June 1 - 19 2001 / Namibia: African Circle Part 1
Red dunes, a cornucopia of splendid animals, and a landscape to infinity.
June 13, our 31st anniversary. Epupa Camp to Hobatere Lodge, just outside Etosha
new animals seen:
Something was interested in the inside of our tent last night, scritching and rummaging, probably to get at my lemon drops in my pack. I first hustled over to snuggle with my protector husband, and then got brave and put on my glasses and shone a light in that direction--but whatever it was was not inside, and I moved the pack and things settled down.
Today yet another long drive, much of it back the difficult way we had come the other day, but easier in the daylight. The odd person now and again, herding cows in desultory fashion, or just walking, or standing by the roadside. Our guide Vincent stops occasionally and hands over an apple or a handful of dried fruit, or part of a bottle of water, with a cheery greeting.
At lunch time we eat hastily in a kind of a roadhouse in the town we gassed up in before. Four women are playing cards at a table near us, dramatically flinging down their plays and laughing with fun. Just behind our table is the goat pen and the goat bleats as it eats what looks like bamboo.
After lunch off we go, a straight shot one way, then another, to Etosha. The road is dusty and white, not much of interest on either side, but I love the open space and the clear high sky. There are terminalia trees, hanging with crimson, rose, or deep purple pods, some are pale orange. At a pee stop I take some pictures.
Sometime after lunch suddenly a stout fence appears on our left, and after consulting the map I realize it is Etosha. The fence appears to be electrified, by solar power, and is stout and well-tended, and unbreached.
We pass through an agricultural checkpoint, and then turn off to the road to the lodge we are at tonight.
Instantly animals appear! First giraffes, surely the most elegant of creatures. Then a female kudu is spotted, our first, all warm coat with white fine stripes. A lone sentinel male klipspringer, motionless on top a rock, his straight little horns and his attitude all saying, I am on guard, I see you.
There are zebra, too, artfully camouflaged in plain sight.
We are all delighted in our vehicle. Even our brass-voiced woman seems pleased, and makes an effort to speak more softly.
Then here is the lodge, and in our room our guides have given us a bottle of sparkling wine, and a nice card, for our 31st anniversary. I take it to reception so they will chill it for dinner tonight.
Almost immediately we go off on a game run, done by somebody here at the lodge, quite German in every respect. Very dusty, abrupt, but wonderful nonetheless.
Our first warthogs, trotting in businesslike fashion alongside the road. Giraffe mother and child.
Giraffes on the hillsides, their heads appearing above the vegetation like prehistoric monsters. A gathering of vultures where a large giraffe has died, which we smell but do not see.
There are animals everywhere, in this place, and it's not even in the park yet.
But still, I liked it better before, the other day, seeing the giraffes and the elephants and the zebras and the springboks all wild, not even anywhere near a park.
Just now, as I sit here in our little rondavel, about to take a hot shower, the wild animals are out there, settling down for the night some of them, and others just getting ready to go about their night's business.
I remember in East Africa the night sounds, of wildebeest and lions. Perhaps I may hear some animals tonight.
In any case, it is our anniversary, and we are here together, my precious husband and me.
June 14. Flag Day. Hobatere Lodge to Okaukuejo Lodge, in Etosha
new animals seen:
Yesterday evening we shared our very nice anniversary gift, a bottle of champagne from "the boys," (along with a pretty card of a pair of giraffes necking). We all had our dinner by campfire, and I told the story of how we met. It was a fine evening. We saw a satellite pass overhead, and John watched the sky and found Messier objects, and we felt content.
This morning we drove into Etosha Park. The first and best thing we saw was a colony of ground squirrels, their main community of burrows on one side of the road and other burrows on the other side. They are darling little guys, sort of like overgrown chipmunks. One was grooming the other by mouth, along its withers, and then another joined in by grooming the groomer in the same way. They have nice little muzzles on them, and were engaging enough to the rest of the group so that we actually got to watch them for a few minutes.
We saw large crowds of animals. One wildebeest with a large group of zebras and two springbok, at a dry waterhole. There were a couple of red hartebeest amid zebras, they are a lovely brick red color, but unfortunately they are rather stupid looking. Perhaps they are actually brilliant!
