|Hippos, a major danger to humans in Africa, in the Zambezi River.|
(Also the subject of this year's Christmas card.)
A few weeks after returning from Africa the distance from there to here seems to be growing, as if I’m looking at Africa through the wrong end of a telescope. Vermont is so benign, Africa not. Here I can walk in the fields and forest (“the bush”) and I won’t be eaten, I can walk at night and I won’t be robbed, and our mosquitoes won’t give me malaria. In Johannesburg–where you don’t walk anywhere at night because you could be mugged–I picked up a memoir written by Peter Godwin called “Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa” to read it on the plane. (Godwin has written incisively about the sordid regime of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in “When A Crocodile Eats the Sun,” and told of far worse in “Fear.”) What struck me in “Mukiwa” were the ordinary dangers in everyday life–forget wars, failures of the state, or haphazard medical care. I’m thinking of his tale of the cobra that lived under the front porch steps for years after he bit the family dog, blinding him for life. Or you can read the stories of Alexandra Fuller who grew up in Zambia. Her “Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight” is replete with childhood perils, to which add: land mines.
|"Oooh, I wonder what's under that bush? Why don't we have a look!"|
|"Oops, I think those are lions!"|
Recently I read “The Magnetic North” by Sara Wheeler in which she mentioned a guy from Togo, one Tete-Michel Kpomassie, who made his way from Africa to the Arctic over an eight-year period early in the 1960’s. I enjoyed reading that he fled Togo to avoid a ritual involving a python, and, deciding he would go as far away as he could from pythons and anything like them, headed for python-free Greenland where he lived for several years with the Inuit, eventually producing a book called “An African in Greenland.”
|"And here's an unusual looking doggie..."|
Here in benign Vermont we have bears, but not the dangerous kind. Last March we only saw the partial remains by our creek of one that had been shot. We have our New England version of impala–deer–but we haven’t seen any at all since a single doe crossed our field months ago. The one moose we could count was the one spotted last spring near downtown Vergennes. Nearly every night we can hear an owl in the woods behind our house. (Our resident heron is long gone.) And that’s about all I can say for our wildlife count. (In Africa we filled a notebook with the types of animals we saw!)
|In Chobe it was possible to capture all at once (from left to right) |
one beautiful, tho' unknown, bird, a fish eagle, a warthog, and impala.
Hunters out for deer this year report far fewer kills (600+ versus 900+ last year in Addison County) and far fewer deer seen than in the past several years. The reasons for this aren’t clear, but lower numbers have been attributed to the epic snowstorm at the end of last winter (the snow that came the day before we moved, just for the record), and also to the lateness of the rut. When bucks are in rut they have only one thing on their minds and are easier to hunt. Snow geese that migrate along a nearby corridor are usually gone by November, but this year there were still some on the ground as late as Thanksgiving. It was the warmest November in many years.
When we were in Victoria Falls several local people commented on the weather, how hot it was for so early in the season. In Botswana there were comments about the lateness of the wet–and cooler–season. Usually it starts in the early days of November, but we were there in mid-November and it was hot and dry. It’s not a stretch to link this to global warming. An article in the New York Times on December 5, on page four, mind you, noted: