Keith Connelly

NAME: Keith Connelly





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The Ghosts of Stevenson-Hamilton

This diary entry took place at Kruger National Park

I would guess that for most guides that have chosen a life far away in the breathtaking beauty of our parks and private reserves, their journey along this chosen path would have begun with a seed planted somewhere in their past. That seed would found its way through a myriad of floodwaters, drainage lines and waterways before settling in a patch of fertile soil that would forever be their base, somewhere that was permanently etched into their soul.

My seed into my chosen passion without doubt had made its way from the apparent hustle and bustle of Joburg’s suburbs down the escarpment along the ample drainage lines of the Lowveld eventually finding its home on the banks of Kruger’s great rivers.

Somewhere underneath the branches of the magnificent Sycamore Figs with their leopard-inviting rotund braches and the deep dark bark of its Jackalberry trees my heart was sold forever.

Moving through Kruger on a late May morning with winter knocking hard on its door Kruger’s Majesty is clear to see...The augmented leaves of the Red Bushwillow blanketing the Lowveld Catena with their brilliant hue of reds, oranges and yellows betraying the presence of kudu looking to profit from the last of the leaves' nutrition.

Along a dusty track skirting the edge of the Biyamiti River you are greeted by a grove of ancient Apple Leafs and Knobthorns: their sacrificial branches reaching out like welcoming old friends. These giant guardians of the river open up revealing the Biyamiti’s pale alluvial soil hiding a pride of narcoleptic lions resting in the shadows of Wild Date Palms.

Kruger is a visceral experience... something you smell, hear and taste... the musky smell of the White Rhino’s fermented middens attacking your senses with their earthy notes.

You drive down a corrugated dirt road dipping into a drainage line from one of the river’s quartzite crags, the inviting smell of the Potato Bush drifts through your window offering you soul food of the 'potato soup for the soul' variety.

You coast along the girth of the Sabie River....large pods of portly sunbathing hippos dive into its chilly perennial waters scaring the daylights out of Water Monitors and Saddlebilled Storks alike, old Buffalo “daggaboys” sneakily preside over the Phragmites reed beds waiting to accost someone or something.

Everything in Kruger seems to have some ancient tale or relation... the ancient Leadwood’s with bark the texture of the grand old Elephants that rub off Kruger’s eon old mud onto its conveniently rough trunk.

Kruger’s landscape is littered with long deceased remains of these old Leadwood’s with their cold dead branches eerily reaching up into the Lowveld’s pale blue sky acting like the ghosts of Col. Stevenson Hamilton himself presiding over what he first established more than a hundred years ago.

In a fortnight I return permanently to the Greater Kruger area, it’s clear to me that my heartwood like that of the colossal trees of this area is firmly rooted in Kruger’s archaic soil.

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