Thursday, October 20, 2011

armed hiking

For slow-learning elk hunters, the effort morphs into good healthy exercise in the pure mountain air, with guns. There was a lot of fine empty country.

We'd hiked in under moonlight to hide in the woods near a confluence of game trails. In the silver pre-dawn chill two coyotes on the far ridge performed a howl and response duet, interspersed with barks and imitations of elk bugling. Perhaps they weren't imitations ? but we found no evidence.

The small orange spot here is Ian, left to guard the exit from the woods while I circled around to tramp through the crusts of snow remaining in the shade of the dark timber. Nobody home there, either.

The hunter's moon waned. The weather was good and forecast to hold so, which is bad. In warm weather like this, with plenty of water available, the elk tend to scatter into the woods, there to hunker down and wait for cold. They detest heat. Time for plan C and 3/4 (I had many different plans, none of them effectual).

We hied ourselves off the top of the mesa and to another drainage. Here I embarrassed myself in front of the DOW, who were sitting on top of the mesa with spotting scopes, inspecting the hunters. Some joker had planted a trail marker on top of the hill next to the parking area. A simple trusting soul, I plunged into the scrub oak and fought my way up and down the cliffs several times, trying to find the trail, which surely must exist behind the trail marker. The officers of the DOW were alarmed by this erratic if not eccentric behaviour and came down to check. They found only Ian, as by now I was down in the wash looking at some unusually large bear tracks. It turns out the real trail is 200 yards up the road, marked with a stick.

Camp on the side of the hill, tucked in among the scrub oaks, surrounded by bear trails. Elk tracks were everywhere too, though none too new. By this time we'd hiked about eight miles, ten for me, the last few with backpacks in searing heat. Ian went off to inspect the nearby meadows while I cooked dinner, but found a freshly steaming bear sign in the middle of the game trail, which rather blunted his enthusiasm for solo wanderings into the dusk. All of this country sloped to one degree or another, our campsite no exception. The night was spent gradually slipping down to the bottom of the tent, then inchworming back up in the sleeping bag, all the while nervously listening for approaching bears with one hand on the bear spray. I've slept better.

Morning, looking out over Pinon Mesa with the La Sal peaks in the distance. I climbed up behind camp and glassed the hills for signs of life. Two elk were pottering around a meadow a half mile away across the creek. We pelted over there, circled around downwind, then stalked up along the game trails: the elk knew several tricks each worth two or more of ours, they skedaddled quietly and comprehensively.

Some animals had bedded down for the night below these aspens. It was hard to tell if they were bears or small elk. Later I went out to find an ambush spot above the meadow for evening. The picture below is taken from one of the candidate spots. The scrub oak here is dense, penetrated only by bear tunnels, trails closed over by the bushes at about four feet up. I got lost in these for some time while trying to find a way across to some dry water holes with good grass.

In the afternoon we climbed up to the other spot to wait in hope. No elk appeared, instead a bear ambled through the spot from which that photo was taken. We weren't sure what one would do with a bear once dead.. make a nice rug ? seems insufficient reason to shoot that handsome beast. I knew the old mountain men would eat bear, then again they'd also go without bathing for years, so their tastes might have run to the rancid. These bears were eating mostly berries, to judge by the steaming evidence. Berry-fed bear, mmm. Perhaps we'll get both tags next year and try it.

Rereading that last sentence, it sounds both sanguinary and offensively nonchalant. I recall an interview with a French chef, part of some new wave of cuisine, where he said his primary concern when cooking was to remember that in order to produce the meal, something had to die: the approach was always through gratitude and reverence. Even our language hides the animal and its death from us. As historian Robert Bartlett observes, "When it's in a cold and muddy field covered in dung, it's named in English with the old Saxon name - ox, cow, pig, elk. When it's been cooked and carved and put on a table with a glass of wine, it's named in French (by the Norman conquerors) - beef, pork, venison." It seems more honest to do one's own killing, though of course this also might be mere affectation. Bears are different though, it would feel like murder I think: not sure I could actually pull the trigger.

