Today I remember the New Year’s Eve that we spent in remote Linyanti in Botswana’s Chobe National Park, as we anticipated the first year of this millennium. How different things are now.
Currently, here in South Africa a recently identified and more transmissible variant (different to the variant in the UK that evolved separately) impacts heavily on what was expected to be a festive season. Stricter regulations have been put in place at least until January 15th in an attempt to slow down the surging rate of infections as hospitals are already full. Unfortunately, we are not alone as the situation remains dire across the globe.
So I am thinking back (as I did last week) to what seemed the end of an epoch at the end of the millennium, but it is possible that we will recall this pandemic as being an even more decisive event, marking a significant change that we will feel for a long time to come.
Dawn of a new millennium, 1 January 2000, at Linyanti, Chobe National Park, Botswana
But despite surges in the pandemic, on the cusp of 2021 we are hoping for breakthrough events that will enable us to better manage the pandemic and restore our ability to be the social animals that we yearn to be without the fear of spreading infection.
But back at the end of 1999 as we entered the year 2000, my husband and I chose solitude under the splendour of the trees of the riverine woodland at the swampy edge of the Linyanti River. (All the photos in this post are scanned from old prints that were taken with pre-digital-era SLR cameras.)
The edge of the swampy margins of the Linyanti River near our campsite
The Linyanti River forms the border between Botswana and the Caprivi Strip region of Namibia. The river is part of a complex river system. The Kwando River, with its seasonal fluctuations in water levels, rises in Angola and flows through Namibia into Botswana and into the Linyanti Swamp near geological fault lines including the Linyanti Fault (which is associated with the Savuti Channel and the Silinda Spillway). The Linyanti River flows out from the swamp and as it flows east the river is renamed as the Chobe River.
Our campsite on the margins of the Linyanti River on New Year’s Day, 2000
The view from our campsite of a stretch of the Linyanti River with Namibia on the other side
The riverine woodland includes many very large and beautiful trees such as jackal berry (Diospyros mespiliformis) and sycamore fig (Ficus sycamorus). Some of these old trees have a powerful presence that made me wonder if such trees do indeed exude some kind of energy field. Although as far as I have been able to find out, there is no such field measurable by science, humans can feel a kind of healing or even spiritual power from trees.
I think that this powerful tree is a jackal berry (Diospyros mespiliformis) but back then in 2000 although I really loved trees I was not that concerned about naming them!
More looking up and being awed by the strength and structure of a venerable tree
A kudu standing at a termite mound near the campsite. Jackal berry trees often grow on the rich and well-aerated soils of termite mounds
A view of the swampy Linyanti River beyond the large trunk of an old tree
This tree shows scarring from being tusked by elephants
A large Sycamore fig (Ficus sycamorus) also showing scarring from elephant tusks
Another view of the sycamore fig and the signs of elephants tusking the bark. The memory of standing next to that powerful tree and its close association with elephants remains strong. I spent a long time in the company of that tree
Elephants are commonly considered to have a downside in that although they perform beneficial and necessary bush clearance, mitigating against the formation of dense thickets and maintaining open savannah, they can cause fatal damage even to large trees. In some areas, elephant are culled in the interest of protecting trees. Such practices have come in for criticism – see for example Debunking myths about the impact of elephants on large trees and another article discussing that elephants are only part of the story as in addition to the potential threat to trees posed by both elephants and fire other threats such as agriculture, climate change, commercial harvesting, disease and pests, exotic invasive species and human encroachment are relatively under-researched.
As I walked away from communing with the trees a small bee-eater flew by to land in reeds near the swampy edge of the river, so I crept down little by little to take this photograph. But was it worth it?
While creeping and crouching trying to photograph in the gathering dusk the bee-eater (which I think is an immature little bee-eater), I got chewed by increasing numbers of mosquitoes. Not wanting to frighten the bird I tried sweeping the mosquitoes off in slo-mo, being stupidly intent on getting a photograph!
Was it worth it? I don’t remember. On the way home I got sick and by the time I got home I had a shocking headache and was starting to get delirious with malaria. Of the next few days I remember very little. Without waiting for the test results (which turned out to be positive) the doctor prescribed Fansidar as a treatment for the malaria. The tablets took 24 hours to be delivered to the doctor’s consulting rooms (we do not live in a malaria area) and by the time treatment began, my husband says I was pretty sick with classic symptoms of malaria.
The doctor said it was just as well I had been taking a prophylactic medication as even though it is not 100 per cent effective in preventing against contracting malaria it does slow down the progression of the disease should one get it. Once the Fansidar kicked in it started relieving the fever and the delirium pretty quickly.
So was it worth getting malaria to take that photo? Even though there is much I don’t remember – on balance, I don’t think so!
The most festive sight that New Year was this red fire-ball lily (Scadoxus multiflorus), which was growing not far from our camp
And of course there was the dawning of a new day, a new century and a new millennium
This New Year’s Eve what we will have is a lit candle. As South African President Ramaphosa said in his recent address, he will light a candle at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve in memory of those who have lost their lives and in tribute to those who are on the front line working to save our lives and protect us from harm. We are thinking that we will do the same.
Harvey, Ross. 2019. Debunking myths about the impact of elephants on large trees. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/debunking-myths-about-the-impact-of-elephants-on-large-trees-122430; Nichols, CA, Vandewalle, ME, Alexander, KA. 2017. Emerging threats to dryland forest resources: elephants and fire are only part of the story. Forestry. An International Journal of Forest Research, 90 (4), pp. 4773-484. https://academic.oup.com/forestry/article/90/4/473/3076243;Team Africa Geographic. 2019. Elephants and trees. Africa Geographic. https://africageographic.com/stories/elephants-and-trees/
Posted by Carol