The Last Dawn

In the life of every expedition there comes an evening when the return has to be contemplated; when, at dawn the next day, it has to be taken on. It is a journey in itself, with its own observations and thoughts and emotions. And I will – we all will, at some point in the future, have to contemplate the journey back from this.

Early this morning I sat down to write about that. But then, gazing out from the veranda over the lawns, streaked with yellow from the young sun, and hearing the birds and listening to Beethoven’s Tripelkonzert by the Berlin Philharmonic with Von Karajan and Ann-Sophie Mutter and Yo Yo Ma and Mark Zeltser – such awesome five-some brought into existence for a brief window in space and time – listening like being intensely aware of each subtle nuance of the Master’s creation and of the musicians’ artistry, and listening, also, to the snippets of poems my partner was sharing with me, my sentences were silenced. How could their humble content ever compare to the sublime perfection that I, we all, are surrounded with?

I stopped trying to create anything worthwhile and thought, maybe tomorrow, or the next day or the next, I will feel sufficiently impudent to also put something out there where all might see it and have their thoughts on it.

For now, here is a short extract from The Wanderers about the return journey:

It was as if we had somehow become detached from the bush, almost like something we walked past in the street.  Our senses had re-focused on lists and tasks and equipment and money for Elias and John and the others, and plans for the next day’s journey, and time.  And we ourselves and Elias and John became like objects to each other that we each had to deal with together with all the other objects that were part of checking and cleaning and packing and tidying up.  And it was as if the bush was standing back, anciently gazing upon us as we scurried around in our important little world of preparation.

And there was a sad detachment, a lack of intimacy and passion in the matter-of-fact evening that followed, and in the departure in the uncertain grey of the morning.  The fond and lingering farewell it was supposed to be got lost in the immediacy of the start on the journey back, and I recognised this from previous back-journeys.  Although significant  enterprises in themselves that required careful planning and execution, the magic of adventure seemed to dissolve in preparation activities and a focus on the next problem of routine existence.  Gerhard and me would both start the journey back into our own separate worlds, withdrawing into long silences filled with the drone of the Land Cruiser’s engine and the noise of the wind through the cab.

We dropped Elias at the elephant path and said our goodbyes, and as I looked back at him standing so slender next to his  enormous load of buffalo meat, holding his lose possessions in his impala skin and his axe and his kierie, so alone, so near but suddenly so far, almost ephemeral, I felt a deep sense of sadness and loss, and I had to keep my head turned away and swallow hard, and as I waved to him and he lifted his axe in response, I thought he looked like Gerhard for a second?  Did I leave behind the wrong one, or was he still there, at the wheel of the Land Cruiser? And then he was gone behind the trees, and the rest of the lonely  journey into the future lay ahead.

Note: My very close friend Gerhard was tragically murdered on his farm not long after.


  1. Thank you Janet. Sometimes one is reminded by something, and then the loss is very tangible.

  2. Ai… And what an extraordinary friend he had in you!

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this story again! It will never lose impact.

  3. Thank you for the extract.
    I intend reading “The Wanderers” this evening…
    I’m so sorry about Gerhard
    My heart goes out to you Hoffman.
    The reality is that you will grieve forever…

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