With the sun breaking the horizon in the East and arms stretched skywards, the ancient baobab greeted a new day. Just another ordinary day for the baobab…but not for me! Sitting with my dinner on the table and checking emails in my tent the previous evening, I suddenly had a thought…something I have been wanting to do since 2006 when I arrived here in Ruaha for the first time. During my explorational drives then, I happen across an amazing baobab tree on the banks of the Mwagusi River just below our camp. It has been shaped by elements and elephants. This particular tree, like many other baobabs, is hollow inside and large enough to comfortably spend a day…and that is where the though germinated. So impulsively I made a decision and set it into action. Early the next morning I rose, packed everything I needed and departed for the tree. The road passes within 20m of it so I parked there and carried a chair, blanket, pillow, water and some food into my house for the day. Then not wanting to attract any attention from authorities or tourists alike, I drove the vehicle about 1km away and parked it in a hidden spot from where I took the rifle and walked back to the tree. The trail lead me through some Combretum thickets where I paid careful attention…but nothing. Then just as I was crossing a slight sodic-site (area of sodium-rich clays) with some eroded surface…scanning the surrounds…I stepped on a knoll, twisted my ankle and dropped to the ground! Starting to laugh even before hitting terra firma, I kept the rifle up in the air to avoid damage and thought, THAT is what happens from not doing any trails for 2 months! Being confined to the vehicle here has weakened my ankles and a momentary lapse in concentration resulted in an embarrassing spectacle! Now that Iʼve “leveled” myself, I shall continue… Arriving at the tree, I settled in and organised myself for the next hours. Finding nooks and crannies, ledges and hooks for everything, I was ready.
At first (like in the earlier stages of the human psyche) I was constantly looking “outside” for animals and saw a troop of baboons drifting past towards the river to drink. They kept a respectable distance from the tree as they saw me. Shortly after that a flock of noisy guineafowl ambled past en route to the water and then a red-chested cuckoo called and flew into the baobab above me. These brood-parasites mainly lay their eggs in scrub-robin and robin-chat nests. Being partially resident in East Africa but intra-African migrants to the Southern part of the continent, they might seem to “arrive” only when they start calling in mid November. Next on the parade were some eles. A small family unit of about 10 animals slowly arced around the baobab at a distance of about 100m. They were feeding West just to the South of the tree when I first saw them and gradually did a loop to the North after which they marched East again to the North of the tree and into the Mwagusi to drink. This took about 40min to complete. Suddenly an agama dashed from a hidden crevice between the trunk and the crumbly mud to scale the “walls” and out the one “window” which was a big hole in the side of the trunk. There are 3 windows in total and afford fair views of the outside world. A few giraffe also appeared out of the scrubland further uphill and sauntered down to quench their thirst, with 3 warthogs following close behind them. A herd of impala then came into view from the West and they continued on down when a group of brown-parrots (Meyerʼs) landed in the branches above. With screechy voices they chatted about after which they fluttered off, leaving everything suddenly comparatively silent. A dazzle of zebra next arrived in single file, led by the dominant mare and the rear brought up by the stallion. Their senses are so acute that even hidden inside the tree was I unable to go unnoticed! The returning giraffe also smelt me and gave the baobab a wide berth. Then suddenly a very foreign sound penetrated the tranquility…a vehicle! Fortunately, as can be expected from a species perpetually propelled by its own device, they sped past in search of something exciting and charismatic to see… A thud outside promptly brought my adrenalin up to speed! Not far from this tree, another young ele calf died 2 days ago and the pride is there feeding. The nearest water however is just below the baobab in the river… Peeking out very cautiously, I noticed a dropped blossom. Phew! These serenely ivory-white blossoms open at dusk and remain open just as long as the night lasts. In the morning it withers and drops to the ground where itʼll be appreciated by impala and other browsers. Why blossom at night you may wonder as most pollinating insects are diurnal? Well, the magic happens at dusk when, in the crepuscular dim, a very specialised and unique mammal makes its appearance…BATS! Fruit-eating bats are after the liquid sugars contained in fruits and nectar in blossoms. Fluttering from blossom to blossom to harvest the bounty, they inadvertently act as vectors for the pollen and are one of the critical pollinators of baobabs in Africa. Another known pollinator is a Hawk-moth with a very a long proboscis to access the nectar. Thus my anxiety was of a false nature and short-lived… The incessant trill of cicadas in the now baking sun almost became unbearable, until I returned to the inside of the tree where, sheltered by the trunk, I was able to hear myself think again… Now being almost midday, I turned my attention “inwards” and sat down to do some reading. A very thought-provoking if not tediously complex book called “Modern Man In Search Of A Soul” by controversial author and psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung. I shall refrain from divulging any profound hypotheses in a fear that my comprehension and linguistic limitations will do it a great injustice… Do investigate for yourself though. After every chapter I would emerge from the “deep” and scan about only to see the odd giraffe or impala or eles way in the distance. Nothing ventured too close to the tree as I guess my scent permeated for some radius. Back inside I would lay flat on my back looking straight up towards the top of the tree and read. My attention then fell on some muddy nests on the “ceiling” and the orange-tipped abdomen of the mason-wasp. Despite every attempt I couldnʼt get a photo… (I did however get a pic of a potter-wasp nest). Moving around inside the tree disturbed a little moth which I followed and recognised as the same as the baobab moths we have in Kruger in South Africa. I donʼt know much about them but know they are always to be found inside and on baobabs.
