On an early morning off-train mini-safari excursion to Hwange National Park during the journey from Victoria Falls to Pretoria is where we, the rail travelers, saw wakes of vultures, dazzles of zebras, towers of giraffes, and herds of elephants. The hours-long watch for a potential lion sighting (to shoot with cameras, thankfully, not firearms) consisted mainly of crossing open land spaces.
The terrain provides vegetation to herbivorous animals and obviously plenty of food for carnivorous ones, but between sightings of our four-legged wild friends, the tourist dune buggy passed through some rather bare areas of the plain.
One of those bleak terrains was an area that held a collection of dead trees.
I don’t see dead trees very often. I’ve always lived in heavily inhabited areas where, when trees die, they are cut from their stumps, even uprooted by expensive machines, and carted off to be, I don’t know, shredded into dust, perhaps. If they aren’t removed, these trees are at risk of toppling over onto a nearby building or house or some other structure where humans live and pass by.
Here, in Africa, when trees age, they fall over onto other trees, or onto themselves, or onto barren ground. They are free to dissolve into dust over decades and centuries, to participate in the food chain and to take part in life’s delicate balance.
A spooky mood overshadowed this brief part of the safari. Momentarily, I envisioned it in the darkness of night. I wouldn’t want to do this drive after nightfall for fear of imagined shapes that my mind would likely manifest out of the collection of trunks and branches.
These trees, as they die, seem to twist and writhe and curl around each other. They fall into each other’s twigs and arms and seek comfort in the ground they rose up from. Some of them seem to arc in anguish toward the earth; others seem to break off sharply or stand upright in defiance. Their deaths appear slow and noble, almost patrician in nature, and in the process, create a type of sculpture garden made of wood.