The weather here is notoriously fickle, the effect of which is exacerbated by the fact that it is very predictable in its phases. This year summer has come upon us suddenly, early, and completely without warning. One day we were shivering in biting cold, taking hot water bottles to bed with us, sleeping with our socks on…the next day it warmed up nicely, and the next day it was blistering. Overnight the bird calls changed, the sky changed, the trees entered into accelerated summer-mode. Extraordinary. We now have the unusual phenomenon of the Mopani leaves still turning and falling, whilst the Kigelia lost their leaves overnight, started flowering profusely, and are already bedecked with delicate greens, while the Diospyros is still turning. The bush is desiccated – places that were thick bush a few weeks ago are barren wasteland, dry, trampled by the ubiquitous elephant. Quite alarming if one didn’t know that the rains will once again transform the landscape, and within a few short months the bush will once again be thick. Game viewing in the interim is spectacular.
Fear In The Bush
Of all the emotions, fear is surely the most debilitating. Fear banishes enjoyment, it crowds reason from the mind, it asserts itself in the central cortex like Neptune upon the waves, it demands attention to the exclusion of all else. It talks to you constantly, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes urgently, sometimes with an insistence that deprives one of one’s wits. Fear, in short, is no fun, and we don’t like our guests to be frightened. A certain caution is not amiss – you are, after all, in a strange environment, and strange environments call for a little more circumspection than we accord our normal to-ings and fro-ings. Fear, on the other hand, is unnecessary, unhelpful, and can be dangerous when it interferes with one’s judgment.
It saddens us to see people frightened. Recently a party of four sat their mekoro while a breeding herd of elephant crossed the water before them, a peaceful procession of animals, the babies with their trunks up for air, the adults chivvying them along, the setting sun throwing them into gorgeous relief - a scene from the Garden of Eden, from a time before the earth creaked from the demands put upon it. But for one of the party it was a nightmare, a trap, the ineluctable end-result of a series of fatally bad decisions that had conspired to rob her of her life in this raw and blood-curdling place. As another guest many years ago wrote, after a elephant had spent some time browsing peacefully near his room, “We were undeniably close to death.” In vain did we try to reassure his that being undeniably close to an elephant was a privilege that had nothing whatsoever to do with his final exit. Fear had deprived him of his reason.
We exist to reward people for the effort and expense of coming here. it saddens us when we fail, and when fear makes our purpose impossible to achieve.
September Is Spring
It’s September, and the first week of September is spring, the first flush of summer, when the Mopani leaves turn. This is a largely unsung event, as it’s short and subtle, so much subtler than the garish wonder of the northern hemisphere’s autumnal blaze, but as spectacular nevertheless. After the fall the deep russet leaves lie in windswept heaps on the purple sand, under stark, resinous branches sweating their sticky essence in the gathering heat. As the temperatures build in October to hellish proportions, and whether the rains come or not, there is a sudden bursting of the most delicate leaflets, elfin green against the baked-black branches, unfurling rapidly so deep shade gives the sand respite. Then the cicadas break into their frenzied song, ringing the bells that herald the wet season until one becomes disoriented with the sound. And all the time the great wet clouds build in the limitless sky, until one afternoon they break in terrifying swirls of dust and come crashing to earth, slaking the deep Kalahari sand and banishing the memory of what has been endured.
Some find the early Okavango summers a challenge. I am invigorated by their onset and the explosion of life that accompanies it.