Midday break, and white maize meal porridge. That’s what we’ve got so far for today. Maybe we get lucky and we find some berries, or perhaps a pool that holds some fish, but for now, it’s the porridge. I’m going to have to find us some meat soon.
I like to break out of the overnight camp early; start walking with bits of night still lingering in the denser tangles. At that time the ungulates are beginning to thaw from the terrors of the night, when sharper-eyed predators might silently have crept up on them out of the blackness. They always seem cheerful and animated, then, as if they are grateful for having made it and having another day of life to enjoy. It is their most active time, when they skip around, play, feed, mate, if it is the time…
A few predators might also still be active in the cool half-light – there might just be a last opportunity to kill if they hadn’t been successful during the night. Leopards and lions often vocalise at this time.
It is altogether a wonderful time of the day. Cool, fresh, filled with bird song, brimming with optimism and anticipation and filled with stories of the night, if you care to look for them.
From around eleven the bush seems to start slowing down. By midday it lies withdrawn in its shade, hiding from the heat. It is only from about three-thirty that it starts to become active again. Then the animals do a last bit of feeding before they have to start seeking reasonably safe areas for the night.
Unless there is a reason to do different, I like to follow this ancient rhythm too – stop around eleven or twelve, build something to eat, rest over the hottest part, till about three.
Here is a short excerpt from Paths of the Tracker:
They headed out with ragged remnants of the night still lurking under the denser vegetation. The sky was charcoal with a few bright star pricks lingering here and there and a hint of white smeared across the east. As they walked it became grey, then almost white, with pink and orange and purple pushing up from the grey earth to the east. Then the sun filtered through the trees and painted the veldt around them with splashes of bright yellow in which dewdrop glints danced like sparks flying from a high fire.
He often rode his big scrambler to the office this early, Craig thought, but he had never noticed it like this. He had never noticed smelling anything either, not even the diesel and petrol fumes and the thin drifts of cigarette smoke out of half opened windows. Now his nostrils were filled all the time with earthy smells, sometimes spicy, sometimes musty, sometimes bright, attention-grabbing smells; smells he didn’t know.
It made him feel apprehensive, but everybody seemed cheerful and Henry stopped regularly to draw his attention to something of interest – birds and their calls and nests, animal signs and the stories they told, special trees and shrubs and their uses, even insects that he would notice.
He started feeling a contentment, walking behind Henry, thinking of last night. It had been an experience he wouldn’t have been able to imagine just a few weeks ago, let alone have thought that he would enjoy it. In fact, the whole journey so far had been in some way extraordinary to him. It was almost as if he was living through a kind of fairy tale, albeit one with dark patches in it.