Field Note: Scylla and Charybdis on the Zambezi River
Published: October 2, 2020
By Mark Seth Lender
A wide-eyed hippo in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Nearly as wide-eyed as the author upon encountering the creature. (Photo: (c) Mark Seth Lender)
Living on Earth's Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender muses on danger and perspective in an encounter with wild hippopotamus and Cape buffalo.
Between Mana Pools and Mozambique there were many encounters with hippopotamus. It is not so much that they were trying to kill us. They don’t come that fast and it is easy to get out of the way. If you don’t they will knock your canoe throwing you into the water or break the canoe in half with their teeth which amounts to a more demonstrative method to the same result. Because on the splash the crocodiles come. And them you will not see because they are trying to get you. Taken together this makes canoeing the Zambezi dangerous, far more dangerous than we realized at the time. In retrospect our hypervigilance was justified. But that is seldom the case.
This was the first time Valerie and I were in Africa. First impressions being what they are everything was extraordinary, we took nothing for granted, our recollections are sharp and bright. Nonetheless, though the images in the mind’s eye remain, they are subject to pentimenti. Unconscious impressions and the layers of meaning they hold become transparent to each other. Things that seemed unrelated connect. We decrypt and decipher the previously indecipherable.
What I thought was dangerous now seems as though it was not. What I did not fear I should have. What seemed ordinary now seems special. The extraordinary miraculous. And what I explicitly took for granted no longer exists.
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