The secret in the camel thorn tree

 
 
 
Watch with glittering eyes, the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.
— Roald Dahl
 

The secret in the camel thorn tree

An owl hides deep in a camel thorn tree

I love the camel thorn trees of the Auob for they hold all sorts of mysteries...

In the winter, their seed pods turn golden brown and litter the red dune sand where the steenbok find and chew them for food. In summer, their seed pods are silver green and glisten in the morning light like exotic flowers.

I love hearing the surging wind, like a tide, sweep through their branches before a thunderstorm. But most of all, I love looking into camel thorns, deep into their darkest places, for the wondrous things they may hold.

You may see an owl, whiling away the daylight hours; its beautiful and unblinking orange eyes gazing back. Or a wildcat, inimitable and silently watching.

On this particular day I saw a paw, and only a paw, swinging gently in the winds of late summer. The paw’s owner, was presumably attached but somewhere out of view. I was excited to see this paw because it belonged to an owner with three others just like it. An owner with spots.

We all know what this paw means

For the longest time the paw swung in the breeze. The oppressive heat trickled across my brow and into my eyes. The clammy seat of the landrover stuck to my back and the ache in my neck turned into a glowing ember of pain.

Still the paw did not move.

Now and then a car would pass by and, seeing the direction of my gaze, its occupants would nod to themselves and move on without enquiring further.

“Must be a bird”.

The minutes ticked into hours and slowly the storm clouds converged in the east. The wind gathered itself for a new assault on the tree and still the paw did not move.

The sun sank lower, long fingers of shadow reached across the river valley. They stretched and entwined the tree in their strengthening grip. The light grew dim and the air turned chill.

Now the paw moved!

Its toes stretched like the shadows, a deep, long, languorous stretch; full of confidence and poise. It said everything necessary about its owner.

The paw withdrew, replaced seconds later by a whiskered face attached to a graceful  spotted body. It slid down the trunk of the camel thorn like molten gold, gazed at me for a second or an eternity; then she wandered off. Things to do, places to go.

 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa


Photo Information:

[Canon Canon EOS 7D Mark II + EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM] [ISO400, SS 1/1000, F4, FL400, Flash:off]

Charles William Goodlet
will@willgoodlet.com

Rainbow Leopard

 
 
 
What is this life full of care when we have no time to stand and stare?
— Edward Abbey
 

Rainbow Leopard

 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa


Photo Information:

[Canon Canon EOS 7D Mark II + EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM] [ISO250, SS 1/2000, F4, FL400, Flash:off]

Charles William Goodlet
will@willgoodlet.com
 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa


Photo Information:

[Canon Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM] [ISO1000, SS 1/1600, F5.6, FL170, Flash:off]

Charles William Goodlet
will@willgoodlet.com

A lonely paw swings in a camel thorn tree. Nearby the dry river bed of the Auob stretches under the black clouds of late summer. A rushing wind, fresh with the scent of rain and dust, rolls through the grasses.

In the east, the clouds tower along the valley’s edge; now-and-then the deep rumble of thunder keeps us company. There is rain coming; a storm coming, but not yet.

Where better to sit, than next to a dozing leopard, under a black sky, with space to be and time to lose?

If I think about my life, drift from memory to memory; is it just a thread of moments such as this, strung together like pearls on a string?

 This moment, this space, this feeling, is the stuff that life is made of. The leopard knows this but perhaps I had forgotten?

Eventually, the leopard, sensing the setting sun and a creeping chill, came down from the tree. She stood, motionless for a heartbeat, and then set off to catch a dove and have a drink.

The green expanse of the Auob was empty but along the craggy eastern edge, the sky was black. The leopard wandered across the valley, checking every now-and-then for danger and for food. She set off up the opposing slope toward the crags and the sky.

In the west, the setting sun broke free, light played over the Auob and a rainbow painted the menacing clouds. She was oblivious and paused before jumping silently onto the ledge at the valley’s edge.

Above her, the rainbow; behind her, the sun; In-front, the wilderness.

 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa


Photo Information:

[Canon Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM] [ISO200, SS 1/320, F11, FL100, Flash:off]

Charles William Goodlet
will@willgoodlet.com
 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa


Photo Information:

[Canon Canon EOS 7D Mark II + EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM +1.4x III] [ISO400, SS 1/800, F8, FL560, Flash:off]

Charles William Goodlet
will@willgoodlet.com

A Steak on the Fire

 
 
 
There is a way of being wrong which is also sometimes necessarily right.
— Edward Abbey
 

I remember my first visit to the Gemsbok national park over 24 years ago. Back then, South Africa was coming to grips with a new future and the road from Upington, across the dunes, was still being tarred. Driving there in a beat up Baja bug all the way from the Cedarberg was a long, long ordeal.

We arrived somewhere along the stretch of gravel beyond Askham late in the night and pulled over on the side of the road to set up camp. I should probably clarify 'camp', it meant a sleeping bag unrolled in the front seat of the car and a fire to burn a rangy bit of meat in the cold winters night!

Kgalagadi_stars

We sat comfortably in the deep red Kalahari sand on the lee of a mound and it wasn't long before we had the meat sizzling on the flames.

Under a bright umbrella of stars shining over our fire-darkened night, we talked about the park and whether animals ever wandered out of it into the lands beyond.

With the most perfect timing and as those words hung like ghosts in the thin night air, we heard a deep, disturbing and ominous noise.

