Saturday, March 7, 2009

ode to my father.

(pic by safari craig)

when i drove down the hill early this morning, the hills dusted in gentle dust gold, i heard safari life singing its song to me. all those ghosts calling, dancing.


i have been known to say i hate camping, my friends will tell you, for reasons posted a long time ago...you know, ants, dust, thorns, failing at fire making and stumbling around drunk in the dark...but actually, i will confess, i love it. i really do. i am just trying to be funny. i grew up in tents, for godsakes. when i was six weeks old i was apparently dragged out on safari, very little and very loud, tucked up in a wicker basket under a mosquito net.

(me in my mother's arms circa 1969)


early childhood memories...long red rutted roads in old landrovers, "I Spy" games for hours, distant blue hills and plains, dark forests and wide rivers all set about with crocodiles...playing with sticks and mud, little tin boats floating down the zambezi, fishing for tiger fish....terrifying...(read ted hugh's poem - Pike - he gets it exactly right.) lying in a tent with my sisters, the grown ups' very distant voices, around a glimmering fire, and a lion calling too closely. we all lay huddled afraid yet very much alive. the lion passed our tent. we lay very quiet, frozen, wooden effigies of ourselves, terrified to breathe or flinch a muscle, as we heard his foot fall inches from our tent. the excrutiating loudness of a crushed dry leaf and a snapped twig and the roar of adrenalin as it rushes through your ears and your heart. you almost hear the stars turn. you grow ears which are long and twisted, curling into the invisible sound waves of a still, cold African winter night. we heard the lion exhale. three little sausages frozen in a row...while we hear the grown-ups laughing at wild tales around the fire. eons away.


oh the joy when dad pops his head into the tent. hours later. laughing. excited. roaring like a lion. scaring us and telling us not to be silly...then finding the tracks, as large as pudding bowls the next morning.


jesus dee. look. it was quite close..hell eh? big bugger too. (to my mother who didn't appear to be listening and wasn't the least bit bothered. which gave me courage. she was too busy sending us out into another wild morning, armed with pens and notebooks to make bird lists. my elder sister being the lucky one, who got the butterfly net. and even sometimes the camera.)
you see dad! you see dad! leaping around him like imps, already collecting sticks and fishing rods and naked dolls.

i love the smell of gun oil...i loved to see my father cleaning his "elephant guns", of an evening, the fire crackling on a rare rainy night; i would savour the smell of safaris long past, the poignant gun oil odour, the light in my father's eyes and sometimes wish i was a boy who loved guns. rifles with beautiful silver filigree around the action, his initials posh and curling...names like rigby, du moulin, holland and holland, westley richards .458, .375, double barrelled; guns which leave bruises on your shoulders and your ears ringing. i am, and always have, been terrified of them. yet i love them. they are my father and his story. a life he left behind. the best of times. my small boy cousins would say,
uncle ron, please can we see your elephant guns. please tell us another elephant story. please please! and i would feel like the proudest girl possible, walking on the planet, a fierce quiet love burning for my father only.


and sometimes, after we had left zambia, to a very different tame south africa, my father would, on occassion, take his guns up to The Gods (the highest hills on the farm) and fire his rifles. a nostalgia and yearning hung around his eyes. the boom of the rifles would echo into the vallies far below. i sat in the car, safely, with my fingers in my ears and loving my father more than i could ever tell him.


come on koeks. nearly time for supper. let's go. let's go...and i would watch him carefully and lovingly packing his rifles away - laying them down tenderly, as you would pack the best years of your life away...

so. pack the torch and the boots. the hat and a few good novels. don't forget the bins and the bird books...oh and a pen and diary. and a bottle or two of single malt. cold beers and sodas and water water water. then supplies, and bedding and tents and lamps. mozzie nets, sun block, and insect repellant...don't forget your safari jacket, the one with all the holes in, the one whose pockets bulge from savoured memories; pockets stuffed with seeds and feathers, cigarette butts and snake skins. drive beyond the horizon, along curling roads, wind in your hair, sun on your back. head to where you're happiest.
where you're happiest.




31 comments:

family affairs said...

Beautifully evocative as ever. Lxxx

tam said...

oh Janelle, beautiful post. Tears in my eyes. Dear old Ron. Ah. Perfect.

Mud in the City said...

Fabulously wistful and beautifully tangible. You are lucky to have had him for a dad, and he equally lucky to have had you.

Dumdad said...

You write so vividly about a life that I couldn't imagine. The smells and the sounds ease themselves off the page and waft their way into my brain. My life, by comparison, seems insipid.

Janelle said...

thanks you gals. yeah tam, he's a very very dear man. emotionally burst with my love for him. and yes, so lucky to have him as my dad mud. he is still alive, but far from me now. far from me. xxx j

Janelle said...

oh thanks DD. your life is SO not insipid. i adore your tales, your humour, pics of english gentlemen, pastel rosed gardens, stone walls and english gardens, french baguettes and snow and deep red wines...oh yes! xxx j

Elizabeth said...

Word verification :
unbum (!!!?) odd

anyway, a beautiful, evocative post and amazing memories of your father
you write so well and you seem so brave

I think I'm a very timid soul altogether.
We spent the night as the only guests in a nature resort in Ranacpur. A bit lonely. I wondered whether I would be eaten by a tiger......but, obviously, wasn't since they are all at a quite different nature preserve......

