Heartland

Have you ever stopped at a particular place in time and evaluated your life and realized that you are exactly where you should be? It happens to me often. I was walking the other day while on safari with European guests and the thought struck me…I am where I am meant to be. The bush was stifling that day. The air was thick and cloying and heavy with a sauna-like quality that made breathing a task. A cloud of Mopane bees surrounded our heads as they sought the liquid pouring from our faces. My right shoulder started the familiar ache I have grown accustomed to over the years as the rifle strap dug in. That sentimental mixture of smells, sweat soaked leather and gun oil, has always been a comfort to me and have often conjured the most fantastic tapestry of memories from a life on safari doing that which I was born to do.

Perhaps I am being sentimental and, if so, please forgive this sojourn into the recesses of my memory. I have always been in love with this continent and its many splendid things. I have always loved the thrill of the frontier…of wild and unexplored places where native drums beat at night as a heart of darkness envelops you and large, tawny carnivores bellow their troubles to a landscape older than time itself. I have often wondered what early sailors thought and felt as they gazed toward an African shore as yet unfettered by exploration and colonialism. They must have been mesmerized. The exotic sounds and the spiced savannah scents at night riding the off shore breezes must have filled them with awe and wonder. I have longed to find a portion of Africa that feels as that must have felt…I was born too late perhaps.
Yet Africa continues to hold me spellbound. I smile at the familiar prompts that I get as I go about my business. The musty smell of potato bush as one drives through a remote river crossing at night. The overpowering scent of wild sage with every footstep as one explores the magnificent flood plains of the Limpopo. The smell of fresh elephant dung, the farmyard smell of a herd of stern looking buffalo replete with clouds of flies, oxpeckers hissing in that harsh and indignant way of theirs and the dust…always the dust, lingering, pervading and with a scent all of its own. The night time chorus that can only come from this ancient landscape…the soulful trill of a nightjar, the maniacal lunacy of the hyena and the deep and disturbing rasp of the leopard dripping with malevolence and a sinister searching need for murder. These things are part of my cosmos, my existence and they are ever present reminders that I am blessed to be here in this place and at this time.

I have stood on countless koppies and watched a myriad perfect sunsets and sipped a legion of sundowners with people from all corners of the globe. There is something of great value in the introspection one experiences as the African day gives way to night. It is a time for togetherness, for fellowship and the retelling of the day’s events. It is also a time for the human spirit to connect to the heartbeat of this great continent as that strange crepuscular hush falls in the moment between day and night when everything is tinged an unlikely salmon and the western horizon erupts in an explosion of arterial splendour.

People often refer to the slow, ungainly pace of Africa as “Africa Wins Again”. I like to think of this continent as a stealer of hearts. It is still the only place on the planet with a heartbeat, a rhythm that will leave you breathless as it seeks to win you over. You cannot refuse either, resistance to this heartland’s siren song is absolutely futile my friends. Give in to it, let go…I did and it has made all the difference to me.

“Heaven knows, this is a heartland…” …..U2.

Andrew Rae.
May 2010.

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