Thursday, Jan. 27
This morning over coffee I found myself looking at Nick Nichols book of photographs, “Last Place on Earth” documenting the Central African Rainforest. I was perhaps a dozen pages in and I could stand it no longer– I needed to be outdoors. I thought about yesterday’s discovery of gorilla prints along the forest trail, and I bicycled back to Vera Plaine, hoping for a more subdued light to retry photographing the prints. It hadn’t rained last night so I felt I had my chance for a do-over. I have tried this on several occasions, noticing some feature in the forest and finding the light of the present moment less revealing than what I would like. It is fortunate to have time to return in this paradise.
The forest was quiet when I left my bike at the treefall and walked among the gingembre plants.A fragrance wafted in the air, a citrus-like spice mingled with the moist earth of the lowland forest trail. The gorilla prints were as I had left them yesterday, though the illumination was much improved. Clouds were building in the sky and the sun, still low among the trees, cast intermittent soft shadows across the trail, perfect conditions for a photograph. I spent a good hour, alternating between digital and film cameras, mostly just watching the trail and listening to the birdsong. It was a beautiful location to feel the morning unfold. Walking further down the trail, I was surprised to find another set of prints, and then another. Two gorillas, crossing the trail, had left a swath of broken vegetation in their wake. I knelt to examine the prints more closely and it became evident that the gorillas had crossed the trail since yesterday’s bike trip, for one of the prints smudged across the tireprint I left behind when I passed through yesterday. Sending chills up my spine, I followed with my eyes the trail they left behind as they passed into the dark shadow of undergrowth, and I wondered just how far off they presently were.
A few raindrops brought me back to the present moment, and I found some cover at the edge of the forest to wait out the worst of the rain before beginning a circle around the tiny savannah where it met the forest edge. The light in the savannah was radiant, glowing with the mist and humidity created by the rainfall. A monkey peered out from a nearby tree, then silently ambled among tree limbs back into the forest. I crossed a small marsh dotted with more elephant-print pond-mirrors, and poked in and out of the adjoining forest until suddenly, in a near death experience, I came face to face with one of the largest spiders I have ever seen. Crouching on enormous shiny black legs, knees a brilliant yellow-orange, in an immense golden web, this creature was nearly six inches in legspan, and had I not noticed the diamonds of rainwater on the web, I could have been twisting in the breeze today. OK, maybe I am exaggerating a little, but this arachnid looked as dangerous as a scorpion.
I had been bothered by a horsefly since the rain stopped (I now have a grapefruit-sized elbow to prove it) and while I studied my subject, the horsefly flew directly into the web of death. Within seconds, the spider was in possession of horsefly and a few seconds later had entirely ingested the struggling fly. No mere ritual of wrapping in silk and sucking out the juices, the entire fly was demolished in pincer jaws and stuffed with forelegs within moments. Another hour of photographs, from a respectful distance, and I continued on my walk.
The savannah grasses have thrown up their seed heads and wave lazily in the breeze. They are still green and pliable, nearly waist-high, and alive with grasshoppers. A steaming heat is building on the savannah.