Thursday, July 16, 2015

Back Home Again

I'm grabbing a week at the bungalow I share in the Olifants River Game Reserve.  It's my first visit this year and I was suffering serious withdrawal symptoms.  It's been a hectic period - A DEATH IN THE FAMILY launches in South Africa this month and there are lots of events going on around that, we are going through a difficult patch with the next Kubu mystery, and all this was against the backdrop of lectures, exams, and so on at the university.

One of the advantages and disadvantages of being here is that the internet is spacey and the power is less reliable than in Johannesburg (which is saying something these days).  So I thought I'd post again the blog of a couple of years ago where I explained how I feel about being here and illustrate that with a variety of pictures from my friend and partner here at Olifants, Aron Frankental.

This piece is about how I feel in this natural area and about what these sorts of places mean to me and, I guess, to us all. I’m not talking about conservation imperatives to which we all subscribe – preserving nature for diversity and future generations and so on.  I’m talking about what it means to me personally to experience this environment and to be part of it.

Of course, we are all visitors.  No matter if we come once for a couple of weeks or if we’re here for months every year.  We have other priorities.  Families, friends, jobs.  These things – for most of us – are concentrated in large towns or cities, so that is where we need to spend most of our time.  In the bush we now live with electricity, vehicles, appliances, cell phones.  These are hardly part of nature!

So what draws me back here?  Of course it includes the wonderful animal and bird life, but the complex interconnections of the systems are endlessly fascinating.  Huge blobs of elephant dung at dawn are sifted pancakes by dusk as dung beetles convert it to an incubator for their eggs and a nursery for the grubs.  (Watch for them rolling balls to a suitable burial place as you drive; a neighboring reserve has a welcome sign reading “Dung Beetles have Right of Way.”)  Caterpillars are hosted and fed by ants for the sweet juices they exude.  In the soft sand below our deck is a minefield of conical antlion holes waiting for the ants.  It’s not all great.  A baby impala is wonderfully cute but at the bottom of the fauna food chain.  And we've had a few cases of malaria.  Bad luck, bad timing, being careless.  Pretty much how you get injured in a car accident in a city.  (There aren’t too many of those here.)

I suppose most people’s personal feel for history is related to their parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on.  For me, to be in a place like this is to experience the Africa that the early pioneers discovered, and appreciate the dangers the locals faced on a daily basis.  The San could have been fighting over the waterhole with the lions.  It makes these things meaningful to me in a way that no historical description can.  The African bush speaks to me about my mother’s grandfather who was a missionary from Belgium to what was then the rural Transvaal, and of my father’s great grandparents who took part in the Great Trek to the north of the country.  And it reminds me always of my mother who spent the happiest times of her life with me in wild Africa.

I assume that most people feel this sort of connection with their physical, historical, and natural environment.  I can’t imagine that it matters if it’s the African bush, a forested lake in the backwoods of Minnesota, the Australian outback, or (insert your favorite natural place).  I think these areas hold us and remind us where we came from.  I never want to lose this link to what southern Africa was and still is.  Even though I remain a visitor.

Michael – Out of touch on Thursday


  1. You can't say this too often for me, Michael. You are right. People are attached the places in their own personal history--I certainly am. BUT the entire human race has its original birthplace in the African wilderness. I felt that on a DNA level the first days I spent there, when most of my own life was in my past. Nothing compares with that feeling of coming home. I am there with you in spirit.

  2. It sounds like you're more IN touch than OUT of touch, Michael. I'm envious! (Not for the malaria, but still...)