Lenticular clouds hung above the mesa as we waited. The morning brought 5:30am sleet to ice the tent before packing up for the hike out at 6:30am. As we drove out so the local hunters were driving in, the weather now being more like hunting weather and less like sunbathers'. There's always next year, though I'm running out of them: in five years or so, Ian will have to take me hunting. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

elk fortress

Here is where I thought we'd be hunting in the fall. The scouting trip revealed this drainage off the Grand Mesa is a kind of fortress for the elk. One old man and a boy isn't going to do it for a hunting party into those woods - I'd need to be twenty years younger, or Ian ten years older, preferably both, and even then I'd have my doubts. It's the most intimidating landscape I've encountered in the West; the deepest dankest woods outside of the N Carolina temperate rainforests; and very beary too, fresh scat around every blind corner and those massively impressive pawprints set in mud.  Does a bear poop in the woods ? yes, lavishly, and wherever s/he feels like it.

The good news is you can't get 200 yards off the trail without finding game trails, the bad news is it takes 15min to do those 200 yards and you can't see 20 yards. I thought we could drop off the top of the Mesa on a trail less travelled, make camp in a meadow near the dark woods and be there for serendipity to take place, or at least to hunt the dark once the ATVs had chased all the animals off the mesa. There isn't any way down except the well trodden trails, and those non-wooded spots on the topo map aren't meadows, they are fields of basalt chunks.  Like this:

Travel is slow at best when daypacking into this scree. Thinking about humping a backpack of hunt camp gear through those rock gardens gave me the ritteltit. That's a fine old Afrikaans word meaning roughly heebiejeebies in US, screaming habdabs in English, but Google fails me - no link to a definition, so consider this the definitive paragraph on the ritteltit.

I'd found a good game trail off the edge but it petered out in the boulder field as in the photo. Artie didn't even try to get into it, sat on the rock at the edge and watched me go, doubtless thinking the dumb human would be back soon. 

Back up to the mesa and along to the only other break in the wall. Again a good clear game trail led downhill, this time ending at a cliff. I guess the elk here could moonlight at Cirque du Soleil, certainly I could not manage the contortionist acrobatics to get down to the next basalt block maze.

The top of the mesa off the roads is very pleasant, rolling meadows with stands of trees and reservoirs (signs: "These reservoirs are water supply, drained every winter, so there are NO FISH"). Elk hoofprints everywhere there is or was mud, but no fresh sign, scat or grazed bits or bedding areas. Dusk descending, we called it a day and bedded down ourselves by one of the reservoirs. Artie was very happy when I lay down next to him as he usually has to sleep downstairs alone; I was happy to have his company after a long solitary discouraging day; so we both sighed contentedly and slept.

Next day we headed into the woods from Carson Lake, in fact another dam, but perennial in this case. There was an infestation of marmots on the wall, whistling alarmed as we crossed over. Two of the creatures can be seen canoodling on the rock in the background. Bigfoot haunts this valley, one of the avatars of the great god Pan, who is not dead but pipes still in the caverns of our skulls. 
and the birds were silent as they listened for the heavenly music
and the river played the song
the wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn
the wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn
Five miles down Kannah Creek it was time for lunch. I caught a couple 8-10" cutthroat trout out of a pool, ten minutes and 20 yards off the trail. Then Artie started to bark at me, sharp angry single WOOFs, and I got frankly spooked, having been hiking for three hours through dense bush and berry patches: a strong attack of bearanoia. Pan is dead, long live Pan.

The south slope of the drainage opened up into mixed juniper and cactus in dust. The north at the same elevation was still aspen in impenetrable undergrowth. We clambered back up the thousands of feet to the top, approximately following a trail much clearer on the map than on the ground.  

Dejectedly we headed back down to the yurt for the night. In the morning we'd go around and look at the other end of the wild part of Kannah, where it comes out onto the plains and is immediately sucked dry by thirsty towns. There were peaches down at the yurt, a week or so short of perfect ripeness but still savoury and luscious.

The trail from the other end goes up through a burn area, grey ash and black trees. Three thousand feet and four miles up gets to the bottom of the cliffs again. There are three trails in the picture below - how many do you see ? Me either. At least that signpost has a sign, many of them had only the post remaining, which I suppose is still a marker of sorts, though Delphic. 

