It was our last full day in the Valley so we took an all-day drive from Tena-Tena to the Salt Pan. Here, the country opens out, the trees fall away and the spring-water creates a little inland delta: an island of wet entirely surrounded by land.
It was an abrupt change of mood from the wooded savannah we had been living in for the past eight days. Here it was almost lush, almost gentle – until you noticed the hyena lying contentedly in the stream, teeth bared in the eyeless mask of a face. A big mosque swallow over-flying the water, hawking for insects, a pair of delicate Namaqua doves, and – count them – eight species of raptor; more easily visible here under the big skies.
And then – and then the soft bugling cries of crowned crane and it was like another homecoming. Like all cranes, so big yet so delicate: picking their way fastidiously across the open landscape, gently calling to one another. I counted 140 of them, their handsome monochrome emphasised by that minute splash of red. They seemed an embodiment of joy and innocence in complex world.
So, as crowned cranes always do, they began to drift away, more or less imperceptibly, never seeming to take a deliberate step, and yet, after a couple of minutes of inspection, you noticed that they were that little bit further away. And then again, two minutes later… in no itchin’ hurry, but always shifting, always just beyond your reach, always just beyond your scope… you can have us, but only on loan and never for long.