Monday, August 31, 2015

Southern Africa

Tree at sunset.-
Helmeringhausen [Namibia]

Africa holds an unmistakable allure.  There is something forbidden and exotic about this land and its people.  Though not my first time to this mystical continent, it is the first time that I feel I have arrived to the Africa envisioned since childhood. 

Life here takes a step away from rapid and modern and industrial to become more basic at all levels.  I feel the raw and tested strength of life.  Though life feels less fragile, there is no mistaking that life is more challenged and less predictable.  This is high-stakes living where strong thrive and “unstrong” don’t.  Death is ever-present; sometimes waiting, sometimes arriving, always in the background.

This struggle for life is beautifully and undeniably connected to the landscape in a way that permeates daily thoughts and habits.  There is a pulsating rhythm that twists and turns and sways through people’s thoughts and motions and actions.

People and cultures are timeless and undiluted.  Histories and traditions, though centuries old, are still trusted and followed.  Vivid colors mix with basic browns and blacks to create patterns and combinations that cannot exist elsewhere.  Languages churn and swirl like the eddies of a river... Tswana, Zulu, Venda, Xhosa, Bantu, Sesotho, Shona each with delicious clicks, clacks, and pops.  Conversations are often conducted in multiple languages where speaking five languages is a minimum, not beyond the norm.

Music weaves in and out of all facets of life.  Melodies are vibrant and full.  Rhythms can be amazingly complex with uncountable and layered beat patterns.  Dancing is expected no matter where one might find themself… church, weddings, bus stops, banks, grocery stores… it doesn’t matter where, it only matters that you shake when you feel it.

Above all this, what appeals to me most is the landscape.  The arid vastness of the land speaks to me as I travel upon it.  The landscape combines all facets of life into a masterpiece that is harsh and unforgiving and remarkable beautiful; combining features, flora, and fauna[1] and transcending into something stunning and undeniably African.

Within the natural realm, I’m surprised most by the sky.  Undoubtedly, this is partially due to my place of residence for the last several years in which I was confronted daily by the horrendous grays and the all-to-seldom blues of apocalyptic air pollution.  But, that can not be the only explanation.  The African sky takes on a life of it’s own and calls to me as never before. 

Windmill at sunrise.
-Talou's Lodge [Namibia]
Sunrise clearly mark change; change of life, change of pace.  The night-dwellers, human, beast and fowl[2] alike, begin to settle for their rest.  The day-dwellers begin to relax and stretch and take comfort as the slow shadows begin to appear.  Methodically, the shadows arrive to become long shadows and then slowly less-long shadows.  A monochromatic sepia light washes over the landscape emphasizing that this ancient and well-rehearsed routine has been choreographed with patience.  Motion becomes more evident as the first blues appear.  Inevitably, Helios[3] peaks his head above the horizon to ensure that the path is clear for his daily race across the sky.

Daytime seldom brings even the whisper of a cloud.  However, the ever shifting palette of blue, from pale robin egg blue on the horizon to deep indigo above, allow plenty of time to ponder.  I let my mind trace the paths that electromagnetic waves must follow before coloring the sky… traveling through trillions of years of space to arrive to Earth and how these waves collide with our atmosphere, causing electrons to become excited within the range of human sight and how, through the rotation of our planet, the waves must travel greater distances through the atmosphere during different times of the rotational period, causing a shift in the visual spectrum, painting brilliance upon the celestial sphere.  I ponder about the distances traveled by the light and question whether it is the greater distance traveled that actually creates the beauty; perhaps a karmic balance for all elements in which beauty arrives from the journey; wondering perhaps if that is what gives beauty to our own journeys.

Mountains of Lesotho at sunset.
-Matatiele [South Africa]
Sunset provides time to move from pondering to appreciation.  This phenomenon is based on the same scientific principles as sunrise, light traveling slower based on greater angles of travel.  Yet, this refraction gives way to a different spectrum of colors creating a brilliance unlike anything I have ever seen.  Before me, is a perfectly circular arc of colors that covers the entire visual spectrum.  In a stunning display, there is even hints of green, like a rainbow, covering the entire sky... but, in some way, this farewell feels more real and less ephemeral and deceptive than a rainbow.

As the twilight fades and darkness approaches, I become, for first time, confused by the sky.  For the first time, I am completely misplaced by what I don’t see in the great field of midnight blue.[4]

The momentary unbalance quickly gives way to complete wonder.  Never before have I been “lost” in the sky...  all the comforts of knowing have disappeared.  I don’t know how to find north; I don’t know how to approximate my attitude; I don’t recognize patterns; I don’t know the memorized constellations nor the stories that accompany them.  There are new stars in the sky, new points of reference that don’t evoke any stories nor knowledge.  Gone are the familiar dot-to-dot pictures that I have always relied on and thought about.

Awe and wonder enter where knowledge once existed to show me greater beauty, so often hidden by certainty and conviction.  I sense wonder and unknowing and now, see the first cloud of the entire day, the cloud of our Milky Way galaxy.  The awe of the starry mantle made from millions and billions and trillions points of light is beyond description.  These stars, and even entire galaxies, have sent their rays of light to travel across the vastness of time to tickle and twinkle and bewilder my sight.  Occasionally, a piece of the cloud falls, burning its way across the night sky; a reminder that nothing can last forever, not even galaxies.

Far too early for sunrise, the stars begin to disappear into new light; the gamut of astronomical wonders is not complete.  Selene[5] has also decided to appear on the celestial stage with her own remarkable three-movement dance of moonrise, moonlight, and moonset.  Not to be outdone by her brother, Helios, she gracefully glides through each piece, following the scientific processes but proceeding from a different milieu to provide silver and magic and glow with poise that leaves the viewer breathless.

Zambezi River at sunrise.
-Livingstone [Zambia]

1.  What?!?!?! What new devilry is this?!?!?! That's right folks, there are now enough blog posts to begin cross-referencing... check out the linked story at:  Mostly True-Travel Log: Etosha   -return to the story

2.  This area hosts over 800 bird species, including the world’s largest bird (the ostrich) and the world’s heaviest flying bird (the kori bustard).  Amongst this list is everything from sunbirds to flamingos, from the flamboyant lilac-breasted roller to the extravagant hoopoe, and countless “cities” built by the busy weavers who share their nests with the pygmy falcons, the world’s smallest raptor.   -return to the story

3.  Helios, from Greek mythology, is the sun personified as a god.  This father of Phaethon is generally represented as a charioteer who daily drives his vehicle across the sky.   -return to the story

4.  What?!?!?! What new devilry is this?!?!?! That's right folks, there are now enough blog posts to begin cross-referencing... check out the linked story at:  Mostly True-Travel Log: Fish River Canyon   -return to the story

5.  Selene, also from Greek mythology is the goddess of the moon.  Daughter of the titans Hyperion and Theia, she is sister to Helios, and Eos (goddess of the dawn).  Like her brother, she also drives her moon chariot across the heavens.   -return to the story

No comments:

Post a Comment