I stare down at the mirror-smooth surface of the pool with its eclectic decorations of fallen leaves. They could mean almost anything I want them to. The water is clear as polished glass, right down to the bottom. A few tadpoles cling to the edge like a row of suckling piglets. It is almost a choreographed picture of stillness and peace.
Clean water that we don’t need to dig for, or that is not hoof-churned soup with bits of dung floating in it, is rare. The swathes of shade around it from trees growing verdant in the moisture, is generous and cool. The temperature is around 40oC. It is a place for a rest and some notes in the diary.
The water invites a swim, but this is the African wilderness. We are wary. The mat of leaves around the edges is barely disturbed. Only one or two bushbuck, a lone kudu bull, and a jackal had sipped at the end where the water stretches to just a thin sheet. Why is this inviting oasis avoided by most animals? At the deep end in a gentle-sloped gulley we find the answer: drag marks where a crocodile had heaved its heavy body from the water to sun itself.
The pool lies in a rivulet that flows only with good rains. The croc must have roamed up its meander during the rainy season and then got cut off in the pool when the flow stopped. This is not uncommon. Crocodiles even travel overland. I have found their tracks quite a long way from water – once a nest with fresh sign in a sandy spot around a kilometre away and on the other side of a stony hill. This croc apparently decided it likes it just fine in its personal pool – especially when the odd unwary beast comes to sip from the inviting coolness.
Its attack would be even more stealthy than the soundless slither of the leopard, quicker than the strike of the puff adder, deceptive as the smoothness of the surface itself. It would burst from the water in an explosion of spray. Its aim would be deadly, and once it clamps its jaws shut on the victim and the terrible teeth have gripped, a watery death is the only outcome. Then limbs and bits of flesh are twisted off the victim and gulped down whole.
We knowingly find a comfortable spot to rest at the shallow end where floating leaves and reflections cannot hide the deadly sub-surface glide.
I thought to drop in a quote from Paths of the Tracker about an encounter with a pool monster:
Craig slipped down the roots on his buttocks and lowered himself into the water. The soft mud bubbled and folded around his tired body. He let out a deep sigh of relief and satisfaction and lay back against the roots so that the water lapped deliciously under his chin. He could feel the ache of fatigue and strain deep inside his muscles where the white tendons grip the bone, but he relished the pain of it. It was confirmation that he had put in a noble effort; that he had pushed himself right to the edge of his endurance.
He vaguely noticed a half-submerged piece of bark drifting towards him. I wonder why it’s drifting towards me against the flow of the ripples? his engineering mind mused idly. Drifting piece of bark? Somewhere from the primal depths of his mind alarm stirred vaguely, then suddenly leaped up, screaming in white-hot panic: Crocodile!! The uncoiling of his body into a frantic surge for the bank was pure instinct. He scrambled up the tree roots, slipping in his panic, looking back to see if he was being chased, seeing nothing, regaining his foothold, hesitating momentarily. The water heaved up and exploded in white foam and gaping jaws right under him! Craig felt something like a heavy weight slam down on his foot, and then a violent jerk that tore away one hand from its desperate grip on the roots. But he managed to hold on with the other, yanking violently back with his leg, and then he was free, and he scrambled onto the bank on hands and knees, aware that something was wrong with his left foot, but too horrified to look.
He scuttled away, still unable to get up. He glanced back fearfully. The water was now calmed into the merest lapping against the sides, and he saw his left shoe pop up from the depths towards the middle of the pool and rock gently with the waves.
He was shaking so violently that he could hardly turn to sit. He forced himself to look at his leg. There was a deep gash on the outside of his calf muscle, running almost to his ankle. Blood was beginning to flow from it freely, merging with the water, streaming in little rivulets down his leg and forming a small pool under his heel. A few other less serious lacerations and bruises were bleeding a little too, and beginning to turn a yellow-blue around the edges.
I’m hurt, I’m seriously hurt! What the fuck am I going to do now?! It screamed through his mind. He had never been injured so badly. It felt as if the savage brutality of the situation was simply going to overwhelm him…