Overnight Lairs and Trees

You can either listen to the voice recording, or read the text below. Enjoy!

Finding a camping spot and preparing a camp to overnight in reasonable comfort and safety is a daily challenge in the wilderness. It starts with finding a suitable spot to make camp – towards late afternoon; not too early, so that it shortens the day by too much, yet in time to have the essential things done before dark. Juggling these two is every afternoon’s bit of stress.

Sometimes, one gets lucky, like this time. I had been driving through an unfriendly landscape with growth-stunted trees and scrawny shrubs all afternoon. I began to fret about where I would find a good spot. Then, with the sun barely a hand-breath above the horizon, the terrain began to change.

With about an hour to go before sunset, I spotted a large tree on the horizon. It turned out to be a camel thorn. Some misfortune had befallen it in its distant youth – most likely an elephant – and its trunk was split near the ground, so that it grew into three. But it had done well to overcome the setback. It had grown large, with a lovely leafy canopy. Two of the trunks stretched out far sideways, so that either would cover not only my living space in the camp, but also the vehicle. This is quite important. Everything that is out in the open will be soaked with dew the following morning.

There was some open space close to the centre trunk, with a grove of grass that I could trod flat to form a mat in the space where I would be moving around.  On one side was a tangle of shrubbery that I could strengthen a little here and there with thorn branches to provide natural protection – or at least warning – against predators. On top of all that, there were suitable branches in just the right spot and at just the right distance apart to sling my hammock between them.

Such perfection lifted my mood after the depressing terrain and the wheel I had to change in the bake of the afternoon.  The tyre still had to be prized off the rim and the puncture repaired, but not tonight. For now, I was going to use the daylight I had left to complete some essential chores – clearing away the excess undergrowth and low hanging branches to make some space, gathering wood and getting the equipment that will be needed for the night to hand. Then a quick mini shower, and a relaxing hour or two, watching the sun set and the night creep up.

I sat sipping my wine and watching the dramatic death of the Kalahari day. I felt deeply content. It made me wonder about my state of mind while I was driving though that harsh landscape of stunted growth, and how it changed to buoyant once the landscape began to transform to woodland savannah with larger trees. Trees, like water, it seems to me, have a special attraction for us humans. We have a kind of arcane connection to both. When given the option, we tend to gravitate towards them.

I cannot know how correct the views of some are, that trees have feelings, can experience pain, can communicate in ways different from the fungal networks that connect them, are in a way sentient… What I do know, sitting under this splendid camel thorn, and others like it, is that they did not fail to make me feel welcome under generous crowns. It was as if, in the remote and ruthless wilderness, trees reached out to me, offering me a kind of anchor point; a kind of firm area from which to take on the perils of the land. They made me feel coddled, in a way. Somehow it felt like we had accepted each other. We had some kind of bond between us.

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