A wise old tracker once told me “a good guide can take a game drive in a square meter. A great guide can take 10 game drives in the same square meter 10 times over”. On first hearing these words I felt that perhaps the old man had finally lost his sensibilities. Who wants to spend 10 days standing in the same spot?
Only now am I beginning to fully understand the wisdom in these words. To us, a square meter is something that can be whizzed over in the blink of an eye, on our search for the Big 5. But what of that small patch of earth that has made up the entire world of an antlion – a fierce predator in its own right, fighting herculean battles unnoticed under the scorching African sun and ever-changing southern sky. It has had to share its kingdom with the constant Gnuuu of a territorial wildebeest bull, forever stomping on its perfectly constructed funnelled shaped ant-trap. From that small insignificant patch of sand, the wildebeest bull makes his stand as he treads his scent into the ground, the winner of countless battles against competing males.
What of that same square meter, where a leopard cub takes his first tottering and uncertain steps into the world. With wide blue eyes he peers at the small antlion’s hole before following the white tip of his mother’s tail into a new and exciting realm. That leopard grows into a confident predator, he now strides over that square meter many times as he patrols the familiar pathways of the area he has claimed sole dominion over.
Above him, a small blue waxbill chirps her anxiety at his presence from a near-invisible nest held together with spider silk. Her tiny chicks cheep to her for food. She chooses that exact spot to raise her family because of the paper wasp colony droning away on a near-by branch. This inexplicable relationship, decided upon aeons ago, will keep that square meter safe from the deadly coils of a boomslang.
On that spot, an old giant takes its last lumbering steps. The vultures wheel above as his heavy tusks finally rest in the soft dust. He lands heavily on the wax-bill’s tree, now vacant –she has raised her brood and they have flown the nest. A few centimetres away shine the bright green shoots of a newly germinated seed. That seed grows into a towering Marula tree, where a group of impalas huddle together, backs to the rain while the crack of summer thunder rolls across the valley. The storm passes and descendants of the fallen elephant seek shelter from the midday sun, delicately picking through the fallen fruit to find the juiciest morsels.
It is under this tree I sit and contemplate the words of the old tracker. Everywhere I look are signs. I just had to learn how to read them. The squiggles in the sand at my feet from an antlion moving to a new tunnel. The faint outline of a leopard track, blown into near-obscurity by the gentle breathing of the wind. The narrow path worn to this spot by the feet of countless elephant herds that return here to sniff the mouldering remains of an elephant bone, worn smooth by gentle trunks. The fluffy brown wildebeest calves have just begun to test their ungainly legs as they caper around their mothers, the territorial bull Gnuus proudly nearby. The longer I sit quietly listening, the more signs appear.
A myriad life is going on around me. All in, from and around one small square metre.