Laying down again and reading, peripheral vision distracted me again as I followed an ant scurrying up the side. Snaking left and right and stopping occasionally to investigate it made good progress…then POUNCE! Out of nowhere one of the flat-spiders which was so cryptically camouflaged, grabbed hold of the ant and twirled around it, binding it with silken bounds! Now tied down, the ant had nowhere to go and the spider injected more venom with each bite. At this point I had managed to jump up, change to the macro lens and after a long search found the well camouflaged spider again. With fangs jammed into the abdomen of the ant I could almost see the venom enter and start dissolving the innards into a drinkable broth. Spiders having external digestion will utilise their venom not only to incapacitate their prey, but also to do the pre-ingestion digestion for them. It all happened so fast that even a cheetah kill would have seemed as if in slow-motion! Spent with excitement I flopped down and couldnʼt read for a while either. The heat mounting outside had no ill effect on me, ensconced inside the shaded void of ancient life, I felt pleasantly comfortable. The constant urge of having “to do” something waned with time and I settled into a peaceful observatory and contemplative mood… That lasted until I heard a buzzing sound and looking for the source, saw a robber-fly of large proportions! Gone was the tranquility as I scrambled for my camera!!! Robber-flies are incredible in that they are so aerobatically superior to other flying insects that they will gain on their quarry, position themselves just above and behind them, then dash forward to slam the spikes on their legs into the unsuspecting victim, giving them a solid grip on their prey and then with surgical precision, stab their short stout proboscis (spiky mouthpart) into the back of their prey, inject the “anti-coagulant” and drink the broth. All of this happens in-flight! They may settle to finish the meal but the initial attack is all airborne!
Another vehicle passed by, but this time they made a furtive pause to glimpse at the baobab and then ventured forth in search of something more important or intriguing… As the earth rotated on its axis, it brought the sun aligned with the Western cavity which acted as the door. With nothing to close it, the rays filled the room with light and warmth. Shifting everything (including myself) into the few remaining shady spots I managed to avoid the devastating heat and remain in situ. Reading a bit more kept my “inside” for a while until I heard footfalls outside! Judging by the rhythm and intensity, I guessed it to be giraffe and was treated to a journey of 6 passing by when I peered out. Later the same happened with zebra and then the rumbling of eles in the river brought me outside again. They had drunk from the wells they dug in the river-sand and were ambling past when they suddenly reacted quite abruptly! After a quickly analysis of the conditions I realised that my scent must be drifting down into the river…they were 100m away…amazingly sensitive! The chatterings of yellow-collared lovebirds drew my attention from the book and up into the branches visible through the “door”. There were about 8 of them perched in a position where they could look in and see me. They excitedly chirruped and clicked while moving in an investigative way closer and closer. Being backlit by the sun it was not worth a photo so I just enjoyed. Once I moved and they flew off, I noticed a tiny little green feather stuck in some cobweb on one of the shreds of trunk inside the tree. They must have been sitting there preening themselves and this particular contour-feather drifted with the breeze to settle on that exact spot…incredible to link the two. I might be wrong but thatʼs my interpretation and Iʼm sticking to it… Just as the day started drawing to a close, I looked out again and a male ostrich was walking down the riverbed…an unlikely place to see a bird of those proportions. More eles were drinking and also a troop of banded mongoose made their passing as the sun tried hiding behind some low cloud on the Western horizon. The resultant crepuscular rays were spectacular and from the inside of the baobab the view was stupendous! Soon it got dark enough for me to have to get going if I am to reach the vehicle before good sense dictate it to be too dangerous. The walk back to the vehicle went without fall and vacating my shelter I realised that I was not a tree-hugger today…but conversely the baobab was a human-hugger. The objective of this exercise was purely an attempt to slow down and really appreciate a more natural pace of life. We are always “in search” and speed from one thing/sighting to the next in the hope that the next one will bring fulfillment as the current/previous one didnʼt quite succeed. The harsh reality is that we have to focus on the NOW and it in itself will be fulfilling if only we open our eyes/minds to recognise the beauty surrounding us everyday. Sure it is easier to find beauty out here in my “office” and I am cognisant of that privilege. But instead of constantly yearning for things in the future, become aware of what IS “right now” and find a way of appreciating it, even if itʼs not as charismatic or exciting as the Big 5, but just the inside of a tree…
Yours in Nature.