We spent a week in the bush. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a dry “rainy” season before: it’s worse than many winters have been. Despite this, the animals seem well fed. The lions’ bellies are so fat that they struggle to drink, their full stomachs hitting the ground uncomfortably as they crouch to drink the muddy water. It will probably be gone in the next few days, leaving a baked dry cake barely betraying the smallest hint of water.
We are lucky enough to see a leopard calmly perched in the fork of a jackalberry tree. I immediately think of her as an old granny, surveying her domain. I almost see a delicate china cup filled with earl grey tea nestled in her paws. A chortling bird lands in the tree, but it is beneath her dignity to respond to this cheekiness.
Wild dog move from one bank to the other: two seconds later and we would not have been able to see through their camouflage to find them panting in the shade.
The baby impala are weeks late. Impala can extend their gestation periods if necessary, so this drought has resulted in late bloomers. Impala are so reliable and steady. If nothing else is spotted, we can enjoy their gentle eyes and gorgeous browns nibbling on titbits.
A tiny steenbok doe delicately bends her ears back at a sound from behind. Steenbok mate for life and live in pairs, so her mate must be nearby.
The elephants have come out to the spa. One is thoroughly enjoying her exfoliating rub against an old tree, one leg lifted in ecstasy as she scrapes the dry skin off. One baby tries to follow her mother through the dam and her little trunk pokes up like a snorkel as they cross the muddy dam. One grumpy old elephant is not enjoying the family fun. He is last to arrive at the waterhole and crosses right to the opposite side of the water to have a slow drink. Nobody is too concerned. They all enjoy different stages of what the watering hole has to offer: rubbing dry skin off of old tree trunks, slaking their thirst, soaking in the water, rolling in the mud, or spraying fine dry sand over their heads to coat their backs in a protective layer.
The waterbuck lowers his stately horns to drink water; the dartboard on his bum counters his solemn face. According to legend, the waterbuck used to sneak into baboon’s house to use his toilet. Baboon became so exasperated with the waterbuck continuously using his toilet that he played a trick. After warning waterbuck to stay away, he painted the toilet seat white, permanently leaving a mark to warn not only waterbuck, but all animals to leave his throne alone!
A dazzle of zebra trot by, their hooves kicking up dust as they head off into the distance to find some greener pastures.
Hard-headed buffalo peer out from their watering hole, on the lookout for potential predators.
We stayed in Mopani, overlooking the Pioneer Dam. Sheltered amongst the Mopani bushes, I feel as though we’re the only ones there.
I lay on my stomach on the deck, overlooking the water. I look up from my book every now and then to see buck quietly drinking, hippos spraying water out of their nostrils as they surface for air, or a monitor lizard sunning itself on the rock nearby.
All of a sudden a grouse appears behind me, calling out a warning sound to see if I’m a threat. I try to catch the attention of those inside to come out and look, but I cannot draw them out of the afternoon slumber that has taken them captive. As I prove to be no threat, the bird slowly and carefully walks around darting down to swallow the giant ants that are creeping along the floor between peering at me to ensure that I don’t suddenly turn and eat him.
Old year’s eve has its own quiet beauty. A blanket of stars stretches across the sky, the sparks from the fire burst up and die (a gentle fireworks display), and a Christmas beetle shares dinner with us, quietly munching on a carrot stick that fell from my fork, landing next to my plate.
We visit the old Baobab before we leave Mopani. A sense of peace radiates from the stone hard bark. I rest my hands gently on the bark, imagining the life force flowing through the tree. So many animals find their home in this tree, and it has stood for so long.
I couldn’t have asked for a better way to begin the new year. My heart is in the bush: a centring force that grounds me. I hope the peace and serenity can sustain me as the year goes on.
Photos by Rheedan