rule. With final yelp they nip their weaker mates and bloody them. In the kingdom of the lion, there is no yelping. Nor does he tremble at noises.
In the silence, below the clouds, obscured by darkness, obscuring the silver, lonely stars, and obscured in turn by leaves of trees, whether maple or the banyan, spreading branches blended into night, satisfied, I turned to go.
Each is great unto himself, no doubt, yet to me, it is the lion. Never hyenas. Although gathering in packs around us, remember, it takes but one lion to stave them all off.
I shall meditate on the lion’s heart tonight.