The Reality of Vulnerability

We sat on the veranda early this morning and I thought, today, I will write you 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 let it choose this photo. It was taken in the deep Kalahari, remote from where people normally could, or maybe would want to reach.

My night fire was packed and ready, but I did not light it. I just opened my senses and sat quietly watching the orange glow fade, charcoal billow out from under denser clumps of vegetation and slowly spread, blend forms into each other as it thickened, till all that was left was a fine black lacework against the vast glimmer of light pricks.

I strained my poor senses, trying to probe as much as I could of the intricate drama of survival that was playing out around me. Most of what I could fathom were crickets – monotonous chirring to chirp-chirping to tweet-tweet-tweet… It was like a background simmer. But there were colourful flakes of sound in between, mostly owls – the beautiful winding whistle of a rufus-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; once or twice the weeping cackle of a jackal.

And there were the rustles of tiny movement among the dry leaves, and the crunching of something bigger, perhaps a hare, or a pangolin, and even bigger, a badger, or a mongoose… There might be a serval, or a caracal close by, but they would be silent as the black shadows. If I was lucky, very lucky, I might hear a lion, or a leopard grunt, for they do not know the fear that make other animals wary and quick in the bush.

All around me over the great savanna, each of millions upon millions of animals and other creatures were going about their furtive ways to survive the night.  Soon I would have to retreat behind my shield of technology, albeit wafer thin, and the illusion of safety it would bring. But now, sitting there, alone in the dark, I was part of it. As vulnerable, as watchful, as ready to go on the defensive, or to dash for safety.

It was dangerous, but there was something purifying in the constant low froth of fear, in the short bursts of alarm at some sound that did not fit, that could not immediately be classified. It made for honesty, humility, intense awareness of the moment, of each minute rustle, of each subtle stir in the air. It made me feel intensely alive.  This is part of what draws me here.

3 Comments

  1. Hoffman, ek sit en asem ophou terwyl ek lees, besef met die wete dat jy deel is van wat in gevaar is, indien dit n leeu of ander jagdier is, soe jy waag baie en die manier hoe jy dit neerpen, weereens laat n mens elke oomblik saam met jou beleef. Nadat ek gelees het het ek regtig eers besef dat ek nou eers my asem uitblaas wat ek opgehou het terwyl ek dit lees. Dankie vir die ontsettende wonderlike talent wat jy met ons deel, om ons dit te laat ervaar deur jou oë.

  2. Ek dink die tyd het definitief angebreuk om weer bos toe te gan… Kan sommer die verlange aanvoel in elke woord! :) Vir n oomblik was ek ook daar voor die gepakte vuur onder die sterre en kon ek ook alles ruik en hoor en voel en selfs proe… Dis soos meditasie. Net beter :)

  3. I love the way you describe all those sounds and senses. Think it is such a privilege to be able to ‘absorb’ this and sadly the average person is unable to do so. Enjoy your blog thank you.

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