We had an intimate look at zebras, through binoculars. Well, I did at least. The rest of the group really only wants a brief look, a picture, and move on. The zebras are among the most lovely of animals, with their finely limned stripes extending into their stiffly erect manes, their alert gaze, their creamy bellies. If I could, I would like to be as beautiful as a zebra.
There's a roadside crow, a bunch of ugly red and black and white marabou storks amid a couple of wildebeest taking their leisure, and a zebra or two, and some springbok.
This is followed by some zebras crossing the road in front of us, a brilliant white stork, mixed with some smartly trotting ostrich.
But I am increasingly frustrated by the haste with which we have to seem to keep moving on.
We seem always to be in a hurry, driving endlessly. I am also disturbed--my fine sensibilities!--by the camera and video sounds of whirring and beeping and clicking and rustling of the other four people in each vehicle. These sounds were not as present when we were here twenty-one years ago. And I am far more sensitive to them now anyway.
I fantasize, as I think I did then, about a trip to Africa with just us and a guide. Somebody who loves it as much as we do, to just sit and watch, and try to puzzle out what is happening.
Along the road there are marked “water points," which are some natural and some artificial water holes to gather the animals. A strange business. But if it preserves them, so what?
I wonder about these mixed crowds of animals. They are not exactly transparent to one another. Lots of times they seem to contain zebras. Is this because zebras are extra-alert and can give warning of predators to the rest, and for the zebras it's good because there are more numbers, more prey, and each zebra is therefore less likely to be caught?
No comments are made on this by our guides, who are most emphatically not really naturalists. They are good guys though, and we're fortunate in them. We learned the other day, when we met and crossed with the other departure of this trip, going in the opposite direction, that the other group is older than ours, and doesn't do as much, and complains more.
Eight giraffes lope across the ground, two of them small ones. One of the men is reading an airport novel as we drive, only looking up when we stop, to ask, Which direction? and take a picture.
When we look at the nearest springbok with the binoculars, we can see the large veins in their hind legs. They are breathtakingly elegant, these animals. Their tails have a tiny brush of furs at the very end.
Across the land are old-gold and jade-green low plants, the eye is open to the horizon in every direction, on calcareous, therefore dry and white, soil. The desert, this place, these places, are all soft pastel colors. I think of the tropics, where the colors are saturated red, green, blue, purple, yellow. This landscape is like a soft pillow for the eyes, cushioning the eyes, soothing the soul.
Two jackals hunt amid a large crowd of springbok. Two enormous black and white secretary birds flew into this crowd, and one had something in its claws. They land, their silly-looking black trousers ruffling, and the one seems to eat whatever it is. The jackals move closer, but the tidbit is gone. The jackals eye the springboks, but decide against it. One catches something in the grass, and they both snap at it. I read from the book that the male and female jackal bond for life, and do everything together, including hunting. Nobody really seems interested in this but I talk briefly to Vincent about it. He is interested, but not conversational about any of it.
Much, much too soon, we leave the interesting scene and press on.
To this lodge, a strange enclave in the midst of the park, surrounded and protected by fences and barbed wire, with stone "castles" and a swimming pool and everything quite strange, lots of Germans or South Africans or whatever, the women in short shorts and sandals. We can hardly find our way around, the enclave is so big. There is an artificial waterhole at the edge of the place, floodlit all night, with seats around it so one can watch, safely from behind a fence. We will go and look after dinner. We did already see a heron catch and eat a mouse.
We go on a real game run, with Vincent, the first real game run. There are only two other people, and at last the top is open. Here's what we see:
Kori Bustards, several of them.
Black-Backed jackals, at least six or seven, one right near a
Spotted Hyena! which thereby shows the latter's great size
I spot a young reddish oryx through some bushes
Black Korhaan, and his mate.
Probably nearly a thousand springbok, and John and I insist on staying stopped to watch them for at least five minutes, thus irritating the other two women. Tough, tough,
many zebras, lit by the setting sun.
