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The hunt is over - but the memories remain

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My mother patiently waited outside of the public library as I fidgeted in the check- out line. In my hands were two books which would light a desire for African hunting and one day lead me to that continent on the other side of the earth. The year was 1966 and the books were Horn of the Hunter by Robert Ruark and The End of the Game by Peter Beard. These two works, along with a big stack of Outdoor Life magazines, given to me by a family friend, kindled a fever that would not see its resolution for another two decades.

October 1985 found me on a 2 week hunt for plains game and Cape Buffalo in Zimbabwe. A boyhood friend and hunting companion had helped me to book an end of season hunt. A few years later it was South Africa. During those hunts there were many nice trophies, but also moments where my emotions ran the gamut from giddy excitement to fear and shame to serene contentment. Now, twenty-some years later, the trophies have become secondary to so many other aspects of those hunts. I can sit back and look at the heads of Cape Buffalo, Kudu, Eland, Gemsbok, and a few other species that hang on the walls of our family room. Each one has its unique story and value depending on the difficulty of the stalk or the range of the shot, the distance walked in however high the temperature was on a certain day, or some other peculiarity.

These days my fondest memories don’t seem to be related to the actual hunt, but more to the little aspects of daily life while on safari. They were the things that made up the total experience of being in Africa. The gentle cooing of an Emerald Spotted Wood Dove as its call descended the musical scale octave by octave.

The brilliant colors of Lilac Breasted Rollers and the crazy scolding of a Go-Away Bird. All of those thorns that cut your arms and legs, and snagged your clothes and skin; and the one that went through the sole of your shoe. Those gigantic termite mounds and the deep ant bear holes. The stunning green of a tree that stood alone amid a dry and stunted landscape. The massive boulders that comprised the Kopjies of the Matopos Hills.

The animal bones, porcupine quills, and land snail shells that littered the cave where a big Leopard lived on the old Boer farmers land. The nests of the Weaver Birds that hung like decorations on a Christmas tree. The smell of a wood-fire and the cool satisfaction of a drink after a long hot day. The way the cold bit in the early morning and how the sun beat you like a hammer later that same day. Canned peaches could be as delicious and satisfying a meal as anything you’d ever eaten before.

Clean, cool water felt like heaven ,whether splashing it over your face or slugging it down it after walking miles back to the hunting vehicle. The tired looking little grey donkeys that pulled carts along the dirt roads with seemingly impossibly heavy loads piled high upon them; and the brightly colored town buses crammed to near bursting with people and a mountain of baggage on top. The sawing sound of an unseen Leopard as it made its way through the bush, eliciting a hell-raising ruckus from the local Baboon tribe. There was the Dung Beetle crossing the trail, as you stalked a herd of Cape Buffalo, backpedaling a golf ball size burden to his den. The Siafu ant that crawled up the PH’s pants forcing him to strip out of them in order to get it off. There were snakes too… lots of snakes. The Cobras, the Boomslang, the huge Rock Python , the Puff Adders, some that you couldn’t identify and most of all, that twelve foot Black Mamba that raced beside the vehicle. There was the way the locals always stared at you as you drove past them. How did those women manage those bundles of wood or those five gallon cans of whatever-it-was on their heads?

They always seemed to have a baby strapped to their backs too. Riding in a Land Rover could be a bumpy, neck jerking, leg cramping ordeal. Now,every time you smell diesel fumes, you’re reminded of those hunting cars. And there were insects. You noticed how colorful some of the ticks which infested the hides of the game were. There were those big black Scorpions and their more dangerous but smaller yellowish cousins. The Millipede that looked like a big cigar walking through the grass. And oh those maddening little Mopane flies that swarmed around your ears, mouth, and eyes!

There were so many animals that you saw in the process of scouting or just driving to and from a hunting area. All of those Jackals and Spring Hares, Genet Cats and Steenboks, Rabbits and Honey Badgers; Hyraxes and Klipspringers, Tortoises and Monitor Lizards, goats by the number and long horned Afrikaaner cattle. There were customs that were a part of the Rhodesian societal traditions that I found to be fascinating as well as humorous. If the PH said, "we’ll be going there just now." it meant that we’d be going there later.

Afternoon tea became another part daily safari life. I would never had dreamed that I would be drinking hot tea with milk and sugar at four in the afternoon with the temperature hovering around the high end of the 90’s. But after a couple of times, I found it to be another chance for conversation and tale telling. I had to laugh out loud when the PH told one of his associates of "…this bloody awful drink they have in the States…it’s called iced tea!"

The Land Rover bucked and swayed its way up a gently sloping dirt track. A friend of the PH had offered to let us hunt on his ranch, apologizing that it was just a "small" place; only 5000 acres. As the car reached the crest of the hill, I looked out across a landscape that would forever remain in my mind.

It was late afternoon and the sun cast an orange-yellow light on distant hills that at first glance looked like a city skyline. But this skyline was formed of colossal boulders, each as big as a large building, piled one upon the other. It was as if the hand of God had reached down and neatly placed them like child might do with a handful of pebbles.

Michael grew up hunting and fishing, trapping raccoons and opossums and selling them to the locals for their dinner menu. He also served in the US Army during the early 1970’s . He was active in the health care industry for the past 38 years in the Cardiology and Medical/Surgical Intensive Care Areas . He hunted in Africa twice; Zimbabwe in 1985 and South Africa in 1989. He now has a passion for things African and hopes to return to take all of those pictures that I was unable to get while concentrating on hunting.

Stark greenery obscured their bases and was scattered here and there throughout the rock. A deep blue sky completed the picture.

As I surveyed that beautiful scene I felt a deep satisfaction and peace unlike any I had ever or may ever feel again. As we came to a halt, I silently reflected on the landscape. It brought to mind some words from Out of Africa : "Here I am, where I ought to be…"

 


• Hunting Elephant in Mopani •
• African Pride •
• Third time's the Charm •
• 4 Paces from Death •
• Hunting with the San •
• Terminal Medicine •
• Cure for the secondhand life •
• The Journeyman •
• When things go right •
• When things go right Part 2 •
• The hunt is over - but the memories remain •
• Silent assasins •


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