Out in the wild, Samantha du Toit is grateful for the chance to experience mornings largely without the need for technology, guided simply by the rhythms of the birds and beasts around.
I have not set an alarm clock since we moved to camp. With no curtains on the tent windows and the flaps kept up, the morning light hitting the acacia trees outside is enough to tell me it is morning. By the time the branches turn orange with the first light and the bird song and monkey calls have already started, our resident baboon troop have descended from the trees and are heading off for the day. Recently, at about 6:15 every morning, I noticed a sound like wind rushing through the branches but when I looked up, the trees were standing still. It took a few mornings to realise that it was numerous flocks of small red-billed quelea birds, flying past in black waves, heading towards the sunrise. Seyia used this new phenomenon to persuade us out of bed and go over to the kitchen to get the tea ready in time for the daily quelea show.
Quelea are not the only bird we have seen rise in numbers this year after the good rains and resulting plentiful grass. Sand grouse are also everywhere. Most evenings I see them and have come to know where they are hiding their chicks. It never fails to amaze me how the sand grouse parents try to lure me away from the chick with a display of fake injury, and how the chick knows to stay rock-still for its own safety.
For my sins, I have taken up jogging. I was warned that it might be a sign of a looming mid-life crisis, but I believe it may be the prevention of one. After I have passed the corner of the road where the sand grouse chick is, I jog (very slowly) alongside the river and notice all the various tracks of domestic animals, people and motorbikes intermingling with the occasional lion, elephant or hyena track. The regulars are the tiny paw prints of genets and mongooses, lots of bird prints and snake tracks.
I marvel at how the coexistence of man and beast is so apparent in this ecosystem, and how it is simply, more often than not, a case of avoidance in both space and time which helps everyone find a home here. But even that is not as simple as it seems. The longer I spend time here, the more I realise how deep the traditional ecological knowledge of people is just to understand where you need to be with your livestock at different times of the year, month and day and also where you do not want to be at these times. Many choices are primarily driven by the search for grazing and water, but many other factors are considered too, such as the safety of the domestic animals from encounters with predators and more recently, access to schools and local market days.
I turn around and head back to camp just as the sun is beginning to touch the top of the escarpment in the West. Without the need for a watch I know I have about fifteen minutes of good light left to get back to camp. The quelea head home too, somewhere to the West, filling the sky with the same black waves that greeted us in the morning. It strikes me that we all have our own inherent daily rhythms, and I am grateful for the chance to experience mine mostly without the need for technology, guided simply by the rhythms of the birds and beasts around me.
Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.