acacia blossoms

acacia blossoms

Monday, August 23, 2010

last night

Yesterday we were driving in the reserve. We found a place where a
leopard had dragged his meal accross the road. We followed the track
and found the remains of a young waterbuck. Most of the body had been
eaten, but there was still quite a lot of meat on the legs. The kill
was very fresh.

The menfolk pulled the remains back along the track and tied it with
a piece of rope to a huge fallen log. They then fixed the camera trap
to a similar log a couple of meters away, and off we went.

Lions were calling in the night. It was so fabulous to hear them and
know they are back in this part of the reserve.

This morning we returned to the camera trap. The massive log that the
water buck was tied to, had been dragged right up into the forest.
and this is what we found on the camera

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

shining lights

Last night we met some friends for sundowners at a waterhole in the middle of the reserve. We greeted each other like long distance travelers although in truth we were an hour away from each others camps in either direction.  We settled down on a fallen log to chat and listen to the evening. The log was plastered in hard grey mud from the regular back scratching of mud caked warthogs.  The sculptural form of our bench allowed for a three way seating position, so gals could chat and sip wine while the soft light fell around us.  Pearl spotted owlets called pure rising notes, and the half moon took over the daylight shift with ease.

‘Right lets pack up and head back to camp’. We were the visitors so we let the others set off first in their open land rover, spotlights raking the darkness on either side searching for night creatures.  We hung back. We lost them pretty quickly.  We stopped to listen but there was only the silence of night – which is not silent but filled with nightjar calls and a sudden snort of a wildebeest standing unseen in the shadows.

So we took a guess, and turned right, then left, then right. The track swung around and tried to disorientate us in unfamiliar country.  I watched the stars; the Southern Cross hung low on the horizon so we could see we were heading west towards a big bright planet which I have since found out is Jupiter.  We stayed on this bearing, the woodland yielding no secrets on either side of the track. Left, right, right, left, oh err – ok left….Ha! We found the place – clever us.  Their power was off so there were no lights to guide us.  

We gathered in the cosy kitchen, lit by candlelight, while culinary artists posing as friends whipped up a feast of flavours. Outside the moonlight threw shadows over the silver sands of the river bed.  A male waterbuck appeared at the edge of the pool, and then vanished again.  The shadows held promises of unseen eyes all around us.

After the heady feastiness of dinner, our lovely hostess (who I thought I knew) brought out a song book and spoke of a song she had found.  ‘How come you have a song book in camp? Who does music here?’ I ask clumsily. “Oh we all do”   oh!  She moved across to the old upright piano which had two candles in its very own brass candle holders. Lifted the lid and began to play.  Now there I was thinking it was an artfully placed piece of d├ęcor. I never knew this about these friends.  

Soon her husband brought out his drum and was beating out a lively rhythm. One by one, everyone gathered in the pool of candle light around the piano – with our hostess’s fingers flitting over the ivories like fairy dancers.  Old old lovely songs from the fifties and before. Funny how we even knew some of the words.  We sang along drawn into the lively energy of the surprising event. It was a timeless scene and took me back to somewhere lovely in my mind.

It grew late. Reality knocked, and we had to leave.  We drove back through the reserve in the fading moonlight.  The moon became an amber smile dipping to the tree line, showing its teeth in the still waterholes.  We saw two rabbits and a mouse along the way, but plenty of trees pushed over the road by elephants, and fresh rhino middens.  Two hours later we were home. The candlelit evening stayed on as a warm place inside.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

sunday times

Spring is in the air! 
We have been burning the firewood at both ends this winter, fighting back the dry cold air that seeps into your bones if you are not watching.   The last week has been bitterly cold which is always tough on the animals.  We at least have our lovely fireplace to huddle round and watch the flickering flames and glowing coals into the dark night.

Then suddenly, we woke up to a warmer morning. No jacket required. As if the weather gods had just rolled over and relented to the coming spring.  On my way back from town I noticed that the knob thorn acacias alongside the road were coming into flower – bursting with catkin like blossoms like some proudly displayed magic trick.  The road rolls and bends then suddenly crests a rise where the lowveld tree canopy spreads out before the view like a persian carpet laid out below the mountains.  There was this slightly blue haze in the air – that gauzy promise of  change.  I felt my spirits lift with the thought.  It never ceases to amaze me– this cycle of seasons, that every living thing seems to recognise and respond to.

