This has been a family weekend to remember, the start, as I said when I toasted my mother on Saturday night, of the ‘birthday season’ leading up to her 80th birthday celebrations on the 3rd of December.
We were up on the border of the Kruger Park, standing outside on the patio, in front of the fire on which Jonathan was getting ready to barbecue in batches four kilos of skewered prawns, and after I had thanked everyone for coming (my sister Laura, from Durban, Jonathan from London, my two daughters and Eve’s partner Shaun – Gareth, Kathy’s husband, was forlornly at home alone, studying for a major exam) I turned to my mom, to thank her for what she meant to us, and how much she had given us. And as I opened my mouth to speak, all of a sudden I found the words would not come out, I was quite overwhelmed, and it was a good few moments before I was able to continue. My mother was a little shaken, too, and hugged and squeezed me fiercely, breaking into my speech with a few words and comments of her own. It was one of those intense, unpredictable moments, when the ties of family, the meaningfulness not just of relationships but of the physical presence and existence of those you love and who are near and dear to you, leaps out of the dark, and carries you off.
Appropriate enough, I guess, as a metaphor, when you are spending your days game-viewing in the Kruger Park. One big, fattened, idly loafing hyena, looked back at us with a blank unrecognising stare, as we paused a few feet away from it, by the roadside. A lion with a buffalo kill, its head deep inside the bloody cavern of ribs and belly, its haunches in the air as it squatted, extricated itself, turned and looked magisterially off into the distance. Fish eagles, posted like Roman sentries in the high trees along the Lower Sabie river. And the largest herd of buffalo, larger than any herd of anything I have ever seen, taking twenty minutes or more to cross in an endless, grunting stream in front of the Landy – 300 beasts, easily, stopping the traffic in both directions. Oh, and a leopard, emerging from a dark glossy thicket onto the sandy bed of a river, pausing and pacing, turning to look back, restlessly waiting for something to happen.
Back at our two-story lodge in Marloth Park, we feasted, and lazed, and chatted and watched: on the first evening, a presumptuous picket of warthogs, facing us in line, demanding their rations; a red-billed hornbill who allowed me to approach so close with my camera I could fill the frame; and one morning, as we were having our breakfast outside, a large kudu that loped in with purpose, halting barely a meter away from me with its big, liquid eyes and transversal jaw, chewing, shaking its hard, sharp-tipped, spiralling horns, examining me as if it were wondering what, on earth, was this creature, and what did it want?
Jonathan filmed the episode on his iPhone: the kudu who came too close.