A goodly group of wildebeest, including some small ones, which look somewhat less preposterous than their parents. I love their purple color.
A gorgeous double-banded courser bird, like an etching.
And best of all, two mongooses, right by the side of the road, and
then up into the grass, and running through the grass, in and out of their burrows, and across the road, and down into some other burrows. The two women were bored stiff, and were grousing, and we didn't care, we watched our mongooses. They have red eyes and sleek almost greenish-yellow bodies, and they are very, very cute.
Well, now to dinner in this weird place. I wish we could just go out by ourselves.
June 15. Okaukuejo Lodge to Namutoni Lodge, also in Etosha
new animals seen:
One of the things they have at all these big weird lodges here in Etosha is a waterhole, artificial partly I guess, but floodlit and with benches and things to sit on. So last night after dinner we went to the waterhole, and waited. We waited in silence with at least a hundred other people, all waiting patiently, looking and waiting. Some jackals were there, trotting along the rocky bank, coming to drink, drinking a few gulps and looking up to check the scene nervously--not us, watching, but around them. It was so intimate to see these animals drinking at their waterhole, looking around for predators, and we there in silence watching, somehow united with them, I don't know how.
There were some birds there too, called blacksmith plovers, on the shore, pecking in the ground for something I don't know what. At one point, the jackal was headed around the edge of the pond in one direction, and a bird in the other. As the jackal approached, the bird set up a loud alarm call. It called and called as it approached the jackal, and then the two just passed each other without incident, the jackal appearing somehow a bit put off by the noisy, determined bird in its path. Very like Tiger-cat when the bluejays yell at him.
Then as we all waited, out of the shadows emerged one, two rhinoceroses. One was a good deal bigger than the other. They moved so delicately, quite slowly, to the edge of the water where they just barely immersed their thick snouts to drink. They kept their distance from one another, and after a while I was amazed to see and hear the smaller one roar and snarl at the bigger one, who moved away as quickly as he could. John took video film of this, and in our room later we played it over, and there they are, those two great creatures, captured in their hostile and intimate encounter for us to share again.
In the night, some kinds of animals raided the places behind us, mewling and crashing about, and in the morning there was trash strewn about from the cans behind the place. Just like raccoons at home. I heard them, from the comfort of my bed, and wanted to get up to look but couldn't, quite.
Just at dawn we got up and went again to the waterhole. Again there were jackals, hunting in the tall grass, catching and crunching things for breakfast. A herd of at least thirty zebra arrived, like dappled shadows in the half light. They took their time approaching the water, but then, all at of them at once, trotted and clattered down the rocky shore and splashed into the pool. Not a sound was heard from the observers (except for a couple who just couldn't stop talking). But we heard all this, zebras walking on rocks and entering a pool to drink, and leaving all at once, too.
In the morning, this morning, we all got organized in the vehicles once again, and set off for the next lodge. The plan was to drive all day across the park, slowly, stopping at whatever we liked. I was worried because I thought that this wouldn't really happen.
But it did. Today's the day I finally came back to Africa. I found the place I had been looking for, for a long time.
And so we saw many wonderful sights, today.
There was a little herd of springbok, and two males approaching each other, and one turning away, looking away, giving way. This shows that not only do they know each other, but that they understand themselves and others.
There was a half a mile of zebras, in a loose line, walking to somewhere.
There was a female ostrich, walking steadily along through the short grass, in that rolling gait, but with a firm dignity which rendered her powerful.
There was a zebra group crossing the road just a few feet in front of us as we sat there in silence. Two of the zebras had wounds to their hind quarters. Life is not as peaceful as it appears, here in the plains.
A fuzzy zebra baby walked close to its mother, and nursed now and again, while nearby a male tested the urine of a female, his muzzle between her legs, and made the gesture of flehmen, nose lifted, mouth slightly open, head aloft.
Three mongoose undulated at top speed through the grass, but we did not stop to watch them.
