You can listen to the recoding, or read through the text below.
We sat on the veranda early this morning and I thought, today, I will write more about the trials of moving the vehicle through the bush to a new place from which to wander. But the morning unfolded so subtly, with young light and a delicate mist among the trees and birdsong echoing in the stillness, and it seemed to tell me to write about something else; something less pragmatic.
So, I paged through my old diaries and let them choose this. The photo was taken in the deep Kalahari, remote from where people normally could, or maybe would want to reach.
My night fire is packed, but I do not light it. Maybe tonight, I won’t. Maybe I don’t want the bright dance of the flames to steal away the splendour playing out around me. Yes. I just want to sit quietly and watch the orange glow fade and charcoal seep from under denser clumps of vegetation and slowly billow, blend forms into each other as it thickens till all that is left is black, with a seam of fine lacework against the mellowing dyes.
A new drama of survival is unfolding around me with the deepening darkness. I am blind to it; only its sounds, its smells, the subtle touch of its sensations come to me out of the vast blackness. its background music of crickets has settled into an even simmer. It is lit by colourful glows of sound from the hunters of the night – the chuckle-and-churr of a rufous-cheeked nightjar, the short gurgle of a scops owl, the stuttering whoop of a white-faced owl, the authoritative boom of a spotted eagle-owl, the sonorous cackle of a black-backed jackal. Their sounds must give insects, small reptiles, rodents, hares, mongooses, some reassurance. At least they know momentarily where the silent hunters are. Perhaps they can quickly cross this starlit space, dig a bit more here, chew or scratch without stopping to feel the air with cocked head for those deadly sounds or smells.
And there are the rustles of tiny movement among the dry leaves too, then the crunch of something bigger, perhaps a hare, or a pangolin?
Later, even stronger rummaging. A civet? No, too careless. Probably a badger going about its arrogant ways.
There might be a leopard, or a serval, or a caracal, but if they are close, they would be silent as the black shadows.
If I am lucky, very lucky, I might hear those that do not know the fear that makes other animals wary and quiet in the bush – a lion’s “oomph,” or even a full roar, or an elephant trumpeting, or snapping off of a branch with a crack that echo across the savannah like a rifle shot…
All around me over the great savannah, each of millions upon millions of creatures are going about their furtive ways to survive the next moment, this night. Soon I would have to retreat behind my shield of technology, and the illusion of safety it would bring. But now, sitting here, alone in the dark, I am part of it. As vulnerable, as watchful, as ready to go on the defensive, or to dash for safety.
There is something purifying in being completely alone with the low froth of fear, the short bursts of alarm, the tingle of nerves while gauging origin, direction, distance, possible intent, of some sound that cannot immediately be classified, or a lion’s roar…
The vulnerability strips away all pretence, all vanity, all self-deceit. It leaves only honesty, humility, intense awareness of the moment. It makes me feel acutely alive. This is part of what draws me here.