Sacred Combe Safari IV
Here are two subjects to avoid when you are in conversation with me. The first is human exceptionalism, and the second is haiku. That’s if you have any ambition of making this a dialogue. Once either subject comes up, I am likely to go spiralling off into a monologue: perhaps finding some great new overarcing theory to confound the entire world. Or not, of course.
Both these subjects tend to dominate my thoughts when I’m out in the Luangwa Valley. I mostly keep them for the long free period that lies between lunch and tea, when the heat of the day enforces stillness on humans and elephants and everything else apart from the busy long-tallied glossy starlings outside my hut and the puku antelopes who find a survival advantage in using this inhospitable time to take the day’s drink.
And so I sit and gaze and empathise. And sometimes I think about all the things that are supposed to divide humans from everything else that ever evolved on this planet, and none of which actually stands up as a an hard and impermeable barrier: emotion, thought, problem-solving, tool-use, language, culture, understanding of death, awareness of self, consciousness, language, syntax, sport, mercy, magnanimity, individuality, personality, reasoning, planning, foresight, imagination, insight, moral choice, and on and on. As mentioned in a recent blog, Jane Goodall reports strange behaviour in chimpanzees that represents something of a religious awe. And how about sense of humour? A signing gorilla called Koko tied his handler’s shoelaces together and then wittily signed Chase.
I picked up one of the haiku collections I had brought with me, and once again helped myself to the great masters – and mistresses — of the one-breath poems. As I did so I watched an elephant cross the Mwaleshi River just downstream of the camp, barely getting his ankles wet. He walked along the far bank until he was opposite my hut, and there he took to the shade, and meditatively — it was that kind of afternoon – browsed from a generous-boughed tree.
the river that divides us
is very shallow