A Warthog for the Chief

For this week I thought I’d return to my hinted promise of more stories about the Bruegel picture which I wrote about on the 17th Nov 2019. For some context it might be good to scan it again. This story is about a wonderful old chief and a rogue hippo and the Chefe du Posto who was with us. We left the nomadic bush family the next day and headed northeast, roughly in the direction of the Zambezi delta – as good a direction as any, I thought. About two or three days on, walking along an old elephant...

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Earth Art and a Story

There! Even more mesmerising in death than it had been in life, this ancient camel thorn, towering over the surrounding shrub and grass. A piece of profound earth art. And I thought now, at the cusp of the new decade, an apt metaphor for the past and the future. The past, because it tells with agonising clarity how the rough winds had torn it and split it and the droughts had stunted it but how it had tried again and again, and when the occasional thunderstorm had drifted over it, how it had sucked up the sparse liquid and...

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Unrest in the ranks

Lion tracks, in the soft sand around the edge of a slow seep. It was a big male. He had left huge splayed imprints in the mud as he leaned forward to lap from the thin sheet of water. Then he had crossed and lain down on the cool sand with a casualness that said, “I fear nothing here.” It is his right front paw in the centre of the picture. The left hind is partly visible on the edge to the left. The marks to the front of his toes are small drag marks made by his pads as...

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Resting place of a giant

An unexpected seep, with around it, sharp-edged prints of zebra, hartebeest, sable and kudu, and big pale smudges of elephant. But the freshest, less than an hour old, were the signs of the old dagga boy that clearly frequented this place. Seemingly unaware that he was overwhelming the drought-stricken feed into the pool he happily knelt and lay down, then rolled, again and again, no doubt grunting with pleasure, splashing out some water, churning the rest into mud-and-dung slush. Then it had lumbered off, sparring with some young trees close by, leaving them twisted and stripped of bark. These...

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Beware!

Clean water that we don’t have to dig for. Not the hoof-churned soup with bits of dung floating in it that is often one’s only option. And, bathed in generous shade. With the temperature over forty C it seemed like a blessing… But beware! The mat of leaves around the edges was barely disturbed. Only one or two bushbuck, a lone kudu bull, a jackal had sipped at the end where the water stretched to just a thin sheet.   Why was this inviting oasis avoided by most animals? At the deep end in a gentle-sloped gulley we found the...

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Terror

The right front paw of a wild dog. We found this single imprint in a sandy spot that was bare of vegetation. But we found more, when we looked around carefully – six, eight, maybe ten more sets. Their paws are soft, so their sign is easily missed… We had been wondering why the bush had been so strangely empty of medium-sized and smaller ungulates for something like the last two days – almost no zebra, no hartebeest, no impala, no kudu, no waterbuck, no wildebeest, no eland… The ones we did glimpse seemed unusually skittish. The wild dog...

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Ready for the Day’s Trek

My four companions on this sojourn, ready for the day’s trek. For those wondering about “the day’s trek,” it would be a wander in a general direction, say north, but easily deviated from to investigate bush phenomena we might notice, or to search for water, or to explore stories we might pick up from local bush people,  and the like. On the right is Jacqui, whom I recruited as bush medium. He spoke a few words of English and a few of Fanagolo. Fanagolo is a pidgin language based on Zulu that developed on the South African gold mines...

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The Bruegel Picture

This week’s picture is like a Bruegel painting. It carries many stories, of wandering and of bush people and of an opportunistic Chefe du Posto, and a gentlemanly old chief and a rogue hippo in a far place; much too much to try and squeeze in here. But let me start with a few remarks about the picture itself. Maybe some of the other stories will emerge, each in its own time. It is like that with stories.  Each one comes forward when its time and its place is right. Sometimes it spills out, sometimes it withdraws again. It...

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Water!

Water. The true elixir of life. Here on earth we wade through one or more of its ever-changing forms every second of every day. Yet, in the hot arid parts of the wilderness you live with the constant danger that you will have too little of it.  And then, no matter what fancy equipment you have with you, no matter what the size of your bank account, what important people you know, what deity you appeal to, in just a few hours you will die.  Simple as that. If one wanders away from a reliable source, water comes alive...

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Too close…

I heard the crack and thump of his browsing as he shouldered aside the seemingly impenetrable tangle of the thickets. He was close. So close that when he stopped moving for a moment I could hear the grind of the great molars chewing through bundles of vegetation. I tested the wind with a pinch of fine dust from between my feet. It was almost still, with an eddy now and then. I should have moved out of his way, but I could not resist the temptation of getting a glimpse of him – maybe he was a huge tusker,...

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