Last year was a full year, ending on a busy note which carried through to the start of this year – a time of change, of regrouping, stabilising the organisation that I have headed for the past almost six years.
Change is always difficult and some struggle with it more than others. Much of the reaction to what we were doing was positive, but there was the usual group of ne’ersayers baying in the background, bringing a toxicity to the initiative that was draining.
As I drove home from Eswatini I felt flat, exhausted, depressed. Why? I wondered. The job was pretty much done, we had a good structure in place taking us forward, there was much to celebrate. So why, my soul, are you cast down within me?
I realised I was as close to burn out as I have ever been and badly in need of some sort of getaway to recharge faintly glowing batteries. That means one of two places: the beach in Mozambique or the Kruger National Park. I long for the beach having not visited for four years, but somehow that door does not seem to be opening. I dream of long walks, sand between my toes, the gentle ministrations of the Indian Ocean. Hopefully soon.
Meantime, God has not forsaken me. I found a notification that Kruger were offering a 40% discount at three camps until the end of March. One was nearby Pretoriuskop. I booked two nights and arranged to go with three friends. I needed the levelling of the natural world, that sense that all was in its place and as it should be. More than that I needed an open heaven above me, the dome of God’s canvas covering me.
We set off at lunchtime and settled our belongings before heading out for an afternoon drive. Saw two striped Kingfishers, which impressed the driver of a game vehicle that we met at Numbi Gate as we checked in. His name was Excellent (not Accident, he assured us)! We met him again on our last day and were thrilled when he told us he had gone looking and found the striped Kingfisher – his first sighting of the season. The camaraderie of bush lovers!
That evening we made our fire, and prepared to braai, as we say here – barbecue for those not from South Africa. My prayer was answered – a perfect sky, freckled with bright stars. When the things of this earth overwhelm, I need to be overwhelmed by the greatness of God. As I lay on my back looking at the enormous expanse, I felt my life slip back into perspective, the poison of vituperative calumny that had wounded my soul began to seep away, my spirit once more able to connect unfettered with Him who formed me.
We left in the dark the next morning. As we waited for the car engine to warm, we prayed for a good day of sightings, to be mindful of our Lord throughout the day, to enjoy all He had for us.
The headlights picked out the road as the sky slowly lightened. We came up a small rise and gasped collectively at the horizon blazing through the African bush. We waited, and soon the sun peeped through the early morning haze of cloud, red and dramatic. It is here, in this world far from the bustle of everyday life, that I can see the full majesty of the Lord, this earth that He created for our enjoyment instilling me with awe, and with peace. If God, who manufactured all this, loves me, then all must be well with my soul!
A few minutes later, over another rise, two shapes lying in the road. From the angle and shape of the heads we knew they were cheetahs – a rare sighting. What a start to our day! We gave them space and admired them through our binoculars, pleased it was light enough to get some good pictures.
The bush is thick after a wet season, in fact many roads in the Park are still closed after heavy rains in February caused damaging floods, so it is hard to see animals unless they are in the road, which is where a trio of rhino were waiting for us. Before we could get close, we watched in dismay as a vehicle belonging to a safari group that had overtaken us kept on driving until it had chased the animals off the road! It would have been less annoying if he had not then stopped to look at them.
The Lord understood our frustration and later, while we were watching a herd of elephant, a guide from the same company told us there were rhino behind us. Another threesome, not quite as happy with each other as the first lot. One suddenly charged another; his tail curled tightly over his back in fury. I had never heard rhino growl, or roar, or whatever they do is called!
Imagine seeing two of the big five together. We smiled happily, full from the beauty of the day.
Next, a family of warthog caught our attention. Warthog are notorious for being careless parents, but this family had seven youngsters. Worth stopping to have a look. As we were about to drive on a movement caught my eye – lion, I called. The light was such that I didn’t see the spots until he turned to hide in the bushes. A hungry leopard! We watched with bated breath as he inched closer to the family, and then charged.
They dispersed in a hurry, and the cat skulked back into the shadows of the shrubbery. Unbelievably the tribe of hogs returned, minus a number of youngsters who were wise enough to stay on the other side of the road.
Once more the leopard lined them up, and then sped out after them a scant twenty metres from our car. We decided he was young and little inexperienced as he seemed to race the hogs rather than try to catch one! He was hungry, but seemingly not hungry enough, and to be honest, we were pleased he didn’t get to kill a young pig in front of us.
By now the sun was high in the sky and the temperature had soared along with it. We headed to Skukuza for a soft serve ice cream and a good leg stretch. We had enough time to take an easy run back to camp, satisfied that we had had a beyond good day.
That’s what we thought. At the turn off to Malelane, cars were lined up on both sides of the road – the tell-tale sign that lion were around. True enough a pride of eight cats, tummies fully extended, were spread around in various poses of debauched satisfaction. We watched them for a while, had the pleasure of seeing a few of them move, two even playing together. Lions are lazy and sleep much of the day – it can be boring watching them, with no more movement than a flick of an ear or tail for endless hours.
Our final sighting was a puff adder stretched out waiting to cross the road. What a pleasure to watch a snake, where he belonged and who posed no threat to us. He moved very slowly and we could see the movement of his scales and rib muscles clearly. Happily, an oncoming car got him to get a move on!
Amazing sights in the Kruger National Park are the luck of the draw. Animals disappear in a blink, the bush disguising their presence. We call them ‘almost’ sightings. As we looked back over the day, we could see how each delay, time we thought we had wasted, had worked to our advantage. Had we not been made to wait while other guests looked at a bird or animal we were not particularly interested in, we would not have seen all that we did.
The lesson is a valuable one. Wait. Wait on God, He has a plan for you if you are not in too much of a hurry, enjoy the sights along the way, the fellowship, being in the moment, whatever and wherever that moment is.
The next day we saw the last member of the big five, buffalo. We also saw a hyena which we normally see plenty of, but which we had not seen or heard. We decided their burrows must have been flooded, there was still plenty of water around from the floods, and maybe they have moved on.
What an extraordinary couple of days! My heart was full, my soul ready to face the rigours of life once more, my spirit soaring at the goodness of God!
Thank you, Jesus, thank you, Kruger!