One of my favourite winter amusements is to phone, if I can, somebody in Joburg and commiserate with them about what’s it’s like to shiver in sub-zero temperatures while I put my feet up at a braai fire outside, enjoying the peace of the African bush complemented by a spicy shiraz.
The response is not always polite – as when my former secretary swore at me as I spoke to her, in shorts and a T-shirt, as I was turning the steak on the braai at Halali camp in Etosha National Park in Namibia.
I’d lived in Gauteng for 30 years and, early on, I learned that this may be the engine room of South Africa, but it’s an awful place for a few months in the middle of the year. In 2020, of course, it’s been even less appealing because we haven’t been able to flee the smoke and pollution for the solace of the bush.
This year, we had planned on a long weekend away over Easter at a lodge in the Dinokeng reserve, just north of Pretoria … and then along came lockdown. We postponed until August – but now even that is looking increasingly remote as infections spike and the government is about to pull the “go back to jail” card.
Picture: Brendan Seery
The bush is the place I recharge my batteries … but not those of my cellphone. It’s where I take a stock of books – some stimulating and thought-provoking, the others trashy – and plough steadily through them. It’s where I indulge in afternoon naps. It’s where I get entertained by the impossibly close skies in the clear night sky, instead of TV and the internet.
Even though these bush breaks are ones for relaxing, I will often be up at dawn, sometimes even making tea for my wife (which normally is the other way around because it’s difficult to get me out of bed in the morning in the city).
There is nothing better on a bush morning than a cup of tea or coffee and a couple of Ouma’s best rusks. And then, if it’s possible, I’ll go for a walk by myself.
When you move through the terminalia woodland of the Waterberg and feel your shoes sliding and struggling for grip in the soft white sand, you being to feel the layers of city falling away to reveal the essence of life.
Even though I can only do this in places where there are no dangerous animals, I feel that heightened sense of alertness the normal inhabitants of the place must exercise. I listen. I look. I sniff.
Although it is a privilege to be able to see, close up, wild animals from the safety of a vehicle on an early morning winter game drive, I am not fussed if, on my walks, I see little sign of life other than birds. Sitting on a rock, listening to the wind eddying and swirling gently around you as the sun creeps above the speckled winter branches, is enough.
Occasionally, you’ll get both – as I did on a quiet, contemplative walk one morning when I walked into a herd of young blesbok bulls. I saw them before they saw me – which doesn’t often happen, but I was downwind of them.
They startled, jumping away a few paces before stopping to look at this interloper. And there we sat, staring at each other for long minutes. Then they panicked and ran off, swallowed up almost instantly by the trees and grass.
No kill. No chase. No roars. But no clicking of cameras and safari guest muttering either…
The coronavirus lockdown has made me long even more for this simplicity of experience.
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