Southern Cross

I finally saw the full brilliance of the southern hemisphere night sky. We were at a spot that was free from the residual light of camp, and were now, for the first time in two weeks, without the moon that has been our cautious companion, waxing and waning like a timid actor who sticks their head out from behind a stage curtain.  Without either of those luminous hindrances, it was total bush darkness.  The Milky Way glistened like a river of glass shavings, and there was the legendary Southern Cross with it’s rose red tip – the most recognized constellation south of the equator. We had just finished walking two of the guests back to their chalet, which is a bit removed from the main camp. At night guests at the chalet are escorted. It is a one way hospitality. Once dropped off they are not expected to leave until morning, when they can come back on their own, after they’ve had a chance, if they’re lucky, to see the bush buck and kudu at the watering hole just below. Of course, there is no form of contact.  It’s a short walk, and most locals would make it without hesitation, but even city-raised Zimbabweans would be cautious, particularly on a moonless evening. All the creatures are there.

When we got to the chalet I asked that we turn off the torches (flashlights) for a minute so that we could appreciate the darkness.  We did, and there was the display above us. Not one star did I know, but I’ve come to recognize the cross from Internet photos and a previous, though less ideal, outing a few nights earlier. One of the guests, a commercial farmer from America, did not realize that the Milky Way would be present in the southern sky, and our guide, a wonderful fellow named Emmanuel, who barely spoke English, could not comprehend that the stars appeared different elsewhere in the world. “In America, you have different stars”?, he kept asking.  “Not just America”, I would say, “All of the northern hemisphere, including Europe”, but this got no response, just a follow up repeat question, with a tinge of concern, “The stars, they are not the same”?

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