Tuesday, May 08, 2012

African Journal: "The Pond"

By Hedva Lewittes, Ph.D.

Driving across the parched yellow plains from the western to the central Serengeti we encounter an ample pond.  The landscape is abundantly and gloriously verdant: the yellow green bushes along the shore, and the more muted colors of the trees and grasses on the surrounding plain.  It is midmorning and rather than chasing after animals we park and stop to let nature unfold. An over-hanging palm frond shades a mostly submerged hippo who lounges unobtrusively. On the far side of the pond a giraffe grazes.  A gathering of zebras takes center stage.  Skittish, they rotate so that some are in the water while others circle on the land behind them.  Their braying and constant motion creates confusion in both sound and image. I switch my attention to the more distant giraffe who continues to amble and eat.  When I re-focus on the zebras, a new picture emerges.  

Now exactly ten form a single straight line, all leaning into the pool to drink.  On our trip the shy zebras have not been the stars.  Numerous and easy to spot they rarely come near enough for an intimate view and lack the gangly grace of giraffes or the elusive thrill of lions. But on this day, we delight in their charm. A group of zebras is called a dazzle and the reflection of their brownish black and white stripes in the ripples that they make in the blue grey green water does indeed dazzle. The giraffe begins a leisurely stroll around the pond.  He samples the bushes along the way but eventually crosses the road in front of our jeep stopping at the acatia that shields us from the sun.  Plunging his nose and mouth into the branches and small sage-colored leaves, his out-stretched body merges with the tree’s iconic umbrella shape to form an arc. Then he lifts his head to dine higher up.  A sub-species, his feathery-edged patches are a rich dark brown. The left side of his slender face is so close that we can gaze into his deep almond-shaped eye.   The battle-worn wisps of hair at the top of his small stubby horns and the bump in front of them identify him as a male.   A short tuft of hair runs down the back of his long neck where a bird calmly perches.  Entranced, we stand in our vehicle snapping pictures and enjoying him.  Whether he is curious or friendly we can’t really know, but he is certainly not afraid.  Although giraffe young are vulnerable, size protects this adult.   Neither predator nor prey, he conveys a sense of ease.  I drink in the peace of a few timeless moments.

Writer Hedva Lewittes is Professor of Psychology at SUNY Old Westbury. "The Pond" is taken from the journal she kept while traveling in Tanzania last year. She travelled to the Western and Eastern Serengeti, visiting the Oldepai gorge, Ngrongoro crater and Arusha. 

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