I went out of camp an hour or so before sunset, the late-day light hot on my face as it entered horizontal thru the window of the car, and drove the dusty loop-road south thru the scalded scrub. Impala, as usual, were everywhere, seeming as commonplace as pigeons, a family of warthogs dignified in their ugliness trotting across the path before me. Near the end of the road, a loping figure, large as a small bear, moved thru the glare-light — a lone hyena, disappearing down a game trail in preparation for the night.
I returned to the main road and drove north, hoping for an elephant, a giraffe, something more dramatic than these antelope and guinea-fowl, clustering the road in droves. I crossed a causeway at the lower Sabie river, planning to drive ten klicks north in the 30 minutes before sunset, but was arrested just a mile later by four leopards, lithe and sleek, drinking in the red nuclear light from a muddy hole just ten meters from the roadside.
It’s difficult to express what a revelation it seemed, these big cats, lean and graceful and unhurried with the day burning to rose-colored failure around them. I sat peering thru the viewfinder of my camera, the shutter falling, ka-chik, ka-chik, as I tried to capture something of the amazement of these creatures, unhurried in their beauty, drinking and then moving south along the road, their bodies seeming oiled with a profound precision and a natural ease.
As they moved off a little into the scrub and the reach of my lens failed me, I glanced behind the car to go and was suddenly met with a set of huge dark lumbering shapes — half a dozen enormous buffalo with their colossal horns, shuffling slowly off to the west, where the sun, having sunk below the horizon, left the sky candy-colored in pastel blues and pinks, the hulking bodies of the buffalo now silhouettes against it as they moved away thru the waist-high grass.
I had never experienced this degree of wildness before, the austere beauty of the lowveld as the sun passed beyond it, the big cats rolling in the dust and the buffalo of a sudden tramping past like soldiers in the twilight. The sky and the land were mysterious to me as the beginning or end of the Earth, something entirely beyond the human, as I drove the improbable ribbon of macadam south in the cobalt dusk.
Back in the camp, the risen moon was enormous, hanging low over the horizon and so bright its fullness was like some shining oviform lamp, picking out the shapes of the hyenas beyond the fence in ivory and silver as they stalked thru the scrub. I stood shirtless in the night, the savannah wind dry and warm against my skin, as I felt the breath slowly entering and then leaving my body.