We stopped at one of the waterholes, and there stayed a long time to see a fierce sight: a dozen black-backed jackals at a kill (of young springbok we thought), tails waving excitedly, jaws chomping hastily. We see submissive behavior here too, with lesser animals putting their ears back and turning their muzzles down and to the side, not able to get a bite of the feast. To one side are two who have eaten all they are going to get, and they are washing themselves. All of this mayhem is businesslike and brisk.
We look at black-faced impala, with their elegant two-toned coats of deep ochre and their swept back horns. A couple of them spar briefly with each other.
At another waterhole are the elephants (actually the waterholes are all named, and this one is named for them). There are half a dozen including two little ones. They are all drinking, pressed close to one another, and the little one nurses a bit and his mother touches him with her trunk. Their movements are slow and deliberate and very graceful. The rich smell of elephant is strong in the air. At length they decide to leave, and off they go, appearing oblivious to all the watchers around them in their vehicles.
There is a lilac-breasted roller in the tip of a bush, his lilac and fluorescent blue feathers inviting pictures. But what will we do with the pictures? All we can do is say, I saw this. I was there, and I saw this. I smelled the grass and trees around me, and I heard the sound of others talking, and taking pictures, and maybe I remember that I also heard the sound of a zebra bleating in the distance, when I was looking at this lilac-breasted roller.
It is understood that there are lions somewhere not too far away. With a bit of triumph, Vincent (in whose truck we are today) finds them for us: four of them under a tree, resting but not entirely at ease. I take some pictures, then look and look with my binoculars. One turns directly towards me and I look into his golden eyes. Their gaze is implacable and power-filled. I admire their square cat muzzles, their black behind-of-ears, their large tails. Suddenly the biggest one gets up, looks steadily off behind and to his left, saying to himself, What is it? What do I see there? What do I smell there? He goes off to investigate, slowly but purposefully, and two of them follow him at a distance. Nothing comes of this, that we can see at any rate, and we must leave of course so there is no chance to find out what might have been afoot.
A leopard tortoise is spotted by the other vehicle, and left for us to examine after it has crossed the road. I love to see this animal! especially in contrast to the big and awesome lions, this modest creature, but every bit as skillful in his life as they. We do not stay nearly long enough to watch him to suit me.
Now I have to try to write about Salvadora waterhole.
Where I came back to Africa.
The towering sky preceded it, and the bright white dust of Etosha Pan, spiraling high into the air along the big horizon. We drove closer and closer to this horizon, and then came abreast of it. Drove alongside it, the pan, at some distance but near enough to see its whiteness and the dust rising from it, obscuring the horizon there, softening it, making earth and sky one thing.
We came then to a place where one can overlook it, the Pan, the white salt pan. At its foot a small waterhole, filled with beautiful springboks drinking. To one side in the distance, a single tree. The white dust rising all around us, up to the heavens, up to the scattered white clouds and the tall, tall sky. I began to cry, for I had come home to this place. I recognized this place, I recognized the primal colors, the primal forms, of tree, slender animal, curving water place, pure straight horizon, and the simple colors of white, blue, green, and brown. Ineffable, numinous, sublime.
I wept with the fullness of it, with the coming back of it, with the roundedness of it, remembering Africa before, twenty-one years ago, the pureness of its forms and colors, and the change they made in my life, the direction they gave my life, a direction it still follows, and will to the end. I am what I am now, a mature and passionate woman, attached to Earth, because I went to Africa, and now I have returned.
I am sure I will never return, again, and the knowing of this is heavy on me, but somehow fills me now with joy and contentment.
And we saw other things today, too, a waterhole with two hundred fifty zebra gathered around. There are lots of young ones, it seems zebra are doing well here. I am glad for they are so beautiful and strong. I love them and wish to look as lovely as they. Each one is different and a different work of nature's art.
There are nine robust red hartebeest all lying down, the wind susurrates around us as we watch. Vincent is very good about turning off the truck's engine when we stop. Still there is too much quiet noise in the vehicle, but I will just have to accept it.
There are trees hung with weavers' nests like bell-shaped Christmas ornaments.
At lunch (at another of these strange fortress-like lodges), we are shown a wonderfully cryptic owl in a tree notch, a Scops owl, by a couple of the black men in their blue uniforms, who are sweeping the dirt or some such nonsense. I love the owl, he looks exactly, and I mean exactly, like tree bark.
