A World Older Than Ours

 

grey-lourie-copy

Grey Lourie, photograph by Cheryl Merrill

For long periods of time not one of us with the elephants speaks a single word. Plump, babbling, feather-brained guinea fowl run ahead of us in clumps. Their noggins perch atop impossibly skinny blue necks and look professionally shrunk by headhunters. The spooky laugh of a single hyena crawls in from the distance.

Sweat trickles from under my hat. No matter how many times I gaze ahead, the path remains the same two dusty ruts in the tall, lion-colored grass. Seed heads from dry stalks pop like tiny finger snaps in the heat. Sand fine as cake flower powders my boots, and I gasp as though I have gills.

As we trudge along, I catch a glimpse of a “go-away” bird, a Gray lourie, springing along the branches over my head. He leans down and reproaches us for being foolish enough to be out in the mid-day sun. Go-wheyyyyyyy, go-wan. Go-wheyyyyyyy. The lourie nods his pronounced head crest at us. Go-wheyyy. Wheyyyyy. Go-wan. Go-wheyyyyyy.

Bleached by the sun, the sky is no longer blue.   As we pass near a marshy waterhole, two blacksmith plovers bounce up and down, their call mimicking smithies tapping on metal: Klink!Klink-Klink!

In this season, the soundscape around me is filled with dry cracklings. With crickets who rasp their legs together and listen to each other with ears on their tibias. With the scrape of our footsteps. With the buzz of small flies seeking moisture at the corners of my eyes.

What would it be like to think without words and recognize shapes without names? But I hear these words in my head as I think them.

Later, in the afternoon, we flush a warthog family. One of the piglets stops and looks over his shoulder at me.

 

piglet

Warthog piglet, photograph by Cheryl Merrill

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