May 26: “Have you shot many animals?”

Zimbabwe:

Sunday, May 26

Just watched the day-after full moon rise from the elephant skull flat top behind the high chalets. Had dinner up there with Oscar drinking South African beer and wine while the sun set and the night got colder and darker revealing a brilliant southern hemisphere Milky Way, entirely in the wrong part of the sky, of course. Again, I’m wondering, what’s wrong? Why is my orientation toward the heavens so far off? Something about growing up in the northern hemisphere and then worm-holing it to southern hemisphere messes with the wet-wear we call the mind.

How can the Milky Way be in the wrong part of the sky? And yet, it is. Trying to think about this logically, and without the use of the internet for research – even though you’re getting this as email, that’s only because I can be online for an extremely short time each day, and at crawling speeds, just enough to read and send a few emails, and that’s it. Sorry, I can’t just fire up a sky chart and answer these questions on my own, so I’ll suffer you with the pondering of my ignorance, and, no doubt, yours too, if you didn’t already know the answer and couldn’t just zap it up on your handheld device in the wired universe we take for granted.

For one, I notice that back home, in Boston, the Milky Way is much higher in the sky, practically overhead. One has to strain their neck. Here, it is more shoulder level, nestled seemingly by the horizon in the southern sky. It never occurred to me that the Milky Way would be so high in the sky in one place, and more skewed toward the horizon in another, but there you have it. It also is a different Milky Way, or so it appears. The wisps of glowing dust are distinct – like Rorschach blots; no two are the same. Am I looking into a different part of the Milky Way? I guess I must be. As one of the security guards last time said to me, "The stars in America, they are not the same?"

Today I had breakfast with the site manager’s family at the chalet overlooking the watering hole. Native Zimbabwean’s of European decent, all of them, born and raised. One of the youngest, a boy about six or seven, says to me in this impeccable British accent, "Have you shot many animals"? No, I replied. "Why not", he asks, with a look of almost total bewilderment. Well, I live in America, in a city, I explain. We don’t have many animals. "What type of animals do you have", he persists, still, apparently trying to figure out why I don’t at least shot the animals that are here. Well, I say, there are bears in the forests, but we don’t shot those. The boy is loosing interest in me, as I represent a paradigm that has no existence in his universe. How can there be a place that doesn’t have animals, and how can I not be shooting? Hunting game, starting with guinea fowl, is what children learn to do here from the time they’re old enough to hold a toothbrush. Last time, the ranch manager’ son walked out with his riffle and stated matter-of-factly, "Gonna get a kudo, eh. Food for the winter". Food is what you shoot or pull from the river. Fact is, if I lived here on this game ranch full time, as I tend to contemplate, I would also learn to hunt and would carry a gun into the bush on camping trips, or go with the attendance of a professional scout. You would be not long for this earth if you chose not to.

In the liberal northeast of the United States, where I’m both a resident and stalwart champion of the Left, there’s an anti-gun slogan, "Guns are made for two purposes, to kill people or to practice killing people". I used to believe that. I am beginning to rethink a lot of assumptions I’ve held dear.

One of the strongest about-faces is my attitude toward farmers and ranchers. What dumb ignoramuses they must be. Country cockadoos. Redneck reptilians. Moonshine monkeys. Nope. Don’t believe that now. The level of complexity and uncertainly they deal with would make the typical city slicker shrink in their Pradas. Of course, large, industrialized operations are managed like a factory, but smaller operations require constant observation of land, plants, animals, weather, family, and markets. It is for exactly this reason that Savory invented Holistic Management in the first place, to help land and wildlife stewards navigate through obstacles and toward a desirable future.

Well, the moon is now directly overhead and it’s time for sleep. The grunting I hear outside is either a baboon or leopard. I would typically assume it’s a baboon, but it didn’t really sound like one, and the manager told me he’s pretty sure he heard the “coughing” of a leopard last night. Of course, what do I know? Maybe it’s just a coughing cockroach. At any rate, I’m pretty sure it’s not the cookie monster, and my allowance for venturing for the night, both physical and ruminative, is exhausted.

Good night, or as they say here, lale kuhle (pronounced la-ley goosh-ley ), meaning, literally, sleep well.

– s

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