(pic by safari craig)
(me in my mother's arms circa 1969)
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.