Even if you had walked all day in the arid heat and your mouth and throat had been dry and sticky because you had to ration your water and, you never saw a single animal or even a fresh sign, but late in the afternoon you were fortunate enough to come across a waterhole where you could drink, and drink, and drink and wash off the caked sweat and dust and, you had a little wine left and you could sit down with your back propped against, perhaps, a tree pushed over by elephants and, you could sip sparingly at the wine and watch this grand splendour slowly unfold, then you would let your mind go quiet and you would nod to yourself and you would say, not caring about the surprised glances from your African companions at your incoherent mumble, “This is magic.”
Because it is the time when the heat starts to leave the bush and things that are harsh start to become soft and blurred and flow into other things, and soon the murmur of night creatures and the flutter of the fire and the hushed shuffling and droning of your African companions and the tinny sounds of cooking fill the small circle of firelight, and, sometimes the darkness beyond is lit up by the macabre wail of a jackal, or the mournful bellow of a hyena or, if you are even more fortunate, a lion roaring; majestic even if it is so feint that you have to tilt your head to hear.
Then you feel that you are five years old and you are sitting on your father’s lap with your ear against the vibration of his breastbone as he tells you wonderful tales of mystic Greek heroes and Koi San hunters.
And then, if their time was right, the stories would come. Here is a short extract from Paths of the Tracker that I think describes it well:
The story was followed by another, and another, translated to Craig from Portuguese – fascinating tales of previous wanderings. They flowed unhurriedly, as their time was ripe, and they were told unassumingly and with the in-the-moment reality of someone that had actually been there; some with mesmerizing animation of animal or human behaviour. They drew exclamations of wonderment, or hearty laughter, or caused sad stares into the glow of the fire.
Craig was captivated by the simple sincerity of it all; the ragged-clothed men sitting or reclining around the fire, at times partly obscured by drifts of smoke, then glowing in the dance of the flames. Their stories and comments and laughter were bone-honest, without pretence.
How different it was from the overheated cocktail bar and barbeque contrivances that he had grown so used to hearing – and telling, Craig thought. He was reminded of the feint vibration of his father’s breastbone against his ear as his deep drone spun him the arcane folklore of the San people and heroic tragedies of Greek mythology. A dimension of wholesomeness had been lost from his life. It had become a constant race for success and excitement, aided by ever more fantastic devices and displays, he thought.