The Sorcery of Desolation

For the whole day, Gaia remained withdrawn into endless flats of marbled white that hazed into pale blue, then soared overhead in azure to merge, again, into marbled white.  It was such a vast and unchanging space that it made me feel like a single grain of the salty dust, forever trapped in one place, save for the whims of the winds. The endless nothingness made space and time lose all meaning. Disorientation began to gnaw at my mind. There were no vehicle tracks, no sign of any life, nothing by which to trace progress. Just, emptiness. Was I...

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The Outer Edge of the Civilised Universe

At its outer edges, civilisation thins out to an eclectic mix of almost coincidental encounters. A winding trail, half overgrown by weeds, with a single bicycle track along one rut. It breaks out into an unexpected opening where a lone man nurses a pump that coughs water into a shallow trough. A few cattle approach through the trees to come and drink. They are small and hardy and half feral, and they stop when they see me and stand warily on the edge of the clearing. I am able to communicate with the attendant; a mixture of Zulu and...

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Extraordinary Ordinary

The day was blustery and hued in smudged greys and charcoals and muttered greens. A brief hint of yellow flickered through the screen of trees to my left. I stopped and half crouched behind a young apple leaf tree. It was a lone young female giraffe. I kept dead still, but the moment she rounded the tree, she spotted me. Perhaps it was the tiny sound of the mobile camera. She froze and stood, staring at me intently, neck craned, ears intensely pricked. She wasn’t sure what she was seeing. I was downwind from her so she couldn’t smell...

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Clogged Grass Screens and Elephant Paths

Just a kilometre or so back that I had to stop to clean it. Now, again. But I had no choice. Overheating the engine would quite simply be fatal. The midday savannah was flaming hot – probably over 40 oC – and the hard work of breaking through the bush in the loose sand quickly sent the temperature dial to the dreaded red area as the grass screens got clogged. My irritation slowly built up. The double screens – one of about 2mm size at the front grille, and another, of about 1mm behind it – were doing their...

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Waiting for the Storm

Towards afternoon the sky marbled with clouds, ripped by titanic winds from a sullen mass on the northern horizon. Around me, gusts tugged angrily at shrubs and trees. It looked like rain; serious rain, sometime during the coming dark hours. It was lion country and I should have a fire, and I did gather a pile of wood, but lighting it seemed pointless. So I stretched the tarpaulin and secured it as best I could, and readied another to pull over the load bin. Come bed time, I would sling the hammock lengthwise, close to the apex, and hopefully...

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Musings on a boisterous teenager

The sun had slipped behind the treetops. There was about an hour or so of light left to prepare for the night. Four bull elephants lumbered past, heading back along the game path from the water hole just over the rise. They were a hundred or so paces away and they seemed quite clear on where they were going and paying no attention to me and my camp fiddling; me, intent on my preparations, gave their nodding silhouettes no more than the occasional interested glance – that is, until a youngster of about fifteen or so broke away and...

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Overnighting in the Middle World

Reaching the wild hinterlands from the South African heartland is an undertaking of anything between two to five days. The first day or so is usually like the average citizen of the civilised world would expect a road trip to be. But then, as one penetrates deeper into the Middle World the journey takes on a special character. The driving itself is the same, although navigating the roads and tracks requires submission to torture by vehicle (and of course to the vehicle), resilience and often quite some skill. The facilities and services however, such as finding petrol, or overnight...

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It has begun

And so, it has begun. Every expedition I go on starts with a long and rather tedious part, out of the known world. The layers of civilisation must be peeled away one by one – urban suburbia, dotting out into farmlands, now with their late-autumn load of ripe crops, punctuated by swaths of rural towns, each next one less certain of whether it wanted to be a town or a village or just a lose gathering of settled people. The nature of the terrain changes too, from the rounded hills of the highveld, now in their beautiful autumn plumage...

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Why?

In the casual chat-stream of social gatherings, stories of wandering the wilderness, simply for the sake of wandering, has little “catch” – too slow, no punchline, whatever… So, they are best held back for another time and another place. But on rare occasions, when a story would stray into the conversation, someone might pay enough attention to ask, “but why do you do this?” It has always left me self-conscious and at a loss of how to answer in a way that I thought would make them really understand. But when I look at this simple snap, I know...

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Getting Through

Journeys back. Leaving the wilderness somehow re-introduces an impatience; an urgency to arrive, to check, to ensure. And, perhaps paradoxically, a longing, for the heimat; to re-assure that it is still there, intact – a haven, a place of familiarity. Getting through the Middle World becomes a drag, lit up only by occasional moments of amusement or wonder at its idiosyncratic adaptations of progressive society. It is indisposed, even hostile to lone roadside sleepovers, wanting to herd people into cubicles inside hotels or motels or perhaps the odd fashionable lodge. Self-reliance is essential, but sits awkwardly in it –...

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