The friend we will return to stay with in London was in Zambia for some years.
His daughter, Zuki, was born there.
lots of love

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow.

That's all I can think to say.

Do you think it's the landscapes that have made you and yours so extraordinary, so gifted, so beautiful and vivid and alive? Or would you still be so amazing even if you'd grown up in Kansas? Maybe you would. Maybe.

Wow.

nmj said...

I am so glad to know your lovely dad is still here. Wooden effigies of yourselves is a gorgeous description. x

SafariB said...

I know how you feel Janelle. Beautiful.

Thank you.

Tessa said...

Oh yes! I see you there, Janelli, your little hand in his big one marching step by step along the same road in Africa. What a beautious tribute to a marvellous man who clearly nutured in you the spirit of adventure and zest for life, love and laughter that you have in giddy and delightful abundance.

My father was the one who gave me words written on the header on my blog - and I also love what John Gregory Brown wrote about fathers and daughters:

"There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself."

karen said...

how beautifully depicted, and you have no idea how many memories it brings back of my own childhood! thanks for the lovely post xx

Dumdad said...

There's an award awaiting you at my blog.

Jeannie said...

Beautiful. And it feels as though you are writing about the far distant past, lost in the mists of time stuff... yet it's your life and it wasn't long ago. Ways of life change so fast on this continent. Thank you for sharing.

Lori ann said...

oh janelle, i am so moved by your beautiful post. thank you for sharing this, your memories, the photos(great family one,wow), and your Dad, what a man. my dad was similar and our growup years all over mexico, with coyotes nearby instead of lions, brought back alot of memories for me reading this. I hope your dear dad will have someone show him this. something tells me he would like it very much.
lotsandlots of love,
lori

Janelle said...

thanks all for lovely comments. i wish my dad knew how to use a computer. i wish my dad could read this. maybe. x x xj
oh and reya. yes maybe. who knows. i don;t think its only the landscape..but societies in transition, and the weather, and platforms and ak 47's and my mother....oh heavens above, who the hell knows...!? good point, as always, reya...x

Wil Robinson said...

What a great bit of writing - and a childhood with so many differences from mine.

yet, despite all the differences, the same emotions and attachments between family are there. Great piece.

I know it's probably my American stereotypes kicking in, but I picture your father a little like Robert Redford in Out of Africa.

Janelle said...

hey wil...great to see you. thanks for comment. no ways! my dad is WAYEEE cooler than namby pamby redford...try a cross between lawrence of arabia, john cleese and a sultan from jaipur...(?) maybe (? tam? mo? pamu?) xx j ps: those are friends, more family, who sometimes pass this way and know him...so wondering if they agree with my, um, mix...oh blah blah...toodely! X

Chimera said...

Gorgeous post Janelle..really lovely. Your style is that of a dancer sometimes..the way your words skip and breath and ..well..I am agog and in awe!
Tanvi x

Rob Inukshuk said...

Fabulously told memories. Thanks for sharing. Evokes my own memories of Dad and Africa. Sigh.

Nao said...

Beautiful post Janelle. I always marvel at your ability to tell a good story.
And, I want you to write more about your early childhood safari memories, they deserve their own book!

Miranda said...

Oh yes J, your dad is certainly one of the coolest men alive. And you're right MUCH better that Robert Redford! Lawrence of Arabia, John Cleese and a Sultan of Jaipur. Yes. But something else too. I can't quite put my finger on it....

O and of course your father is the best storyteller the world has ever seen!

Janelle said...

tanvi..THANK YOU! what a lovely thing to say....well. i adore your blog...one of the first that i started following and still am, real funny true and full of empathy... lots love xxx j

thanks rob! didn;t realize you are also an african. thanks for reading and leaving a comment. xxx j

hello angel nao! thanks darling. yes. a book!? well...maybe. one day...sending you lots of love xxx j

Janelle said...

oh mo...and just seen your comment...indeed, what is that other thing??? yeah. he is a most captivating story teller...remember the money and beirut story?? what a tale... xxx j

Mama Shujaa said...

Janelli!

Andika kitabu, please. I just loved this post! Hebu andika more tafadhali. eh? kipenzi? Just wondering...did you ever watch Daktari? I look forward to more.

herhimnbryn said...

Beautiful.

ciara said...

just stopping by to say 'hi' and even i don't leave comments i am reading. love all your stories...the way you describe things. :)

karen said...

Hi Janelle, there's an award for you on my blog today! :)

Janelle said...

mama shujaa..asante sana dada...nitajaribu (sp!) one day. one day...thanks for your encouragement. don;t think i have seen daktari...seen hatari though...hilarious and some of those scenes positively dangerous! salaams...xxx j

ciara and herhimnbryn..THANKS for your comments! always always appreciated and encouraging! xxx j

karen! THANKS. will swing by yours. i don;t display my awards, but keep them very close to my heart instead! SO THANK-YOU THANK-YOU THANK-YOU indeed and much appreciated! xxx j

Val said...

I have to keep re-reading this one. It is so intensely vivid and alive with feeling. Tanvi is right - i agree. and clearly you have the story telling gene;
just plain fabulous! xxx

Chef Chuck said...

You are so fortunate to have a father that instilled in your life a sense of freedom and adventure! Enjoy :)