A kudu ran across the road.
At one waterhole there are: zebras, red hartebeest, springboks, black-faced impala, oryx, plovers, and Egyptian geese. An animal cornucopia!! filled by nature!! Emptied into this place for me to adore and venerate and celebrate and cherish.
We stand in the road amid zebras twenty feet away. I can hear them grazing and chewing, I see many scars on their striped skins, I hear them nickering to one another, I see the big veins on their bellies. Two oryx pass through and they give the passage to them, although they appear transparent to each other, the two species.
How I yearn to touch any one of these sleek and gorgeous animals! To feel the warmth and strength beneath their gleaming coats. To feel their joints as they move, look closely into their large eyes, see the hairs around their sensitive ears. I can look, but never touch.
At one of our funny toilet stops (little enclaves behind strong fences, keeping us in and the other animals out), amid a spray of tiny complex purple flowers, I find a hefty black skink. I take his picture, to honor him too, as much as the big zebras and things.
First here and there the lone giraffe, and then, LO, Giraffic Park jokes Vincent, for they are all over on the horizon, like tribes of dinosaurs raising their heads above the low vegetation. It is late and we do not stop to admire them, but maybe we will tomorrow.
A dozen neatly-banded mongooses pour over the ground about their mongoose business at top speed.
And we end this fine, fine day of return by searching for bat-eared foxes, my totem animal, the animals that the first time symbolized for me all my desires.
We did not find the bat-eared foxes this afternoon, but I have brought many of my desires to fruit. Africa, the fruitful plain.
6/16 Day around Namutoni Lodge
new animals seen:
glimpse of Python
There is a little herd of tamish warthogs here on the grounds. We passed among them last evening on the way to dinner. They did not even look up to notice us.
We spent seven hours today, on three game runs, and saw such wonderful things I am sure I will never be able to capture them in words. We have pictures, and video of course, but mostly what we have are internal images, which I will try to call up by the words I write.
Before breakfast, just at dawn we went on our first trip. All day today we went out with Vincent, the quieter, more self-contained man, and the couple that's the quietest, who were the perfect company for us, since they are quiet and intent on the animals. The other people, when their vehicle came near us, could all be clearly heard, especially that one woman, who has a voice like a steel file, and who talks incessantly, mostly nonsense.
At any rate, I don't care about them!
The first thing we stopped to admire were four jackal pups, playing energetically with each other, bounding around, chasing, nipping, rolling, sitting down on all fours and leaping up the way dogs do, streaking after each other lickety-cut, stopping abruptly. Having their morning run.
Then we saw: MY BAT-EARED FOX, my totem animal from East Africa, who symbolizes to me the search—my own search—for bliss. I saw him quite clearly, his large ears toward us, his darkly violet body facing us. Then he trotted off behind some grass, and was gone. I didn't care he was gone; I saw him, But then shortly afterwards there were FOUR of them, at a distance but clear through the binoculars, spread out in the grass, each one hunting. They hunt for insects by sound, pricking their ears forward and standing stock-still to hear what might be in the grass to catch and eat. They have dark bushy tails and small foxy faces.
So my day starts very well indeed.
As the sun rises, the clouds which were there overnight dissipate, and the landscape is illuminated, the grasses gleam.
Four blue-gray cranes feed in the grass. There is a sweet grassy smell on the air as the sun rises.
An Ant-eating Chat sits atop a tall termite mound, and a male ostrich at high trot speeds through yellow grasses at a distance, all alone.
Zebras chase and mount each other at a waterhole. We hear their hooves on the hard ground. Dust rises around them. They are not serious about this behavior, merely practicing to see how it goes.
Two elephants drink, their hinds toward us. Their trunks curl up with water in them, and some of it gushes out of their mouths. I wonder why they have such tiny eyes, in those big heads? The ostriches and the giraffes have such big eyes in their heads, so very much smaller than those of elephants. I suppose elephants don't need to see where they are going, or who's coming, much, since they rule everything. Let's see what my book says.
