Journeys Back. The Morning That Is the End and the Beginning

A dawn comes when thoughts need to be sternly told, “Thou shalt no more ponder the ways further, deeper into the bush.”  On that morning, when the sky brightens, the sounds are different – crisp instructions, containers banging onto metal and scraping into position… The senses are turned away from the bush and hurried along to lists and space and time and checking and cleaning and loading.

And the thoughts are sad, but there is some joy too, in the slow meander back along the faded tracks of past weeks, and in the bright faces and warm embraces of loved ones, eager for the touch and for the stories.

In the coming weeks I will, with some sadness, tell of journeys back. I have chopped a short piece out of The Wanderers and dropped it in here:

The early morning was mercifully kept at bay for a little longer by the closed lattice door, but eventually the day of preparing for the journey back had to be faced – cleaning and checking, sorting out the equipment and remaining supplies, packing, making final arrangements with those remaining behind, and a lot more such necessary but mundane tasks.

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, broken only by utility talk.

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.

*A few short years later, Gerhard was shot dead on his small holding.

One Comment

  1. “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.” – So sad, but true and so beautifully described!! I also often think of nature as a wise old woman who disappointingly looks on as mankind recklessly chases after endless empty satisfaction – like a selfish teenager.
    Love this extract from your book! :)

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