The Grand Mesa 100 mile trail run covered much of the same territory. Practically everyone who finished blogged about it, possibly the best-documented race experience on the webs. The runners expected trails but found it was more like 100 miles of cross-country, marked off with pink polkadot flagging tape and reflectors. This would have worked better if the cows hadn't liked the pink so much they ate it. I found some of the markers and took them with me for future use. Reports here: Footfeathers, Felix, Marco, Ryan

Trudged back down to the burn and went off-trail through the malpais to reach the Kannah: which appeared as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

The water was icy and fishless to my efforts at least. Artie lay down in the shade. It took 3 days, 30 miles, and 7 thousand feet of elevation change to wear him out, finally hunted himself blind and lame. Usually I figure he goes about three times as far as I do, what with all the circling around, and he was off-trail for most of this in heavy brush. On the drive out, an archipelago of cloud stretched out to the west. The rain was only virga. 

One of the delusions I'd nurtured for this trip was due to a coincidence with the opening of blue grouse season. Now they aren't blue anymore, instead differentiated into dusky and sooty, possibly spruce and siberian as well; whatever they are, we saw none of them. The first two days I'd carried a shotgun in hope. This last day we saw wild turkey running, Artie took off like a bullet on the scent but they evaded him. Recounting this to Ken I said I no longer believed in blues, to which he riposted, channeling Muddy Waters: "son, you haven't earned the blues". 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Orient Mine

After the slalom races, we made a visit to the abandoned Orient Mine high on the side of the San Luis valley, for C who is a bat aficionado. We stopped at a gas station in Poncha Springs. The attendant asked what all those canoes had been doing in Salida yesterday, so we explained. A friend of his had decided the historic high would be a good time to raft Brown's Canyon above Salida. Luckily he lost only his raft and quite a bit of skin after swimming through the Seven Stairs. 

The mine hosts a colony of some quarter-million Mexican free-tail bats, all of which come pouring out of it in the dusk to hunt the valley.

It turns out that 250 000 bats whoosh as they flood out, from dusk until too dark to see: also they bring a trail of bat poo odor out with them. Quite extraordinary. 

The mine is in the hills above the Valley View hot springs. Those folks are on the far side of hippy. As a canoeist I’m usually the crunchiest granola in any given group, but felt like the man in the grey flannel suit out there. On the hike back to the car, we stopped in at what turned out to be a unisex bathroom - was peacefully having a pee at the urinal when several women came in. There was a brief moment of nightmare like one of those dreams where you are naked at the office, before reality resumed. Women's bathrooms don't have urinals so if anyone was wrong it had to be them. I know this about women's bathrooms because as the Officer on Duty after hours at Army Intelligence HQ, I had to check all the rooms including the women's bathrooms: definitely no urinals.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

open boating

In canoe and kayak parlance, the open boat is just a good old-fashioned canoe (English: Canadian canoe) though usually made of newfangled materials for whitewater boating. These are also known as Tupperware boats by the wood-and-canvas canoe snobs, who in turn are looked down upon by the birch-bark canoeists, and so on back to papyrus or so I guess. We paddle plastic quite happily. I figure the karma is different with a petroleum product under you, but the zen of paddling is the same. 

This year my old friend Jeff led with his chin, and agreed to organize the open canoe slalom National Championships. The plan was to hold it on the fine slalom course at Clear Creek in Golden, which is good at river flows from about 300 cfs up to 900 or so. Parenthetically, cfs here is a measure of water flow, cubic feet per second, rather than chronic fatigue syndrome, for which latter trouble canoeing is an antidote. Above 900 cfs that course becomes hairboating - boating extremely dangerous water within a hair's breadth of disaster - and not only that, but hairboating with no recovery pool below the rapids, where distressed boaters could be picked up. Instead they'd end up sucked into the Coors factory intake downstream and turned into ricewater beer. We had a long cold spring with extra snow falling in the mountains until June, followed by a warm snap so it all melted at once, producing a predicted 1400 cfs at Golden. The Coors fate was too ghastly to contemplate: Jeff and Julie picked up and moved the whole organization, volunteers and all, from Golden to the Arkansas river whitewater park in Salida. That's about a man-month of work to be done in a week. Luckily Julie was there to get it done faster than the men could have. 

Going out the first gate. 

