Archive for July, 2022


July 19, 2022

When I brought the binoculars to my face and the elephants swam into near view, I imagined I could hear the sounds of slaking a thirst, a firehose gush, a filling of bucket-empty-bellies.  The smaller of the herd – and half were young – marked the depth of the dam; they waded out and used their trunks as snorkels, disappearing clean beneath the surface.

But when I lowered the glasses to my lap, the sound was silenced as the view filled my vision.

The valley spills away beneath me, tips towards the savannah which is scorched by drought; I can see the ribbon trails of the tread of game. Sometimes they fray with dust behind the weary walk of a herd of zebra, a trio of eland who hang their heads and whose haunches are growing sharp. 

The blur of hills that cup this valley, like a hand to an ear, funnel the sounds, an amphitheatre cast to amplify acoustics. I hear birds and the boil of cicadas whose buzz simmers through the bush.

Later, when the day tips to evening in the galloping way it does in Africa so that you must locate a torch earlier than you think for you’ll need it; when that curtain drops, there is just a blackness punctuated by moth-holes of brightness punctured by a trillion stars. If only cloud would extinguish their light, you think. If only there could be rain.

The near grunt of a lion makes me jump. Later it will be joined in argument by the the rest of the pride so that I know they are fighting over the best place at a kill. Soon stereo sound is all around and will roar into my sleep and prey on my dreams and I will wake thankful that my tent is firmly secured and not flapping open to the black (and big cats) as I dozed.

And in the morning, in the valley, where the water is a looking glass to the sky, there will be a fresh litter of bones picked bright white and clean. The lions are done with whatever remains of a buffalo. And the vultures almost are.

And as we drive home, threading our way through the bush on ochre-roads whose edges are laced with thorn frilled in bridal white I think that in this secret, still place, where the shrill sound of the ether can’t penetrate, I think that in that brief silence I could collect thoughts?


Walk, Anyone?

July 5, 2022

Come. Come for a walk.

We’ll go across the vlei and up to the reservoir and down the hill where they’re harvesting avocado so that Jip can pinch one for a snack.

Jip begins nudging me out from lunchtime onwards. Tails me around the house. To my office, the kitchen, the loo. Watches hopefully for signs of shoes instead of slippers which I am forced to wear at this time of the year – in the south – for the chilly pinch of cement floors.

Kilimanjaro looms into view as I walk up the small bluff behind the house. This is the best view of her. Today, this evening, when the air is cut glass clear, she seems taller. Stretching on tiptoes up into the blue. Her southern side is swept with snow; that’s where the nipping wind is coming from. I can see every crevice in her side. I imagine, if I strain hard enough, I might even see climbers bent over poles facing into a challenging ascent.

A huge field of stubble is spread before me, bordered to one side by an avenue of trees. Sometimes, when I walk beneath them, the boughs creak like old knees and I pick up my pace in case a branch comes down. Hay was cut here not long ago. Before that I liked to watch the sun rise over it, the first bright fingerlings of light tickled their way over Kilimanjaro’s summit and spun the grass to gold like the Brother Grimms’ Rumpelstiltskin. 

The other morning I saw two zebra here, grazing. They stood still as statues and stared at me as I stared back at them and then with a haughty flick of maned heads and derisive snort, they turned their tails and trotted off, their fat bottoms – which always makes me think of Brian May’s words – undulating voluptuous across the field.

I listen to stories as I walk. Just one earbud in. Circumspect, straining for a crashing through bushes. Buffalo. I often see their droppings here. Ominous splats which dry as pats and flat as plates. I could pick one up and hurl it like a frisbee then. Now I pick my way cautiously. Head up. Watching. Tipped for the slightest sound.

I listen to Annie Dillard On Writing and her words are like a song, so deftly drawn, each syllable perfectly placed: a musical score. Or Didion in Redgrave’s tones describing her Year of Magical Thinking. My best friend’s husband died. I need to understand grief again to understand hers. My own is a distant memory.

I ask mum, ‘What can I say, to comfort her?”

Mum looks devastated at the best friend’s loss. She knew her as intimately as one of her own once. Not anymore. 

‘What can one say?’ She says with such touching sadness I almost weep.

She does not remember she lost her own husband suddenly too.

Didion helps to remind me of the nearness of death and the morphing shape of grief.

Kilimanjaro follows my route. Like an eye in the sky. Mona Lisa’s gaze; I am held within her sights all the way. I feel anchored with this mountain in my own. I was born just the other side of it. When I witness her on my horizons I know I am Home. 

Meru glares at us from across the reservoir.  The sun burnishes the water bronze. On cool days, when the clouds crowd the sky and sieve drizzle to my skin, the water looks steely and bruised, as if emerged from a recent fight. Some days I can barely see Meru through the cloud or the haze or – especially – the dust which rises in the valley on the hooves of a million Masai cattle. But today she is crystal cut, a wisp of cloud about her middle. Like a tutu.  A tutu pulled too wide and too short for her girth. I cannot tell if she looks magnificent today. Or ridiculous: like a stout ballerina.

My breath has quickened from my climb and I gather it here, surveying the spill of the hills below me. There is an urban sprawl down there, corrugated iron roofs wink malevolently. But there is no sound. Just the wind. And – occasionally, especially early in the morning, the throaty rattle of colobus monkeys. I love their call. I always stop to eavesdrop on their chatter. 

I walk fast downhill and turn to catch Kilimanjaro watching me. It’s as if she moves as I do so that she is always just there, just over my shoulder. I walk through rows and rows of avocado trees which are strung with a lacy veil of flowers. More than a million to each tree, to tempt the bees in. Eve and her apple, I think. Most will fall. Like Eve. The rest will end up as hipster breakfast. The odd one a snack for Jip. 

At the bottom of the hill I turn right and walk beneath thick shade.  I have seen huge white tailed mongoose here. Jip too. If she sees them first, before she can escape my clutches, she charges after them. She was stung here. I did not know by what but her distress was instant and evident and I feared at first that maybe it was a quicksilver snake. I watched her carefully for the rest of the walk. A bee, I concluded. Just a bee.

Sometimes I listen to my favourite essayists – David Sedaris, or writers at the Dublin Review as I walk and hope some of their literary magic will percolate into my own language, as if by osmosis. My best words come to me as I walk and have mostly vanished by the time I get home. Unless I capture them quickly in a voice note to self.

I turn and begin to plod back up the hill and the temperature has dropped, the wind at my back nudges me along in gently encouraging gusts. Even Jip is beginning to lag. I keep losing her to the avenues of avos. She knows we’re on the homeward run and time to find exactly the right piece of fruit is running out.   Jackal live here. I have found their den dug into a culvert. I have looked down into the startled eyes of a pup. Jip has chased their parents and I have roared her to heel until I am blue in the face. She come back, outrun, outdone, tongue lolling and pink and I fancy I see a naughty smile about her face.

The light is softening and distilled whiskey gold. In the west, at Meru’s feet the sun is sinking fast, a giant tangerine tipping off the edge of the world but making a holy show of its rolling exit, streaking the sky pink and lilac and orange.

And Kilimanjaro blushes at all the drama.

We’re home.  

Beer, anyone?