…about the Hwange elephants

I cried. I raged. I cried.

How can anyone have such disregard for these magnificent beasts that they massacre them on such a scale.

Kruger Easter Sunday 131

Family is everything, Kruger Park, Easter Sunday

The first – actually, I think it was the only time – that I won a book prize at school, I received a gorgeous publication called The Elephant. I was new to South Africa and hadn’t had anything to do with these beautiful and spiritual animals. I loved that book.

A year later we went to Kruger Park and watched from our car as a magnificent herd ambled across the road in front of us.

And then! A few years ago Pierre and I went to Makweti Safari Lodge in the Welgevonden Game Reserve. And that’s where I had an experience that will live with me forever. There are bonuses to working on magazines and this was one of the best I’ve ever enjoyed – a weekend at a top lodge in the beautiful Welgevonden area of Limpopo province.

One evening Pierre and I went on a game drive with Wayne Nel – excellent game ranger and incredible human being –  on our own, just the three of us, as the sun was setting. The bush takes on a different identity at sunset. And when there are only three of you on the landie, it’s even more amazing.

We had just experienced a herd of eland grazing in the bush – incredible animals; spiritual animals of the San. Clicking along as they moved and ate and contemplated.

Then we came upon the herd of elephants. We watched as a tiny baby tried to follow its big brothers and sisters, pulling grass and smashing it against the ground and then eating clumps. Protective elders; caring mom; watchful matriarch. And three humans – in awe.

And then everything stopped. Dead still. It was so sudden that the baby’s leg halted mid-step.

Wayne and Pierre and I had been whispering and watching and oohing and aahing. But we also stopped. Dead still. Mid-sentence. The silence was intense for about 30 seconds and then the elephants resumed their pulling and smashing and eating. And then they moved on.

They left the three of us amazed and enthralled. It was as though we had shared something very special. A silent sharing of a spiritual moment. Wayne’s explanation was that the ellies were listening to another herd that could be up to 10km or more away. Apparently they “talk” to each other via vibrations they feel through their feet and we had all – the ellies and us – stopped because of the vibrations. Although we didn’t hear or feel them, we were caught up in the moment.

It was incredibly special and beautiful. Our elephants and our rhinos are so magnificent. The planet would be a very sad place if they didn’t share it.

Beautiful baby ellie, Kruger Park, Easter Sunday

Beautiful baby ellie, Kruger Park, Easter Sunday

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“I think all women are strong”

It was a comment made by British actress Maxine Peake in an interview with Psychologies magazine earlier this year. She also said “Being quiet never got me anywhere”, but that’s another comment for another blog.

That “all women are strong” got me thinking about the women of Africa and their incredible strength. Women like the late Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari started out by planting trees, which transformed into planting ideas that helped educate women and their families.

Women like Faith Wambua-Luedeling who kept her nine-year-old daughter and 21-month-old son quiet and still for hours during the Westgate mall nightmare in Nairobi.

Women like Mamphela Ramphele who is taking on Jacob Zuma with her new political party.

And women like Joan Coetzee. My incredible friend for nearly 40 years, Joan is headmistress at Pecanwood Pre-Primary, where she is teaching little children about the importance of standing up for a cause in their fight against rhino poaching.

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There’s nothing quite as strong as African women, except African women with a cause.

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Digging

It’s National Poetry Day in the UK today, but it was the other day that I read Digging – again. Seamus Heaney remains my favourite poet of all time because of Digging.

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It makes so much sense to have a whole day devoted to poetry and to involve the entire world in reading, creating, memorising and sharing poems at the same time.

There’s something quite luxurious about taking time out of the world’s madness to read a poem. I love that Seamus Heaney went in to schools and read his work to children; that he lectured poetry at uni; that he was totally immersed in words; that he shared so many images and so much of himself and his life with the world.

I love that he was rewarded for his work with awards and a Nobel Prize for Literature, and there’s a bit of me that thinks he probably felt more for the moments he read to children than he did for the Nobel Prize celebration he had with the Irish Prime Minister.

Digging is a poem that transports me to my dad’s garden. Like the granddad in the poem, my dad was always digging. Creating beautiful gardens. From digging in the black holes of coal mines to digging gardens that he filled with vegetables and flowers. His back bent over, his hands and nails rough with dirt.

Digging makes me feel comforted.

Poetry makes me feel comforted.

It should be National Poetry Day every day everywhere.

Digging

By Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Seamus Heaney, Digging from Death of a Naturalist.

Listen to his own reading here:

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