Zimbabwe, May 26, 2013
Preamble: Morning, May 26.
I’m writing you from what I believe to be one of the most important spots on earth, the Africa Center for Holistic Management in Zimbabwe, in southern Africa. This is the center that is pioneering the art of restoring degraded grasslands using modified livestock practices. In the process, they are providing food and water security for local villages, but also, importantly from my perspective, mitigating global warming by capturing atmospheric carbon in the form of new topsoil. I will write more about this important innovation in a subsequent post, but for now I just wanted to quickly give you a quick snapshot of life. I wrote the below log last night.
Log: Evening, May 25
I’m writing you now from my bungalow under an African full moon. I suppose it’s like any other full moon, but this is in the southern hemisphere, so the constellations are God knows what. I’ve finally come to recognize the Southern Cross which seems like a poor excuse for a constellation, although highly revered. I have to wonder what indigenous constellations existed. Certainly there was a buffalo, a giraffe, a lion! We have seen many lion tracks and "spur" lately, but don’t worry, the livestock are safe thanks to a new solar powered blinking LED light system. I guess disco balls aren’t their thing, which makes me gain deeper appreciation for the blinking bikers headlamp I keep in my pocket.
The directions are also somehow discombobulated. East, west, north and south are never where you think, and I’m always shocked to find the sun and moon where they are. Nothing about the sky or the path of celestial bodies seems to make sense. No wonder they call Australia "down under". The other day I had a debate with one of the staff about which direction we were heading and which direction the nearest town was. Well, the sun sets in the west, he said, and that’s where the sun is going to set, pointing. Yet, the sun was still high in the sky and where it would fall, like a teetering pendulum, was anyone’s guess. The fact is, we were both clueless. Both my digital GPS devices implied we were facing an entirely different direction. I was even beginning to wonder if I needed to calibrate them for the southern hemisphere, and then, I thought, "Wait a minute. They’re GPS devices. They don’t need me to tell them which hemisphere I’m in!" If only I had a good old fashioned magnetic compass, I told myself. And then I realized, My god! I do!
On the last night before I left for this month long sojourn into the land of our future, at an impulse, I bought a cheap plastic all-in-one survival kick from the camping section of Decathlon Sports (or is Sports Authority, I can never get those straight). The kit included a whistle, nylon twine, a waterproof matches container, and a magnetic compass that was part of the lid. I showed this to Allan and he replied something like "Is the whistle supposed to let us know you’re being attacked by a lion? I guess we’ll find it in the spoor".
Anyway, for the first time in my life, I can actually say I needed a compass and was glad to have a good old fashioned magnetic one. I’m pleased to say it confirmed the GPS readings to a degree. Although I had my suspicion of those, I never doubted good ol’ Mother Magnetism.
Getting back to tonight: Lipela, the keeper for Dojiwe (our domestic elephant, that was found as a baby orphan and raised here ever since), just moments ago was sitting by the fire and complaining that he wasn’t able to go home because a herd of elephant were in the way. They were grazing on the hill just outside of our campus and were then likely heading to the watering hole just below the bungalows, not more than a hundred fifty yards from us (both in the direction of Lipela’s home). The guests at the bungalows who I had just myself recently visited, said they had heard the elephants about – lots of tree breaking. The staff by the fire were teasing Lipela, saying, Oh, you’re an elephant keeper, but you’re afraid of elephants. No, said Lipela. These are wild elephants. It’s dangerous. He told me, "I was walking home, and then I heard the branches breaking, and I think, no, I can’t go that way". Early in the week, Lipela had helped me to ride Dojiwe (see picture below). Hint to future elephant riders: Wear long pants!
Anyway, if you haven’t guessed yet. I’m in Africa. Specifically, I’m in Zimbabwe, at the Africa Center for Holistic Management where I was also in 2011. Last time I was here for a six weeks. This time I’m only here for a month. Neither is nearly long enough. I’ve been talking about staying for a least a three month stint which would give me the sense of a season, but really, I need a year. I need to see the full cycle of dry and wet season – planting and harvest. I want to know the pulse.
This Center works on land and water restoration. I’m here because of climate change. The two are connected.
Below are pictures with some explanations.
Peace my friends.
Be well, and remember, take your malaria tablets. Swallow. Don’t chew.
Land restoration made possible through the practices at the ACHM. The blue arrow marks the same spot (an “elbow”) on the tree. With land restoration comes atmospheric carbon capture and better water retention.
Safari Seth. Sunset light is magic, but it doesn’t last long. You best be at your destination by the time it’s down.
A field of tall healthy grass. What most America and the world used to look like, and where the carbon from out atmosphere needs to sequestered.
Mr. Giraffe says, How’s my profile?
The most wondrous creature on land.
Seeing them move is mind boggling.
Able sable. Another majestic creature. A group were feasting on the sweet grass by the stream. They bolted for the forest highground when they heard us approaching.
Elephant rider?! Next time, I’ll wear long pants. Dojiwe is quite good natured.
Peeling potatoes is the same anywhere. I said I would sing for meals, but they thought better of it.
The cooks, Mtah and Themba, are glad to have my help, or they’re good at politely pretending to.
Allan with the field officers, showing them Google Earth on my laptop. The goal is to accurately map all the communities where they work in order to get the proper boundaries and acreages.
Field Officer is pointing to a community spot using Google Earth. This is a much appreciated enhancement.
Precious and Elias mapping community boundaries with Google Earth.
With the Data Team, looking at old maps of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia, as labeled). The maps are at least 30 years old. It’s the only ones they have, and likely the most recent ones that exist. The maps are in UTM format, which was new to me. That stands for Universal Transverse Mercator. Apparently that’s popular with the military. I’m encouraging them to switch to Hours, Minutes, Seconds, which seems to be the standard in common usage. Anyway, it turns out the map also has HMS (hours, minutes, seconds – not Her Majesty’s Service), but it’s difficult to read. The GPS devices and Google Earth can easily switch. It’s just a setting.
Trusty Garmen GPS device at boundary beacon.
My creation. Map of the property, with extensions and rivers on Google Earth. Now, they can instantly get acreages and resolve disputes (or start new one!).
Site of a train wreck from 2007, resulting from a head on collision. We are at the base of a gorge. The cars feel at least fifty feet. It must have been awful. Many people at the Center remember it well.
Awesome view from the east beacon, looking southwest, into the property. As lovely as it gets.
Main campus. Side of office looking toward cafeteria.
At the skinning station. Wild and domestic game are skinned here. Everything is utilized.
P.s. You can see logs of my trip from 2011 and updates from this trip at my site Hut With a View (of the future) http://hutwithaview.com.
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All the best, – s
pss. For more information about the practices here, or to get involved, please contact The Savory Institute in the US, http://www.savoryinstitute.com/