I just watched a Wild Kingdom episode that made me bawl like a baby. It's all at the link.
Excuse me while I fetch another tissue.
Okay, I'm back.
I often find myself surprised by the depth of feeling I have for something, once it bubbles up. And every now and then something wiggles its way beneath the obliviousness and leaves me reeling.
And this one episode of fricking Wild Kingdom was one of those things. Carolina Vargas, a veterinarian in the Pantanal wetlands region of southwest Brazil studies giant otters. A group of fishermen found an abandoned giant otter cub and left it with her for rehabilitation. She named him Sancho, and hoped one day to release him back into the wild. The show followed Sancho's babyhood and progression to adulthood. Vargas bottle fed Sancho at first, and taught him to swim, and later on, even how to catch his own fish -- all the while painfully aware that success would mean the breaking of their powerful bond.
I think, had there simply been a pat ending with the formality of a bittersweet ceremonial release back into the wild, I would have been fine. But it didn't happen that way. Vargas gradually lengthened their separations until she was leaving Sancho in the water during the day and returning him to his den at night.
Until one day, he was simply gone. At nine months of age, he was of the age where some cubs will sometimes leave their families, though many will stay up to two years. Three months later, even after looking for him, she still didn't know what had happened to him. Had he gone to make his own way in the world, or had something darker happened?
So of course, this whole thing had me roped and tied and dipping deeply into my stash of Puffs with Lotion.
These events changed Vargas' life; and as the narrator noted, Sancho's departure -- both the manner and the fact of it -- left a "huge hole" in her life. The viewer could feel the pain radiating from her. But I wasn't sure why I was identifying with it so deeply till reading this post over at Under the Ponderosas nudged me in the right direction.
Separation. It happens. Whether or not you're ready, and in a manner that may or may not leave you any comfort. It's cruel, it's necessary, and it's tragically beautiful.
Update: Wow. Judging from the number of folks digging into the second page of the google rankings to get here, I'm not alone. I realize leaving a comment on a stranger's blog may seem odd, but do feel free to tell me why Raising Sancho resonated with you. Was it the loveliness of the Pantanal region? The dedication of Carolina Vargas? The uncertainty of Sancho's destiny? Were you struck, like me, by Sancho's intelligence and the depth of his interaction with Carolina?
All of the above? It's nice to know I'm not alone in being affected by this, but I'd love to hear others' thoughts. You can also drop a link to anything you've written about it.
Updated again: Be sure to read through the comments. Carolina Vargas has left a very informative comment toward the end, as well as some comments on the other Sancho-related posts. Other posts here, and here.)