The change of seasons is upon us and spring, my personal favourite time of the year is here. Soon there will be an injection of life into the Lowveld system of grand proportions. The rains bring that most crucial element of life back to us and Londolozi becomes positively viridescent as the grasses revitalise and foliage returns to the deciduous flora, and as the flowers burst forth they colour the landscape in vibrant rainbow hues.
Flying termites, a massive source of nutrition for more animals than you’d think, erupt from the safety of their mounds where only the lucky few – and by few, I mean something like 0.0000001% (clearly, that is just my guestimate) – might actually reproduce. Amphibians and insects emerge from seemingly nowhere, their period of aestivation (similar to hibernation but in response to drought) finally over. The migratory birds flock through the air after journeys of sometimes thousands of kilometres to feast on the plethora of life emerging from their long winter slumber.
It is a beautiful time of year to visit Londolozi and come to the nighttime, the spectacle continues.
Over the winter months, Scorpio has dominated the night sky but its reign over the night sky is drawing to a close, and soon Orion will be seen cresting the horizon at sunset. But for now, Scorpio still stands and I always love telling its story. Scorpio is my personal favourite of the constellations, purely because it actually looks like the creature it represents. And the tale of the two seasonal giants, Orion and Scorpio is also one that I thoroughly enjoy telling and I hope you will enjoy reading.
Now, of course, as with any fable, there may be myriad slightly different versions and I’ve borrowed from a few of my favourites here. Because who doesn’t like a little bit of spice to a story?
In a time long ago when the world was still newly formed, gods walked the hills and valleys of earth and loved and warred with the people that mighty Zeus, king and father of the gods, had sculpted from the clays of the world.
During this time the exquisite beauty of Eurayle, the princess of Crete, caught the attention of Poseidon, god of the seas. The god eventually managed to seduce the princess and the child of their passion would be a demi-god, and they called him Orion. Imbued with some of the power of his father, Orion grew to become a colossus of a man. 8 feet tall and corded with muscle, yet lithe and serpentine in his movements he earned renown in the arena as a fighter. His fame grew year upon year and his name was known across the circle of the world; the indomitable Orion who could not be defeated by any man or, said some, any god.
After a time, Orion became tired of the arena, tired of the blood of nations of men on his hands and so exiled himself, seeking refuge in the quiet of the forest. Here, he turned his mind toward hunting. Orion spent years in relative solitude, learning the ways of the hunt. He travelled the woods, seeking out new knowledge in all manner of stealth and stalking. He learnt from the most experienced hunting tribes and from those hermits that had forgotten the ways of man and who were almost beasts themselves.
And as his hunting prowess grew so Orion sought greater and greater challenges. No animal was able to outwit the mighty hunter, no matter the habitat, no matter the cunning of the creature Orion’s guile was unmatched. And Gaia, the goddess of the Earth, watched these events unfold with growing concern. One day, after a month-long stalk Orion slew a mighty Griffin, a beast of great importance to the Earth goddess. Gaia heard of this and her rage came as a storm that swept the land, a tempest that engulfed Orion, a warning to the hunter to cease his insolence toward the guardian of all that lived.
But Orion, his pride stoked into vanity by years of great challenges overcome, in the heart of that terrible storm, proclaimed to the wind that he would not rest until he had hunted every animal on the planet. Gaia heard this and her storming rage quieted into a calculating fury. And Orion, such was his arrogance, thought nothing of the sudden quiet, thinking that he had defeated the Earth Mother through words alone.
But he was wrong.
Gaia knew she could not destroy Orion directly for fear of risking the wrath of Poseidon and possibly even Zeus himself. Instead, she spent the next year focusing all her energies on the creation of a mighty scorpion, a towering behemoth with gnarled legs as thick as tree trunks and an armoured carapace of overlayed scales each the size of a man’s shield. Huge pincers adorned the front of the beast while its mighty tail, 20 feet in length, curved over the beast’s head and was tipped with a 3-foot-long barb dripping with deadly venom. And when she judged the time to be right, Gaia unleashed her creation upon the land with one goal instilled in its tiny mind; to hunt the hunter.
The battle that ensued was terrible to behold. The scorpion slashed with razor-sharp claws as its great tail struck down from above, but Orion parried each blow with inhuman precision, not wasting a single movement, waiting for an opening through which he could strike back at his foe. And suddenly then the gap opened, and Orion struck with all his might, his broadsword swinging toward a gap in the scorpion’s armour at the joint of one of its huge legs, a blow that would surely fell the beast. And yet, somehow the giant arachnid managed to dodge the blow!
And so on they fought, neither able to deal any decisive blow to the other. The forest fell around them and still, they fought on. A small outlying village was left in ruins as warrior and beast raged through, and still, they fought on. The people of Crete watched in trepidation as the battle of the two titans came closer toward their precious city but were helpless to stop the destruction. And then the gates were breached and havoc was wrought upon Crete and the people cried out in desperation to Zeus to please save them and their beloved city. Zeus heard their pleas, and the father of the gods flew down in a bolt of lightning that rent the sky and tore the two warriors apart. And Zeus flung Scorpio deep into the Western sky, and Orion far into the East.
And to this day the two rivals still chase each other across the heavens in a vain and endless pursuit of unachievable glory.