I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

His path was marked by the stars in the southern hemisphere

And he walked his days
Under African skies
This is the story of how we begin to remember...
                                      -- Paul Simon

It felt like a very long drive back across the park after seeing the lions. Even with the spotlight on the hood, we had to go slowly on the steep roads before the river.

Then an elephant wandered into the road ahead of us. He was in musth -- the guides could smell it -- so they turned off the engine and we sat in the dark and waited for him to go away.

A different elephant stomped around in the trees to our left and then, unexpectedly, trumpeted so loudly that I almost jumped out of my seat, but otherwise it was quiet except for the crickets.

Overhead, the stars spilled across the sky. We've had brilliant skies every night in Zambia, far from the lights of any big city or even a medium-sized town, watching Orion and the Southern Cross from the terrace every night before dinner. But this was as though some celestial stage manager had pulled back the curtains and layers and layers of new stars were unveiled, stretching back forever.

I shivered, although it wasn't cold. The truth of Russell's statement that first night in Johannesburg, "Welcome home," has been becoming more and more obvious the longer I've been here, as these landscapes, so exotic and unexpected, have started to feel somehow familiar, even welcoming.

And of course, long before Africa, we came from the stars; they are our ancestors, or maybe, more accurately, our cousins. At least the ones you usually see in the skies -- the nearer ones, the newer ones. This abundance of stars was like a family tree stretching back generations.

It didn't make me feel small, oddly enough. It made me feel rooted, as though I'd finally figured out my place in an incredibly complex genealogy.

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