Desert song


Wildebeest at the Water, Auob River, Kalahari – Copyright Silverleaf 2016

I have been to heaven and back:
I have walked red tracks that run silent
through lush green pastures draped in yellow-flowered trees;
I have been through canyons flanked by purpled mountains
worn by time and winds that no human has breathed;
I have stood on golden soil and drank air fresh, sweet;
I have watched lines of zebra cross the red velt at a gallop
and antelope herds gather to drink from swollen rivers;
I have seen thundrous clouds sweep the sky clean
and fog drift in across arid desert
nourishing rocks into growth;
I have watched red sand seas shift eternally —
here mountains are born, beginning low
reaching peaked into the deep blue;
I have seen the sun and moon face each other
across golden savannas, across lilac starfields
(oblivious to my awe);
I have seen a universe and an eternity in one place.

In the end I have come back out of these lands
but still I walk them in dreams,
this heaven I can never leave behind.

Nothing to Fear

I’m afraid of the lions. They’re out there and I know it because I saw them, just over the hill behind our tent. The tents, though sturdy, aren’t fenced in, aren’t protected from anything out there. Actually, there isn’t an out there. Or more accurately, everywhere is out there.

These were my thoughts as we sat (like sitting ducks, I fretted) one evening in the Kalahari on a hill overlooking a watering hole in the dry Auob river bed. The heat was overwhelming as the leaves of the nearby camel thorn tree rustled slightly, dispersing the tree’s distinctively sour odour. It would be a scent I would grow homesick for when we left it behind. 

The riverbed seemed to be holding its breath – the calm before the storm. Purple clouds gathered behind the red bush-studded hills on all sides. The 15 tents that comprise the camp seemed to hunch down into the sandy hill, alone, waiting. The storms of the previous three nights, unusual in their intensity, seemed set to roll in again. Thunder rumbled low and deep in the distance, sounding suspiciously similar to the roar of a great cat. I looked around nervously, ready to run inside and close the doors at the slightest hint of lightening or lion.

Earlier that day, we had come upon three lions lazing in the shade of a tree right in the middle of the dirt road. A number of other 4x4s had already stopped to sit and watch them, and take pictures. Sensing that the lions were too hot and too relaxed to pounce, some people had rolled their windows down. All the better to get a good photo. Eventually, even I did the same. 

But that was in the heat. In the cool of the evening as first a herd of springbok accompanied by a pack of jackals, then wildebeest, gemsbok and even four stately giraffes all made their way to the watering hole, it seemed only a matter of time before the lions crept past and prepared to pounce. 

And why would they bother with something that might actually get away, something that would require stealth, hunting, effort? Why not just pluck us from our tent? It didn’t help that the park ranger had mentioned during his rounds that evening that the lions had passed by our tent a few evenings earlier, or that they had apparently laid down just under the tree in front of our window.

“What time should we go inside, then?” I asked, trying to determine the level of danger without appearing ridiculously “city.”

“You can stay out here,” was the answer, “unless they do appear. Then you should go inside until they pass by.”

I began this trip convinced I’d be eaten by a hyena that would, I imagined, rip though the tent. I also had quite vibrant fears related to poisonous snakes. There were many times during the trip that I was sure our vehicle wouldn’t make it through the backcountry gravel – and often washed out – roads. But I saw neither snake nor hyena on the entire 11 day 4000km trip through four national and transfrontier (crossing borders with Botswana and Namibia) parks.

The most danger we ever actually faced was on the last day when our SUV did get stuck in seven feet of sand where a river had washed out a section of the Augrabies Park road. With no phone reception to call the ranger for help, my husband and I tried everything, digging the wheels out with our hands and building ramps from river stones and branches. Finally, in the midday desert heat, my husband set off on foot towards the rest camp 25 km away, leaving my son and I to wait with the vehicle. Though I imagined everything from strangers kidnapping us  for trafficking purposes to the car overheating, I managed to keep these thoughts to myself. After an hour, my husband and a ranger truck appeared and we were pulled out of the sand. In other words, nothing really happened. 

It’s probably asking for trouble to take someone who suffers from anxiety into the place where humans developed the fight-or-flight response. Foolish, or wise. Perhaps my husband thought it would cure me. 

It didn’t.

But I did survive and my memories are of the stunning beauty, the distinctive scents and the amazing animals, not the fear. So I guess that’s something. 

Giraffe at Augrabies

Stillness on the open windswept veld:
layers of birdsong weaving
beetle and cicada wings clicking
the roar of hot breezes.

A shadow canters, head down,
moving soundless between trees.
At a safe distance it pauses,
turns and stretches to full height,
stands watching,
silent by camel thorn tree.

Words to Hold On

The happiest times are fleeting;
memories slipping between fingers
as I try to grasp
this second
and the next
as I try to slow Time
to feel
to make it real.

Two years of dreaming these streets,
people, sounds, perfumes,
have brought me back here
and now I know how it will go
once more I strain to hold on
with words carefully chosen
Literary Voodoo
to help me
capture this place in my soul
so I may bring it with me.

I carry it wherever I go.

Night village

The dark-descended village
huddles between sea and hills
fading into velvet-covered black

Starlight, boat light, town light
(landlocked stars) reflections mingling in the night
dance, meeting at shoreline

Humanity’s sounds are swallowed
by sea-roar, wind-howl, frog-song;
the night strips our uneven power