It says that all senses are important (including touch), but that eyesight is less acute than the others.
We are just heading back toward the camp and breakfast, when John calls out, Lions! I may see lions! Vincent obligingly stops and backs up, and at first we decide they are hyenas, lying down or something, then no! it IS lions, a whole bunch of lions. A huge male with a big mane, a perfect coat, a couple of females, and at least five cubs. They are taking their ease just below a low embankment by a big lake. The cubs chase around and fool around, the male gets up, lies down, gets up again. After a bit I realize that some of them have bloody muzzles; they are at a kill, doubtless made at that lake last night. The whole pride is feasting and resting.
We are all excited with our lions, and I am delighted that John spotted them, for we would have driven right by them. We agree that we'll hurry back for fifteen minutes of breakfast and then go right out again to look at them some more.
And so after a small little breakfast of a stale roll and some margarine--the food is pretty bad at these lodges here--we are back on the trail of the animals again, for our second trip of the day.
An elephant crosses the road in front of us to get some water. He drinks, and looks at us. He could so easily just crush this little truck and all five of us in it. But we appear harmless to him just now.
Vincent, encouraged I think by our lavish appreciation for "the small things," stops and turns back for a turtle in the road, about eight inches across, with a gorgeous carapace as if engraved. He's near the edge of the road, half in and half out of his shell, and we watch a long time until he finally finishes crossing the road, digs a bit in some loose dirt at the edge of the road, and then goes handily if awkwardly up and down over the rough grass.
Then we are back to the lions, who are now actively eating their kill, possibly a wildebeest as every now and again we can see a foreleg or two flop in the air, and these seem to be that distinctive purplish color. Their muzzles are red with blood, though the general scene looks very peaceful, with the cubs still at play, and some of the lions lying about.
We bird a bit, quietly. There are some russet Shelducks, a rich round of color against the blue lake, their cries tender and small.
Here are several hundred, several HUNDRED zebra at a favored waterhole. I see how some even have stripes at the bases of their stout tails. Some of them are in contest with each other, kicking and nipping and raising dust and cries.
You could look at pictures of zebras upside down, or sideways, or backwards, and they would still be beautiful. Nature has been so extravagant with the animals! We humans come in different colors of skin, hair, eyes, but that is about it. And not that many of those. The other animals are so much more beautiful than most of us.
The Himba women are as beautiful as zebras, though.
Or impala, or springboks.
There is a lot of very fresh elephant dung along the road, and then we find them (along with a bunch of other vehicles). A dozen elephants, two of them tiny, and at least one in musth, a bull in sexually-ready state, his cheek gland secreting and staining his gray skin black. They are tossing trunkfuls of soil on their backs, and some of them have little stones on their backs. Some are shiny with mud. The vehicles are too close for one of them, perhaps the male in musth, and he puts his ears at us. Vincent, who has kept the motor running, hastily drives a bit up the road, and the vehicles behind us move back. Even humans scatter when the elephant is annoyed.
I get to see the tiny Steenbok, a miniature antelope, just for a second as he stands frozen by the side of the road, below bush level. He’s only about two feet high at the shoulder. Then he runs into the bush and freezes again, while first we in our vehicle, then, astoundingly, a giraffe pass by him, one on one side and one on the other. He valiantly stays put though, even with these huge creatures moving so close to him. I wonder if the giraffe knew he was there.
Then it is on to a round watering hole where a giraffe is making ready to drink. First he carefully splays his legs at water's edge, then looks intently and slowly in all directions before drinking, and that only briefly before lifting his head, water arcing from his mouth, to check the scene again, for he is most vulnerable in that splayed position. He bends to drink again, just a few swallows, and raises his head to look again, licking his mouth with his long thin purple tongue. Also here are black-faced impala and a big kudu, with her pretty white narrow bands, but no horns, all drinking watchfully together.
There is such an abundance of creatures, all making a living here in their varied ways, each one a work of art.
We come back and take a couple of hours off. I sleep. I am feeling a little strange, I mean physically, and wonder about the mosquito bite I probably got a few days ago at the Epupa camp. That was the night I didn't use repellent, and in the morning I found bloody smears on the sheet where I had swatted something from my cheek in the night. We will see.
