By Mark Fine of http://finewrites.blogspot.com/p/main-page.html
In writing and researching my historical novel The Zebra Affaire, I had the privilege of viewing many wild creatures in their natural habitats. Being in the bush, tracking game (with camera, and not firearm) is not a bookish, academic pursuit. The composite of the senses are vital to telling your story: the wretched smell of a rotting hyena- scavenged carcass to the ululating cry of a strutting peacock need to be experienced.
Africa’s magnificent creatures wander the great savannahs in search of food, water, shelter…and a mate. There is death, but just brief skirmishes for sustenance and survival. Africa is a complicated continent made of ad hoc nations—a patchwork of mosaics that don’t comfortably fit together, due to borders created by war, colonialism, tribalism and economic expediency. But unlike their human neighbors, Africa’s animals have no Napoleonic ambitions to conquer great swathes of dusty soil for the sake of empire building. They have no interest in whether their domicile is South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, or Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia. They merely wander wherever grazing and water takes them.
Here are some of the animals I met along the way, and some descriptions I’ve excerpted from my historical fiction novel The Zebra Affaire.
Me, Mark Fine, the author in what he wishes was his natural habitat:
“….the stately waterbuck drank its fill, only to leave a surprise when it turned, revealing a white ring resembling a toilet seat marked on its rump:”
Above photo by Owain Evans
“Soon a shy kudu took a bow, its magnificent spiraled horns almost inconsequential in comparison to its comically large ears. The kudu’s wonderful hearing detected Elsa shuffling in her seat and the animal froze, momentarily threatened. Then its eyes found Elsa’s, and for many seconds they stared at each other. When Elsa blinked first, the now reassured kudu began to cautiously drink:”
“Chomping, snorting grunts woke her. A family of warthogs grazed on grass tufts next to her, and she watched as they shuffled along on their front elbows with their tails straight high like radio antenna. Their tusks looked fearsome, razor-sharp:”
“Two zebra at that moment appeared, clearly a mating pair. Typical of the animal kingdom, it was he who was the most splendid. His stripes were jet black on a field of white, while hers faded to brown at the edges…At first the stallion and mare faced each other, nostril to nostril, inhaling the other’s breath:”
“They then moved forward a pace and rested their muzzles on each other’s backs. They stood there, quietly, framed by the blue sky daubed with puffs of clouds. Even the cackle of a hyena in the near distance didn’t deter them:”
The experience of this expedition was not necessarily in the larger-than-life excesses of a Hemmingway. But a safari adventure is about as vital as life can be. So nix all the books and Google / Bing search engines and YouTube videos. Sure, use them as supplementary sources to confirm, and buttress your real world observations—but under no circumstances allow these tools replace your real life experience, and dull your innate senses.