The Quiet Moments

The breeze from the south-east lay a chill on the skin and John caught me indulging in some sun-warmth and a bit of reading while my companions worked on the Chief’s warthog (see my previous blog for context).

I had taken on John as go-between and translator, but he quickly migrated to snap-taker, tea-maker, grub creator and general fetcher and fixer during rests.

I always take at least one book on my wanderings, to colour in those odd inactive hours in a bush-day – the midday rest, the last bit of daylight when the camp is set, maybe some in my hammock with my portable little Coleman lamp to ease me into doze-off.

I usually avoid fiction though; it it’s really good it tends to keep me reading too deep into the night, and that makes for fuzzy senses the next day. So it’s preferably history, or verse, or popular science, or philosophical commentary that brings together important events and ideas and movements in our existence – but these, I find, can only credibly be pulled off by minds of the stature of Paul Johnson or Bertrand Russel or Niall Ferguson or Richard Tarnas or… oh I could go on and on.

So the bush experience has, for me, many colours. There is the hard slog of working over difficult terrain with the vehicle, or the grind of walking in the heat for hours, but then there is the grateful tea breaks, and the midday pause, when the bush, and all in it, seems to go into slumber and slow contemplation, and the generous sunsets which is like an emergence into restful coolness; the prelude to the night, with its many sounds that cannot be seen and can often only be wondered at.

Maybe this from Paths of the Tracker:

But she had yearnings of her own, Craig knew. One late evening on the veranda on the farm after several glasses of red wine she suddenly lowered the book of verse from which she had been reading to him and tossed back her hair and looked out into the darkness for a few moments and said whimsically, “You know what, I crave a man whose body shows the scars of a workman, but who reads me poetry at night.” She had looked at him, an ironic smile touching the corners of her mouth. “I guess there just aren’t any around.”

He had felt real empathy with her and he reached over and touched her hand. “Come on, one will emerge. They are falling over themselves…” he had said.

“Yeah they are, but look at them. Either so slick, you wonder when they’re going to slip through their own arses, or else a bit more real, but totally stupid, or intelligent enough, but so delicate they’re not much different from women, or so patriarchal that you wonder if you could go to the toilet without asking, or so damned good that you worry all the time they’re going to kneel down to you in public,” she had lamented crudely, a hint of bitterness in her voice.

He had chuckled, quietly checking if he didn’t perhaps have the misfortune of fitting one of the categories. He remembered thinking that he had a few scars on his body from falls with his mountain bike and the scrambler, but somehow he didn’t think those were the kind Henriette had in mind.

When he got back from  this expedition he would carry some of the right scars, he thought with amusement, but laced with a hint of satisfaction. He wondered how he would tell the story of it to his trendy friends back home when they got together in one of their trendy houses in a trendy security estate or in some trendy cocktail bar. This was a world vastly different from the excited events and expensive devices and glamorous adventure trips they amused themselves with.

He probably wouldn’t be able to tell it to them in a way that they would comprehend. It was just too different. Here nature touched you all the time. It stuck to your skin and pressed against your eyeballs and your feet and it was at your fingertips every time you touched something. It was mysterious. It was alluring. He didn’t understand much of it, but he sensed it was ominously uncompromising. In a way he felt an affinity to it. It was pure. The truth. The whole truth. Nothing but the truth.

He gazed at the Africans lying asleep, spread around like discarded blankets on the faded yellow of the dry leaf bed. This is how you have to be in it. You have to let it wrap around you, bend you to its form. You have to yield to it, seek out spots where you fitted, where you didn’t bump against its will; like the Africans there, taking the shape of the ground with their bodies, on the bed of dead leaves, embracing the dusty smell and the coarseness, completely surrendering, relaxing, going to sleep.


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