Listening to the Bush

You can listen to the voice narrative, or read through the text below.



Stories of the bush are told in many ways; sometimes with overwhelming force so that we cower in awe and fear; sometimes with spectacular drama so that we gasp in wonder. But mostly it is told quietly, so that only the most vigilant and sensitive will hear.

To me it is often the subtle signs, the background sounds, the wafts of odours, the marks on the earth and vegetation that bear the richest and most charming narratives. But for most of us they go unnoticed as we blunder forth, searching for the large and the spectacular; that which our civilisation-blunted senses can easily assimilate.

On the African savannah the dry season is a wretched and often brutal time. Relentlessly and with absolute dispassion it makes undone the abundance of summer, then proceeds to strip the veld to its bare skeleton. It is the time when the pans evaporate to patches of cracked mud and the little ravines wither to a few pools and finally to white sand meanders. And the game must walk further and further from the water to the edible remains and they grow thin and weary, and the weak become weaker and fall easy prey to predators, or simply give up and die.

The surrounds of the few remaining waterholes become dust-trodden and muddy edged and rich with stories, like about the black bull. He had come from where he could still find patches of grass, and when he reached the waterhole, it was near midday and it was hot as in the mouth of a furnace. He stepped into the water and braced himself on his hind legs and stretched to where it was a little less muddy, and sated himself. Then he waded deeper and splashed down and lay in the coolness, and later rolled and burrowed into the mud so that the water surged over the edges  and washed away other tracks.

And perhaps the pair of dainty little steenbuck that had come after him had waited patiently for the brute to finish his indulgence and watched him lumber off, even now, with his massive neck almost hairless and his horns worn into polished stumps, still with the arrogance he had learnt when he was one of the mighty in the herd and his challengers watched him pass with rolling eyes and drawn-in chins.

And perhaps the steenbuck were grateful to him because this was their territory where they had lived together for a few years now and it was their only water hole when it got really dry and although there was now less water in it, he had carried off a thick coating of mud on his hide and now the waterhole would be just that little bit deeper and in the next rainy season it would hold just that little bit more water and last just that little bit longer.

They had moved closer, hesitant and watchful, for they knew the fear of the fragile that made them quick and furtive in the bush. They bent to drink, dainty as sunbirds, one at a time, while the other watched nervously for that flash of yellow that would tell of the leopard, whose marks we had found a little further back among the tufts of grass and shrubs where she had crouched flat like a snake, hoping to get close enough for a chance to pounce…

This reminded me of something I had written in Paths of the Tracker:

He loved the stories Henry told him about the signs – where an elephant cow had pushed her still unstable calf up the bank of a steep ravine, or where a sable bull had honed the tips of his great scimitars on the gravelly earth, or a big male lion had knelt down low in the black mud on the edge a pool to fill himself with coolness, leaving the huge prints of his splayed front paws, and fine, lace-like marks where his mane had brushed the soft mud.

The beautiful stories of the bush…


  1. Ek kan nie wag om jou boeke in my besit te hê nie, ek sal begin lees en nie kan neersit –
    Dankie Hoffman weereens, sien ek die gebeure in my gedagtes sover ek lees.
    Jou respek vir die bos, natuur en die onvoorsiene en gevaarlike ondervindings.
    Baie dankie
    Anna-Mari Meiring

  2. Beautifully written! Perfect introduction to a Sunday afternoon nap…
    Sad to think how as humans we have become so out of touch with some our most valuable assets – our senses; And so distant from – and in conflict with – the land that we once lived in harmony with. It reminds me of those ridiculously rowdy fourwheelers one so often comes across at some fancy game reserves. Infuriating yet fitting considering what we’ve succumbed to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.