deep forest

Trail leading deep into the forest.

The trail comes alive at the edge of the forest, where the savannas of Vera Plaines crush against the trees. You can drive no further, for the track turns to eroded clay, deep crevices full of shadow, sand washing out to form flat pans on the bottoms of  rolling hills and valleys.

Gorilla knuckle-print left in the wet sand along the trail.

We search between fallen leaves for prints of chimpanzees, gorillas, duikers and elephants where they press into moist sand following recent rain. It rains here often. The hills beyond N’Dougou Lagoon wring the sea-clouds of their moisture as they gather, rising on heated thermals above forests carpeting the Doudou Mountains.

Bark of a red tree covered in lichens and moss.

This trail we walk today was once a logging track cut into forest to topple the tallest, straightest Okoume trees, the stumps that remain of the selective extraction now covered with mosses and ferns. Butterflies dart along the track, clusters of white Larinopods congregate on feces left by the mangabey, a pair of metallic Euphaedras court in trailside leaf litter, a solitary orange Cymothoe peers down from high in the sun-warmed leaves. Several elephants tear into vegetation a few meters off the trail, their fanning ears and softly glowing ivory points fragmented through the undergrowth. A touraco’s blue feather lies among darkened leaves carpeting the forest floor like some piece of cobalt sky broken loose from above.

Kilometer after kilometer, the forest becoming more wild, more pristine; what appears at a distance to be a view onto savanna reveals an overlook from a ridge above a green sea of rainforest canopy. Monkeys conceal themselves above our heads as we pass beneath trees towering 50 meters toward the heavens. Lush epiphytes and emerald-glittering ferns hang languid from lianas tethered beneath the canopy. And everywhere the crickets, the cicadas, the hum of bees wafting down from some flowering canopy hidden from view.

Lianas guarding the buttresses of a massive tree.

After several hours of walking we happen upon a hunting camp. A crude construction of poles and branches, the charred remains of a long-dead fire above which rests, on a platform for smoking meats, the polished skull of some primate, now stilled, silent as death. We linger for a moment, wondering what the forest must feel like under cover of night, barely illuminated beneath starlight dimmed through the towering canopy. Beginning our trek back out of forest, we are arrested by the screams of a gorilla family resounding deep within the forest beyond the reach of today. Likely too far away to be reacting to threat of our presence, we are hopeful, closer to an encounter, and I feel the hairs on the back of my neck tremble with anticipation.

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