To us, this noise was exactly as we'd imagined a lion would sound were it wandering around the Kalahari, in search of a steak to eat or worse, a couple of twenty-year-old Rooinek's fresh out of the UK!

We were back in that car in a flash with only one problem; the steaks were still on the fire! The perfumed smell of cooked meat, Upington's finest, wafted into the cab and presumably, all over the desert as well. We waited, anxiously, until we could bear it no more. The steaks were calling to us, dripping, succulent and fat but they were calling to the lions too!

We made a dash for the fire, retrieving both steaks with bare hands; the corn cobs were sacrificed. We were back inside with the loot in no time!

Outside, the wind had picked up and the ominous sounds continued, even growing louder. We were acutely aware of the sweet smelling grid, still bathed in fat and gently cooking on the dying embers of the fire.

Inside, with burned fingers and hungry stomachs delighting in the black taste of fire-cooked meat, we guzzled our suppers, wiping our bloody chins on our sleeves. Replete and fearful, we drifted off to sleep amidst the lions' chorus.

Tap to read the story

Tap to read the story

We awoke to birdsong and soft light playing gently through the fogged glass of our Baja bug. It was bitter cold but snug in our sleeping bags. There was a comforting aroma  methane and a healthy dose of old sock in the fetid air.

james_will

The noises had stopped, the wind had gone and now, the dawn was impossibly calm. As the light grew, we anxiously wiped away the moisture on the windows to find out where our lions had gone; perhaps they had whetted their appetites on the braai grid and were now waiting for the main course to emerge from the car!

Peering through the glass, we were utterly surprised to see that there were no lions; no desert landscape stretched for miles either. We were camped beside a very pleasant looking house, slap-bang in the middle of a village. There was a creaking gate nearby and beyond that, a paddock filled with the quizzical stares of goats.

 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa


Photo Information:

[Canon Canon EOS 7D Mark II + EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM] [ISO1000, SS 1/3200, F8, FL200, Flash:off]

Charles William Goodlet
will@willgoodlet.com
The western sky

The Lilies of Liuwa

 
 
 
If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.
— Dr. David Livingstone
 

My mother was born in the far north of Zambia. My great-grandparents lived there in the house that my grandfather owned. It was built on the side of a beautiful wooded hill overlooking the mysterious and remote Lake Tanganyika.

Zambia is special to me, even though it took me 35 years to find my way there,

Standing in my grandfather's ruined house, shortly after my mother's death and not far from where the explorer, David Livingstone, ended, was one of the loneliest things I've ever done.

Two thousand, five hundred kilometres from home, the trees drew close and the light grew dim as the rain marked time on that old mangled roof. It seemed to me as if the road back was impossibly long, with very few friends to be found along the way.

Ever since that day, I've been nervous of the sheer scale of Zambia. It feels too remote, too far from home and too foreign. Whenever I cross the Zambezi, I feel as if I've entered the true heart of Africa. It's never long before the marching grey forests draw closer, the thick green silences sound louder and that repressed fear surfaces, For in Zambia, one can still be an explorer.

On this trip my friend Grant Fairley and I were to explore the rarely visited and remote lands west of the Zambezi. Sandwiched between the floodplains of Barotseland and the Angolan border, Liuwa plains is a vast area of sandy soil and grassland girded by the Zambezi and the Luanginga rivers.

It's famous for the 45,000 wildebeest that follow the thunderclouds from one side to the other; it is Africa's second largest migration. It's famous too, for its clans of daylight-hunting hyena and even more so for the Lady of Liuwa; the last surviving lioness of the plains.

However, the spectacle that drew me back into Zambia was none of these things because Liuwa is also famous for its lilies. When the rains come they flower and stretch, like vast velvet carpets - millions of them.

Click to read the story...

Click to read the story...

Facilities are minimal, a basic campsite, no fence, and a hand-pumped cold shower with some firewood are all that you should expect or need.

The beauty of basic is that there are few other visitors to this wilderness. It is quite possible to drive for hours, even days, without sighting a soul and when one does, it’s almost obligatory to stop and swap stories.

Liuwa is crisscrossed by sand tracks. They all look identical, and it is very easy to become lost in the featureless expanse, even with a GPS. If in doubt, all roads lead to Rome, as they say, but in this case, Rome is the village of Kalabo situated across the Luanginga river.

For wildlife photographers, Liuwa offers a very special privilege; we are allowed to exit the vehicle as long as we stay within 10 metres of it. The Hyenas are organised, not like their southern cousins, so be careful if you decide to flout the rules and wander – there will be no one to find you!

Click to read the story...

Click to read the story...

Click to read the story...

Click to read the story...

Being on foot means we can change perspective, either by climbing onto the roof or lying prone on the ground. Each one offers something quite special and different.

Expect to bump into villagers or fishermen on the plains. The wild animals share their space with humans and for the most part, they seem to get along. We spent some time with fishermen at a seasonal pond, photographing them laying their nets; the catfish stood little chance of escape. 

Click to read the story...

Click to read the story...

The plains are special in this respect too, for it is rare, these days to find people living on the edge of wilderness. It's a foreign concept when it shouldn't be; in the past we all lived with nature in this way!

This lonely place, set in the heart of Africa remains wild in a way that more established parks like Kruger can never be. It's still a place where one must employ ones' wits. Have a care for one's person and life. Nature still writes the rules in Liuwa, for a little while at least and this is all the more reason to seek it out - before the new roads and bridges bring change to this jewel in the west.