Bones, Branches, and a Lemur

Winter in the southern hemisphere gets down to the brass tacks of nature. The cold in Swaziland isn’t too harsh, but dry fields burn bright orange as wild fires blaze, scorching the earth to regenerate the soil.  Leaves are brittle and dry. Roads are dusty. Winds howl through the naked trees.

The heater in our old Landy works pretty well. It was not love at first sight, driving this old beast, but she has become a symbol of road trips and African adventure for our family. We recently journeyed to Ndlovu camp in Hlane Royal National Park. It has no electricity in its thatched huts called rondavels.  When you check in to get your key (that has no door number, just the name “Big Hut,” ) you see bones and skulls displayed of hippos, crocodiles, deer, and lions.

As we settled in, the late afternoon sun waIMG_0682s setting behind brambles, the light resembling stained glass. Encroaching darkness cast elephant-sized shadows all around, diminishing the details of our ambient room. A woman came by to light our kerosene lamps.Nightjars called, and a bright white crescent appeared with a billion sparkling stars. A bare tree, starkly silhouetted against the moon-lit  sky, had branches dotted with so many stars that they looked like snow flakes.

IMG_0759In the absence of electricity was a gorgeous quiet; no usual house hums of fridge or gadgets. It was so silent, in fact, that I heard a faint ringing in my ears.

I piled on the blankets and read a book by flashlight.

Close to midnight, there was rustling in the living room. I walked toward the noise with a lamp and saw a wild cat staring at me with big ears, a long, ringed tail, and spots. This was no kitty cat. I sort of scream-whispered, “Brad, wake up! There is a wild cat in here with spots!”…(One of those sentences in life you think you’ll never say) . “What IS IT?” Will it bite the baby?!“ is all I could squeak out.

After some harried discussion, we decided there was a lemur in our rondavel. (Techinically, this animal is called a genet, as we later learned). As my husband says, he “thought when we closed the door to our hut, we were keeping the wildlife out.”

In the end, our furry visitor was harmless and crept his way back out into the night through a hole in our thatched roof.  And the rondavel was peaceful once again.

Be Illumined this month, and may nothing dim your light,

Tracy

 

Africa Burning and Nature Treasure Hunts

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Mbabane Mountain Fires at Night

The arrival of winter in Swaziland has brought dry, strong winds, brown mountainsides, and the beginning of “burning,” a winter tradition of setting fire to the fields, leaves, and brush to promote regrowth, get rid of trash, and decrease crime. (It gets dark early this season, and people walking get mugged (or worse) from criminals hiding in tall grasses, so I’m told). They even burn right along side the highway, flames licking the sides of the road,  billowing smoke thick like fog.

It’s an eerie, but beautiful sight to see hills glowing orange at night, red-orange sparks flying up into the sky.  But the smoke…. oh, the smoke. It fills our house, our nose, burns our throat and eyes. If someone will teach me a real rain dance, I will happily partake. Dust and soot is on everything, and ashes blow in clumps up to doors and window screens.

Fires get out of control quickly with the whipping breeze. Amazingly, the fire trucks have no water, but rather, firefighters use what look like rubber rakes to stomp out the flames. It’s actually quite effective, but some houses in town have been burned to the ground, an understood risk this time of year.

It has become a hobby for our toddler to look for fires and point them out, and he likes to say, “look! fire! ‘moke!”  On the bright side, there is gorgeous sun that brings warm days. When the smoke subsides, we venture out to finger paint or treasure hunt in nature for shapes, patterns, colors, bugs, baby tomatoes, and camouflaged animals. And to find our shadows and wave hello.

Here’s to finding inspiration where you can, and less fires for all of us,

Tracy