Salida had a predicted 2500 cfs. Although this is nearly double the Golden flows, the river channel is far larger, so the course was still approximately manageable. In the event it started at 3400 and hit 4000 by Sunday, an historic high for July. Jeff had to keep changing the course as the eddies disappeared, boiled into a froth, etcetera. As Nate said at the Saturday awards introducing him, "and here's the man standing in front of the train, JEFF!" They pulled it off, no deaths and only one horrible swim, which happened after practice the first evening when the river had emptied of boaters. The swimmer made it out after a mile or so but the boat went on for ten after which it was no longer riverworthy. 

Pat the swimmer (also a competitor, announcer, and sea shanty singer - these fringe sports competitions don't happen without lots of help from everyone) got to work with fiberglass in camp that night, patching up the hull to race next day, but somehow contrived to get a fiber in his eye and scratch the cornea. One emergency room visit later he had a natty black eyepatch which did nothing for depth perception around the slalom gates, but went very well with the sea shanties. 

Two gate judges huddle in a passing rainstorm, a hired safety kayaker paid from Jeff and Julie's Fund for Indigent Paddlers waits in the eddy for someone to rescue, and the sun shines on the distant Mt. Princeton. We stayed with Jeff at their cabin in the shadow of that mountain, next to Mt. Antero. On all three mornings coming out along Chalk Creek, I got stuck behind gapers on the canyon road. Gapers are those folks who aren't used to mountain scenery, so drive along with their jaws hanging slack and heads swivelling, at 15mph. Bless them all, it's an understandable reaction, but I do wish they'd pull off occasionally to let their accumulating tail of cars go by.

The first day I'd hoped to compete in the solo playboat division. At 3700cfs and rising, not having boated whitewater in the past.. um.. year.. the better part of valour seemed for me to volunteer as gate judge, general dogsbody, etc.


In the afternoon I helped with the timing. The fastest run I timed that afternoon was a woman. The fastest run in the novice recreational boat category, was also a woman. Open boating slalom rewards skill far beyond strength: it's much more zen than kayaking, a sort of active meditation on the river. As the kayakers say respectfully of canoeists (or so we'd like to think), half the paddle, twice the paddler. Actually what they usually say is, "you're going to paddle that in a canoe ?" in tones of mixed wonder, incredulity and doubt.

Sitting on a handsome bit of Salida granite with a simple job to do and the river to watch, I found myself quite contented.
Mark Twain wrote,
The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book .. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. There was never a page that was void of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you would want to skip .. There never was so wonderful a book written by man; never one whose interest was so absorbing, so unflagging, so sparklingly renewed with every reperusal.
Looking into the face of the water, purling in the sun, was payment and recompense enough for far more work than I was doing. 

I read rivers for pleasure only, canoeing, fishing and swimming. The first two readings are quite similar, since the canoeist is looking for many of the same things in the river as a fish: trout don't like to live in turbulence any more than a boater does. Late that day there was a small hatch of caddis fly. I wanted to add the pages on fishing, but there wasn't time. To quote myself,
finding fish means reading the river, like a book in a new language,  "like any writing to the illiterate"; deciphering the meanings of leaves that pause in the current, a curl of water on the surface from a boulder five feet down; things for which an instinct would need no elucidation, though dry observation needs a slow long chain of reasons. Carefully, attentively, I watch the tip of the line as it drifts, imagining the fly's progress as it lifts and swirls over the rocks. From diving in rivers, I know the cool gloom down there, under a bright and dancing sky: holding in a break of the current, seeing the drift of small particles of detritus blowing by, travelling fast in one place.
Our good dog Artie waits patiently, bored under the tree.. "so when do I get to run for ten miles wagging happily the whole way ?" As I write he's lying on my feet keeping them warm, sighing occasionally for the pheasants I missed on Sunday.

Sunday morning, and the river she done rise. The original plan was to have son Ian and Jeff's daughter compete in the tandem canoe youth division. This section was nowhere worse than class III, but it had considerable exposure, as the climbers say: a flip and swim here had the potential to be extremely nasty. We decided not to sacrifice our children to the strong brown god of the river, at least today. 

