The Quiet Moments

The breeze from the south-east lay a chill on the skin. John caught me indulging in some warmth when the sun broke through, and a bit of Stephen Hawking while my companions worked on the Chief’s warthog.

I had taken on John as go-between and translator, but he quickly migrated to photographer, tea-maker, cook and general go-for 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 good enough for me to want to read it, it tends to keep me carrying on 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 something philosophical. I love commentary that brings together important events and ideas and movements and discoveries across disciplines – 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 for quite a bit…

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 excitement of spotting something interesting, and the grateful tea breaks, and the midday pause, when the bush, and all in it, seems to go into slow contemplation; and the generous sunsets, when the earth breathes out the day in red-hot splendour and inhales the grey coolness of evening and starts to whisper  the many sounds of the dark hours that cannot be seen and sometimes can only be wondered at. It needs you to open yourself to it, to yield to it, even when you have to fight its awesome forces to survive.

Maybe this from Paths of the Tracker:

Here nature touches you all the time. It sticks to your skin and presses against your eyeballs and your feet and it is at your fingertips every time you touch something. It is mysterious. It is 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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