After our rest we went out one more time. The first thing Vincent found was a dead snake in the road, pale belly up, quite dead, but I took its picture anyway.
The lions were still there, the impressive male a grand sight by water's edge as he drank for a long, long time in the golden light. Two jackals were near by but waited cautiously, till he finished, to move in the direction of the water.
More snakishness: Vincent shows us a very large snake track across the road, about ten inches wide, where the snake has very recently undulated across and hauled up the verge. Vincent figures he's in the grass there somewhere, and we look but of course don't see him.
A couple of small airplanes take off quite near us--and then without warning, as if in a dream or nightmare, a huge giraffe gallops at full speed towards and across and past the road just a few feet in front of us! We hear his hooves on the road. It is as if I were in a dream with a locomotive bearing down on me, and cannot move. I am too transfixed even to reach for a camera or anything else, and my mouth falls open in wonder and fear. We all sit in stunned silence for a second as he disappears into the woods. The giraffe seems so much bigger than I thought, so much more powerful and frightening, galloping so close to us like that. A huge presence, not really an animal, more a force, a power-filled force, hurtling across the road in front of us.
The afternoon is coming to a close, and we drive on, but suddenly I spot a tiny antelope at the side of the road. "Stop!" I yell. Vincent stops and backs up carefully, and there quite close we see two very tiny Dik-Dik, only about a foot high they are at their little shoulders. Their big eyes are accented with orbital glands with which they mark their tiny territory. I remember learning in East Africa that their defense is to know their little territories so intimately that they can always find a place to escape to. Wonderfully, they seem unafraid of us and come out of the brush, delicately cross the road, and pass into the bushes on the other side. They have rounded little rumps, and I have learned from the Estes book that all the antelopes that live in woods have rounded rumps like that, bigger and sturdier hindquarters so as to pass through the woods more easily.
And so the sun is rolling down, the light is heavy on the land, and we come to the last waterhole of the day—and there arrayed along its banks are twenty-six giraffe. Surely a sight I will never see again. They move slowly among and with each other, now and looking over at us, and around about them, but mostly attending to each other. A zebra bends to drink in the gold light. Several of the giraffes herd off a hyena who has either come to drink, or to hunt something at drink, or both. The giraffes have none of it and do not tolerate his presence, so he has to move off to a distance. He waits, there at a distance. The oldest giraffe, probably, judging by his deep chocolate color, finally goes to drink, carefully lowering himself after looking around. As he sets the example, the others come down too, and we are so close we can hear the clopping of their hooves on the rocky edge of the water.
They, and the zebras, are the most beautiful of all the animals. But the giraffes seem more alien than any of the others, like creatures from some other world, with some other way of life. All the others seem somehow familiar or at least knowable. But not the giraffes.
Then it is the end of the day, the light has fallen, and as John observes, the humans all race for safety in their vehicles, into the fort (and it was a fort in the past) of the camp, surrounded by walls and gates. Accompanied by the local band of banded mongoose, we settle in inside, go up the tower to see the sunset (and observe the mongooses swarming about the grounds), and then hurry over to the local waterhole to search for the pythons we're told are in it. Indeed, we see some peculiar writhing dark shapes in the water, although the birds pick their way around at its edge quite fearlessly.
There is no fear, actually, among the animals. They have no fear of the things that can befall them, because they do not think of the future, nor the lives of other animals. Only humans know fear, I think.
I will never see these things again, what I have seen today and yesterday. For there will be no more time in my life to see them. There still seems a future time, but this is I am certain the last time I will see these things, such things as we have seen today and yesterday, the glorious array and arrangement of the animals, in their freedom here, such as it is. I will see lots of images of them, but I won't smell them, or hear their hooves and breaths and cries and chompings, again. I won't smell the sweet smell of African grass again. I won't see the glassy air again, nor will I ever see the essential purity of Etosha Pan, again.
But at least I have smelled, and heard, and seen these things.
And for those blessings, I am glad.