Instead we raced as father and offspring, in the mixed tandem division. Here Jeff and daughter peel out of the bridge eddy, very very carefully. To explicate a bit - see how the boat is aligned with the streak of white water running across the river, which is a wave. An unguarded moment on exiting the eddy will put the boat up on the wave and surf it across the channel, leaving you perfectly positioned to smash down onto that bridge wave visible at the top right, flip and swim through the bridge. This happened to a few racers, giving the rest of us an opportunity to practice our rescue skills. Jeff is already turned and safe below the wave, well set up for the next gate downstream. 

Nate and his son show why they won the division, staying focused in the rain - just look at those beautiful co-ordinated paddle strokes.  Compare and contrast with my disorderly thrashing, below.

We stayed up and made most of the gates, which is about as much as I ever can manage. Dilettantes never never will triumph, but that's OK, we had a good time. Racing is a kind of joy unrepeatable in any other life. The best writing on this is by Jamie McEwan (Sandra Boynton's husband) in a canoeing magazine, not online unfortunately - "The Sublime Irrelevance of Racing", Canoe and Kayak, March, 1997. I clipped that article and saved it, in so safe a place that I've never found it again. A newer essay from Jamie,
competition inevitably brings stress and pain--and that's exactly what we're looking for. We crave intensity. As Charlotte Brontë wrote: "It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it." 
Ian and I were fourth by 27 seconds to Jeff and daughter's third place. This seemed after all fair, Jeff deserved more than one medal. 

This be the bridge.. fortunately it has a friendly abutment, rounded and smooth, so the water, boats and boaters roll off it easily. Other bridges, such as Mean Bridge on the Bridges run of the Poudre, have sharp abutments which trap and wrap boats. Mean Bridge used to be known as Killer Bridge since it has taken a life or two, but the name was changed to reduce stress for new boaters. 

After our second run I was sitting below the bridge cogitating, and not buckled in to the thigh straps. Yells and whistles from upstream alerted us to the imminent appearance of racer wreckage coming down. The safety kayaker and I ferried out, he went after the swimmer and I went after the boat. There are various ways to retrieve a flipped canoe: the safest for the retriever is to use your boat as a barge and keep bumping the hull of the other boat until it gets to shore. As a practicing coward, this is my usual method. I'd almost got the boat into an eddy, then looked at the six-foot wave preceding a strainer just downstream and made an executive decision to let the boat go. It worked out since there were people below salvaging a boat from previous carnage, and the new boat came right by them into the next eddy. Yoicks. Open boaters know we're all just in between swims. 

Pat's sea shanty was sung at the awards to reward the most difficult feat in canoe slalom, a clean tandem run. I regret to say I don't remember all of it, only this fragment:
with our spins and braces we can win this race
we might even have some fun, boys,
we might even have some fun 

Monday, May 16, 2011

The three bachelors of Doris Straat

Last year at the Brass Bell, a quarter century later, the three bachelors as yet unbowed: oujongkerel innocence long gone, however. 'oujongkerel' is the Afrikaans for bachelor which may be rendered literally 'old young lads'. Now Peter will never be old.

The three bachelors comprised in fact a rotating cast of characters, like a sitcom or reality show. At first it was Peter, James and John: I broke the apostolic succession (the gospel according to Doug ? maybe a Monty Python skit). The small house in Doris Straat, Verwoerdburg, belonged to Peter. One day James was out for a walk when a small girl skidded to a halt on her bicycle next to him, asking excitedly "is Oom een van die drie oujongkerels van Doris Straat ?" - are you (respectful honorific) one of the three bachelors of Doris Street ? James admitted guilt. We were the cynosure of the neighbourhood.

This little piggy is unhappy because he has to live in Verwoerdburg, the suburb named for the architect of apartheid, its residents wholly of one mind with Dr Verwoerd. James had a job at the CSIR, Peter was working off a scholarship obligation as a nuclear physicist at Pelindaba, and I'd taken the first job offer I got after national disservice. I was introduced to Peter by another eccentric friend from the Army. We'd discussed James Joyce and so on at 2am while monitoring mock-enemy comms in training exercises, so he thought Pete and I would get along as well. Indeed we did. Soon James left to take up a postgraduate position at Cambridge studying (in his account) vibrators, in reality it involved abstruse calculations of the resonant frequencies of jet tailplanes. Greg, also from the CSIR, moved in to complete the set again.

