“I saw the alchemy of perspective reduce my world, and all my other life, to grains in a cup. I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. And I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know – that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it.” – Beryl Markham, West with the Night
The Call of the Wild
I remember a lot about our time together. Kenya and I. The places she took me, the nights under the stars, the quiet of her expanse in the Chyulu Hills and the energy of her wildness in the Maasai Mara. I remember how time stopped when we met and I climbed out of the tiny plane and walked over to meet a man in deep red cloths and colourful beads, with a smile I instantly returned, adopted, and never quite shook.
ol Donyo Lodge and riding horses just after sunrise, watching the land and sky around me with deeper appreciation, stride by stride. I remember riding bicycles along thick sandy paths until sunset, chasing the last light, like Franz, Arthur and Odile running wild through the Louvre museum trying to break a record, in Bande à part (by Jean-Luc Godard).
“When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you’ve got two new people.” – John Steinbeck
Mara Plains Camp and sitting with a leopard cub and its mother cavorting in the trees and grass and around the tyres of our vehicle. I remember sitting out in the wide openness, over a breakfast cooked right beside us, a great banquet in the wild! Kenya, our new friends and me. I remember feeling more alive in our days together than I had for many years. How could I stare into a lions’ eyes and cycle into a circle of giraffe, wildebeest and cattle – these wild bodies, all so different to mine and yet each with a beating, living heart full of spirit and instinct.
I remember you still, Kenya, even after all these years.
Below are a few of the special moments we shared, and the thoughts, quotes, memories that come to mind when I think of Kenya, our new friends and me.
Flying into Kenya: All the magic. — at Mount Kilimanjaro.
ol Donyo Lodge
Oh, I can see you and I are going to be the best of friends.
“But it’s all still there in my heart and soul. The walk, the hills, the sky, the solitary pain and pleasure – they will grow larger, sweeter, lovelier in the days to come, like a treasure found and then, voluntarily, surrendered. Returned to the mountains with my blessing. It leaves a golden glowing on the mind.” – Edward Abbey
“You know how every once in a while you do something and the little voice inside says, ‘There. That’s it. That’s why you’re here.’ … and you get a warm glow in your heart because you know it’s true? Do more of that.” — Jacob Nordby — starring guide and photographer, Jackson Lemunge
Because being on safari feels like looking life right in the eye and accepting its invitation to dance, with a twitch of the ear and a flick of the tail in place of the taking of a hand. — at Ol Donyo Lodge.
After a 10km cycle (distance totally fabricated) across the plains, with Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance, we traded our bikes for the game vehicle with @jacksonlemunge and wandered right into a hunt between two cheetah and a scattering of zebra. What amazed me even more than the spectacular sighting was my inability to see it. At least not without my long lens. Note to self: You have to wear your glasses. You are blind and would not last a night alone in the wild.
I am afraid every time I ride a horse. Before, and for the first few minutes. But something happens after a while in the saddle, while sashaying across plains and pans or beaches and riverbanks. I start to trust myself. Because it’s not so much the horse I fear as my inability to control him or her. But when that kicks in… that confidence, I have to hold myself back from breaking into a wild and delirious gallop. That’s the power of trust I guess. It tells fear to step down and joy to rise up. Thanks for the picture @jacksonlemunge
Asante Sana. — with Jackson
I spent a lot of time with this bird at ol Donyo Lodge in Kenya, he on one side of the pool and me on the other. I’m not sure, even with all the attention I gave him, that he realised how beautiful he was. He didn’t take notice of his reflection in the water, the bright and shimmering colours of his wings, the subtleties of the different shades, the single bolt of yellow in his eyes. He simply bowed his head, took a drink and gazed back up at the great wilderness around him. Not even his name, the Superb Starling, seemed to concern him, because there he sat beside me, a mere pale wingless human with mud-coloured eyes, in no rush to leave my side. It reminded me of Kipling’s words in the poem, If, “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch.” You are indeed a man, dear starling son. Thank you for your time.
It was inevitable that I would end up a birdwatcher. I come from a family of bird people who have raised and cared for every kind of weird, wild and wonderful little feathered creature… quails, cockatoos, love birds, finches, budgies, Meyers parrots, African Greys. I also have an inexplicable attraction to feathers. But perhaps what I love most about the art of birding is the silence and the stillness. To sit beside people or alone in the quiet of nature and wait and watch and wait and watch. To be like the bird. That is joy.
“Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the Romance of the unusual.” – Ernest Hemingway
“Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it … to know the language and have time to be in it and to move slowly.” – Ernest Hemingway
Mara Plains Camp
“A naturalist is lucky in two respects. First, he enjoys every bit of the world about him and has a much more enriched life than someone who is not interested in nature. Second, he can indulge his hobby in any place at any time, for a naturalist will be fascinated to watch nature struggling to exist in the midst of a great city as well as observe its riotous splendour in a tropical forest. He can be equally interested and moved by the great herds on the African plains or by the earwigs in his back yard.” – Gerald Durrell, A Practical Guide for the Amateur Naturalist.
“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” – Cheryl Strayed, Wild
Just after sunrise, as the chill in the air warmed, we headed into the bush to find our leopards, a mother and daughter. There in the same spot as the night before, under the shade of a tree holding their gazelle kill, the two tumbled and stalked and climbed and leapt and rolled together. We sat beside them for over an hour. My hands shook. I had to remind myself to breathe. I felt an inappropriate urge to swear and a deep desire to call my mother and tell her I love her. Because it is simply impossible to watch such a scene unfold and not feel something grab at your heart.
Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?
“The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.” — Annie Leibovitz
The true joy of a moonlit night. – at Mara Plains Camp
This smile was not for me. This was between them, this was their inside joke and their own world and it would take me a long time to enter it. But that was what I liked about the moment. It was real and not put on. This was their home and as much as they welcomed the camera, they paid it no attention. The men, of course, were different. But it was the Masai women I was most interested in. And the stories behind their smiles.
It’s pretty incredible to come across animals you have never seen before. Like the topi I had heard so much about growing up, this antelope with a reddish brown coat and black patches and curved ridged horns that can’t be found in South Africa… only further north. Each time I glimpse some new wild and wonderful creature I am reminded of how much more there is to see in the world, how ridiculous it is to ever be bored with life and how completely essential it is to hold onto your childlike wonder, and onto hope.
Zebra are some of the most gregarious of animals in the Masai Mara, intermingling with wildebeest and topi and hartebeest, and even peculiar photographers lying tummy down on the plains to get a low angle of their gorgeous rumps. Thank you for having me, sweet things.
I read once that any animal that can fight a lion without backing down should be admired. I also read that a lone buffalo bull is the most dangerous animal in Africa. After all the stories and close encounters I’ve experienced, I have an ever deepening respect for you, dear bovine, even if the (delusional) optimist in me sees something kind in those eyes. At least the right eye. The left one is all stealth.
I desperately would like to quote The Kite Runner here. But it’s unrelated and I can’t ignore this babe’s refusal to follow the herd, her lightness of spirit in a world so uncertain and her continuing to put her best foot forward, thorns be damned. So I’ll keep Kite Runner for another photo and hold onto the joy of that one time in Kenya…
Only days old and already making friends. Welcome to earth, baby love.
“And while I waited, I went on learning.” – Jane Goodall
A lot of problems in the world would disappear if we talked to each other instead of about each other.
“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” — Steve McCurry
The peace of wild things.
“If you have an open heart and are filled with trust and friendship, even if you are physically alone, even living a hermit’s life, you will never feel lonely.” – Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy
“Life is more than breath and a heartbeat; meaning and purpose are the life of life.” – Desmond Tutu