Yesterday the baboons were very badly behaved. Bad Boons!  While the monkeys were thundering up and down the tin roof, and peering in the windows – distracting us with their own brand of guile and games – the badboons were over at the pool pulling the thatch off the roof in great handfuls, spilling it all about the place, destroying the chairs and generally wreaking havoc.  Maybe there are some bugs hatching in the thatch at the moment? Or else it was just hooliganism.

We went for a small drive this morning, smelling the warm air. The baboons ran when they saw us coming. They always look guilty – and usually they are.  At the dam, the air was full of swifts and swallows, whirling round and around over our heads, swooping to scoop water on the way.  It looks like they have just arrived from somewhere.  High pitched cheeping noises accompanied their flight – the sound of wind on feathers, and the short sharp zip sound of  tiny beaks scooping water.

We may still get another cold snap before I shall pack my winter gear away – and the official spring equinox is still a month away – but here, for sure, this is the first day of spring.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

tree rave

I have been on a tree rave for the past few days. Admittedly the wild dogs have chased all the animals off the floodplains, and the cold biting wind has kept the elephants away, so the trees have a chance to stand in the center stage.

Bright sunlight and cold blue shadows dazzle at midday and play on the bark of sculpted leadwood trees, and broad acacias.  The last baobab in this area was finally eaten by elephants last year. RIP brother tree.  

This morning we were out at sunrise, a warm orange glow above the tree line reflected in the floodwaters.  I felt sure we would find the leopard and braved the biting wind to stand and scour the trees and grasses on either side of the track.  To no avail though - not this time.  Tracks of wild dogs, hyenas and jackals make patterns on the road.  The fine sand perfectly showing every crack and claw - telling us the details of the nightly procession.  Here and there elephants have crossed the road, their giant oval wrinkly footprints flattening out the sand. Baby elephant prints look tiny by comparison but are probably the size of a human handprint, which in lion spoor terms would be very big.

aardvark tracks in wet sand

We head into the back country, through waving yellow grasses and onto the rise where a massive sausage tree presides over a ridge of extraordinary trees.  The base of the sausage tree is ringed with elephant tracks, yet the trunk remains undamaged.  Just a jump away is a spreading camel thorn acacia which has been completely ring barked by elephants and will never see another growing season. I stoop to pick up one of the acacia pods - acacia erioloba - it looks like a smooth grey velvety ear and rattles with ripe seeds inside.  This could be  the last chance this tree has to sow its seed.  

I have to hug the sausage tree. On the side in the sun the bark is faintly warm.  I am not generally prone to hugging trees but somehow this one looked so big and round and strong, bedecked in a canopy of rich green leaves and loved by elephants. It felt commanding, matriarchal, patriarchal, whatever - I just had to show my appreciation.

how to listen to a tree

With my arms spread, I could only just reach nearly half way around.  My face pressed against the warm bark, I felt the strength of this tree - the energy running up from earth to sky.  I listened, pressing my ear to the trunk, the way i had seen that elephant do to the leadwood tree.  And yes, I could hear something, I am sure i did. The tree spoke to me.

In my Field Guide to Trees of the Okavango Delta by Veronica Roodt, it says 
"The Sausage Tree is deemed holy by many tribes and religious gatherings are often held in its shade. It is said that hanging one of these fruits in one's hut will protect one from whirlwinds"

the moon in the sausage tree

The green leaves shine against a deep blue winter sky. And there between the branches is a half moon smiling back at me in a lopsided way.  Meyers parrots swoop past calling excitedly.

We take leave of my new friend, the tree, and follow an elephant path winding through the back country which leads us to a series of small muddy pans, some dry now, and some still with a small base of water.  The elephants love this path too although there are none to be seen this morning, they were here last night for sure. Ghost elephants.

the three sisters

We link up with the familiar path close to the three leadwood trees I now call the Three Sisters.  They stand together but each have entirely individual characters. They are probably about the same age, although the middle one is slightly stouter. She had a swarm of bees in her bonnet last month when the bees were swarming. Her whole being vibrated with a low hum from their activity.  In my same book it says that" Hereros and Ovambos of Namibia regard  the leadwood tree as the great ancestor of all animals and people and they never pass it without paying it the necessary respect".

Around and in the wide view, trees shaped by seasons of elephants and sun, wind and rain, stand in pools of yellow grass like strategically placed sculptures. They cannot move but we can - yet we return again and again to the wisdom of the trees and I shall be back to hug my friend.