The dining room had some truly horrible wallpaper which we ripped down in an aesthetic frenzy. The repaint was delayed for some years, so we went for a boho graffiti theme. The Freedom Charter was posted up next to the 1983 Constitution of Suid-Afrika, as a compare and contrast. If our neighbours had reported us we could have been jailed for this. People are strange.

Note the three carefully matched chairs. There was also a mock-leather sofa to which we took turns sticking in the heat of summer. I learnt how to cook in this house, inflicting a series of culinary catastrophes on us all, starting with the Famous Pancake, a two-inch thick lump of mostly raw dough. We went to a nouvelle cuisine place after one of these. It took two hours to eat a series of beautifully presented morsels, following which we had to go across the street to get hamburgers.

As shown here, there were strong overtones of artistic aspirations, even though the house was a congeries of engineers. As Greg used to say if someone accused him of being an intellectual, "..pseudo-intellectual, please.."

I still have that blue poster of the pinup girl. Next to her is a conscript in uniform. The text starts "the reason I fight has blue eyes and looks great in a bikini", goes on in similar vein to explicate all the things 'we' were fighting for in the old Suid-Afrika, then ends "but what I don't understand is, what is his reason for fighting ?" I thought then as now it is a question worth asking. Perhaps they don't simply hate our freedoms ?

Here is Frikkie, testing out Pete's new high-altitude fully shielded sunglasses on his babbelas. Frikkie like the rest of us was conscripted: unlike the rest of us, he was sitting on the lorry with fifty other unhappy young men on the way to camp, when he began to miss his wife unbearably: at the next robot he leaped from the back and ran back to her. As I recall the army never did catch up with him. He was subject to enthusiasms, one of which co-opted me into a fishing trip to the Natal north coast. A pretty cousin or inlaw rode up front in the two-seater bakkie, I rode in back under a tarpaulin and the night skies. Next day the cousin made us the best potjiekos I'd ever tasted while we failed to catch fish.

The house was chiefly a base from which to launch expeditions. My brother and Pete are fossicking in the innards of Pete's Opel Kadett, trying to find another horse or two to get up the mountains with.

Some contact of Pete's gave us access to this nice little house in Rhodes village, near Tiffindell. Those nights were the coldest I've ever been. Houses in SA don't have heating as such, and we couldn't find the coal scuttle. Not for the first time the other two had girls to stay warm with, while I attempted to content myself with an inadequate superlight down sleeping bag. The fog in this picture is condensation on the lens as the camera and I slowly warmed with tea and sun.

Mostly it was mountains. Greg and I ran to the top of the local high point, Ben McDhui, and brought back a film canister full of snow as souvenir, snow being a novelty in those climes. On the last morning we started up that white Volkswagen Kombi only to find it bleeding its life's oil in an ominously black puddle. There is a cunning device known as a 'freeze plug' in these engines, which helpfully blows itself out in case of low temperatures. There wasn't much for auto repair in Rhodes village but the barman sent us to his friend Toffee, an unreconstructed hippie who was able to carve us a new plug out of some remnant hardwood from one of his sculptures. Hammered that in, and so home.

Somewhere in the Drakensberg. If memory serves this is Bell cave below Cathedral peak, misty and cold outside.

This is certainly the Bell itself, perhaps from another trip. Pete and I were up taking photos in all directions using the glory of this morning's light. I have a great many indifferent landscape pictures with no human figures, which now seems a waste. The mountains became part of my internal topography and do not change anyway, the arc of a life is harder to trace.

In the Amatola mountains (Hogsback), after enduring two days of steady rain in a dire commercial campsite under dark pines, we gave up and went to James and John's old house. They weren't there nor were their parents, but Pete knew where the key was hidden. There were plenty of books as always, we purloined some tea and read quietly while the garden and roses enjoyed the mizzle. The flavour of that blackcurrant tea is still vivid in memory.

There isn't a good story to go with this picture, I just liked the characteristically jaunty pose. After the sodden Hogsback, down the hills to Port Alfred, rented some dodgy canoes and paddled up the Kowie river to overnight in the riverine forest with the vervet monkeys and duikers, impossibly delicate little deer.

Rhodesia had become Zimbabwe a few years previous. It was now possible to visit without having to travel in armed convoy, though the remembrance of those convoys rather haunted the long desolate roads through the bush. These are the eponymous ruins.

