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Song of the Morning



Day 2:

 I wake in the predawn blackness, light a candle so I can see to dress, and slip out into the still morning. I stand for few moments listening to the morning sounds, then I walk forward quietly—ten steps—stop—listen—look back over both shoulders—then another ten steps.


Maybe I am paranoid, but I am trying to immerse my senses in this African morning. I want to know every sound and the meaning of each noise as it changes. I also do not want to give a leopard the idea that I might be an easy meal.


As I near the main lodge building, the lions over in the Predator Project cage begin roaring. This is a sound that comes like the crash of a wave. I feel that if I am at all off-balance, I might be swept away. It makes me feel very small and pitifully blind in the dim morning light. The lions rattle the fences and I wonder how well the fences work to hold a 400-pound cat. I slip into a darker shadow of the porch and wait for the dawn. My heart rate rises, I feel very alive and aware of the wonderful fragility of that.


With the coming sun, the lions cease shaking the ground and it becomes easy to believe that the lions are all safe within their enclosure.  I pull out a camp chair and sit to watch the water hole.


I hear the sparrow hawk coming before see it. Or more specifically, I hear the silence that surrounds it. The small birds have stopped all their morning noises and hidden in thickets. Then the hawk comes in low and fast over the pond looking for any small bird still unaware and in the open.  There is a scuffle in a shrub on the far side of the water and a few feathers drift down. Soon all the other birds are back at their normal activities knowing the sparrow hawk will not need to eat again soon.  I think of the lions and my own silence in the shadows.


Our group assembles. Robin has already been out tracking the sand roads. He tells us of the Jackal tracks he found, Jon tells of the insects that passed his cabin in the night: millipede, dung beetle, and small antelope the size of medium dog—the Duiker.


The sand here tells stories to anyone who takes the time to listen.


Tapping Beatle Tracks


We meet the Naro and head in to the bush. Today, Xigio shows us basic survival skill for the desert dwellers, or what every bushman child by the age of 3 knows. Here, even with our group’s depth of outdoor experience, we may as well be helpless babes for what we do not know. But we learn fast. Xigio show a small plant with opposite leaves, and starts to dig. The soil moves fast, like digging on the beach. Soon he has a large root in his hands the size of cantaloupe. He uses the clean end of his digging stick to chop in to the base making a pulp of the root, then he holds the pulp in his hand and using his thumb as a spout, squeezing out water. I have heard that in some parts of the Kalahari, plants like this might be a bushman’s only water source for months.


Xigao and The Bi palnt


          Xigio shows us several large, edible roots also dripping with water. Some of these plants tops were so small and sparse looking, it was such a surprise to dig up such a large tuber.

          The Bushmen think of these things as basic skills—things that everyone knows—for us, like tying a shoe. The Naro are surprised that we are so interested. This knowledge that the Bushmen hold is a sign of something greater; it is part of their overall awareness of the surroundings. They truly know every plant, not as a name, but as a friend. They know the strengths and limitations, and how and when to use each.


The Bushmen have a skill-set foreign to many of us. The Naro are truly connected the land. You might not notice some of the subtleties just by watching them. As an example: we were talking to Xguta (Gu-ta) about the tracks of a Wildebeest. He was pointing out the age of the tracks, the sex, and may other details. Later, Jon asks Xguta about a specific bird-call he had heard in the distance just as Xguta had started talking. Xguta says—as if it were the most obvious thing in the world—“Oh that? That means there is a mongoose way over there.” He had taken this all in, mid-conversation, and had already made a mental map of the wildlife around us.


Xigao Show us how the bushmen track



This awareness is one of the things I am hoping to learn from the Naro while I am here. I cannot think of any time in my life that increased awareness will not be a helpful.

I tend to think I know my home ground pretty well…but do I really?


Are there bird calls I don’t know the meaning of? Are there plants I do not know or only by name? Are there animals whose habits I do not understand?


The answer is yes to all of those. It is now time for me to open my ears, eye and nose.

Time to feel everything I can from my than just my hands—use my entire skin. My senses are here, now I just need to use them. Hopefully then, I might know when the leopard stalks near.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jane Wohl #

    I love this… I can almost smell the morning.

    April 16, 2012
  2. Judy #

    Wonderful, but I am glad that you weren’t lion lunch!

    April 17, 2012

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