In ZA and Zimbabwe the petrol stations would always have attendants to pump the gas. One of these gentle men asked us how it was now, living in South Africa: we were at a bit of a loss to answer. Afterward Pete wondered what the attendant's new freedom could possibly mean to him, working the same job as under the colonialists, and still quite without any means of improving his lot.

Further down the road, another cave, this time in the Chimanimani mountains on the border with Mozambique. The ranger gave us a map with the safe trails marked on it: all the rest had not yet been cleared of APMs, and there was a possibility of Renamo guerrillas coming over on certain of the safe trails. This concentrated one's route-finding skills wonderfully.

We flew into Victoria Falls, abandoning my car with a busted u-joint and propshaft under the shade tree, with its mechanic breaking out his best sledgehammer as we left. One night in a nasty campground in town was enough. The cabins for rent on the Zambezi were several miles out of town, but fortunately there were also bicycles for rent. Riding out in the sun was fine, riding back at at 10pm from the Vic Falls Hotel among the marauding hippos would have been terrifying if we'd been quite sober.

Booze cruise on Lake Kariba, a safer form of hippo watching. All those beautiful girls went on and married someone else. Maybe we were just too young to know.

Pete and Greg were both doing BA degrees by correspondence course at Unisa. I joined in on the philosophy courses. When it was time for finals, we decided an appropriate place to study would be up the chain ladder to camp on top of the Amphitheater, near Tugela Falls.

At the top of the falls is a little plunge pool, like an icy jacuzzi, with views down a kilometer of cliff: expands the mind but constricts the circulation. In these streams there lives a little red-fin minnow Oreodaimon quathlambae. The genus Oreodaimon means spirit of the mountains, its sole species is quathlambae. Trout have been planted in the streams for tourists to catch, but the minnow hangs on grimly in the trickles of headwaters. I've never seen one but I like to know they are there.

We drove back in the morning to write the exam in the afternoon. Pete wrote one essay on alienation with me featured as leading man.

A short weekend trip to Swaziland, the Malolotja nature reserve. At that time sex across the colour line was streng verbode in ZA, with the natural result that all the white Johns streamed over the border to find their doubly illicit pleasures. One of the ladies in a downtown bar tried to pick up the three of us, not serially but altogether. Golly.

In the morning there was a strange quiet munching sound going on outside the tent, like a hundred herbivores browsing. Oddly enough that's exactly what it was - a mixed herd of zebra and wildebeest peacefully trimming the veldt. We were able to hike downriver to the falls since the big 5 were missing from the reserve: no lion, leopard, buffalo or elephant, just one lonely rhino who'd been orphaned, raised by humans, and now hung around the visitor center for company.

Greg decided to hare off to Swansea on some post-graduate quest. For a last Berg hike, Pete knew a place with an excellent cave and fine views which in the event hid itself irretrievably in the mists.

In the morning we made do with scrambled eggs and a bit of a view. I remember one morning like this when a freak of atmospherics seeded the air with ice crystals in a perfectly clear sky: the air sparkled, bright motes sliding down the morning light, tumbling and eddying over the cliffs, to disperse over the far dry plains.

Soon after Pete's obligation ended, he sold the house and embarked upon what looked from the outside to be a wholly successful life, lived on his own terms, always with kindness. The bachelors to their scattered bodies went but did not forget. The cancer diagnosis came about a week before the picture at the Brass Bell, now it is over. Another of his legacies is SERI. I admired Peter and enjoyed his company; I owe him a great deal; I'll miss him for the rest of my life. May his memory be eternal.

"When we lose certain people.. we may simply feel that we are undergoing something temporary, that mourning will be over and some restoration of prior order will be achieved. But maybe when we undergo what we do, something about who we are is revealed, something that delineates the ties we have to others, that shows us that these ties constitute what we are, ties or bonds that compose us. It is not as if an “I” exists independently over here and then simply loses a “you” over there, especially if the attachment to “you” is part of what composes who “I” am. If I lose you, under these conditions, then I not only mourn the loss, but I become inscrutable to myself. Who “am” I, without you? When we lose some of these ties by which we are constituted, we do not know who we are or what to do. On one level, I think "I have lost you” only to discover that “I” have gone missing as well."
- Judith Butler, via.