A solitary tree demonstrates strength, even in its loneliness. A pair of trees, silhouetted in the distance, seems to rise in defiance from the dark earth, under darker clouds. What gives them their stamina and resilience? They are connected to others, deep underground, by an extensive root system that allows the trees to support one another, via an underground fungal network that carries information that makes survival possible.
We don’t see any of that – we see the beautiful curve of tree branches. We see a tree leaning over the edge of a cliff, clinging to rock with its thick roots, looking precarious, as if its strength could give way at any time. I can’t be the only one who cringes a little, when I see a tree ripped from the earth, its roots torn by wind or by machine, exposed.
Across a vast landscape that tree might have been the anchor for the whole scene, supporting biodiversity. As I travel across East Africa, from Kenya to Uganda, then on to Rwanda, I am struck by the landscapes. I can get lost in the landscapes.
When our driver picks us up in the early morning, he reassures us, as we leave the city, that there will be no rain at our destination. Visibility is so low that I’m uncertain how he is staying on the road, but he is familiar with the drive. We are skeptical; he has much greater knowledge than us. He treats us to a rainbow, over the Great Rift Valley.
We witness lush greenery, and houses dotting the landscape, but along other routes the Great Rift Valley is an area that is geologically active, and features volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and frequent earthquakes. (Smithsonian) It’s no wonder that East Africa captivates my attention, and we already dream of going back for a longer stay.
I experience the changing landscape as a bus passenger, from Nairobi, Kenya to Jinga, Uganda, arriving in the darkness of night after making it through government checkpoints. I experience Africa’s landscapes slowly, meditatively by boat, abruptly by plane, and hazardously by car. I’m afforded a protected view when I travel by safari van.
It’s when I’m on a bicycle, however, in Hell’s Gate National Park that I feel most at home. It’s an unfamiliar mountain bike, with some parts a little loose, and others rusted tight. I’m never offered a helmet, and I’m lugging heavy camera equipment on my back, while I ride uphill into a headwind. But there’s a serenity, a peace, in the comfort and familiarity of being on a bike.
I ride under skies that are so clear, and so close to the equator, that I’m sunburned and peeling 2 weeks later. The air temperature had been so comfortable, the view so breathtaking, that I hadn’t considered applying the sunblock that was in my pack.
The next day clouds hover, in their stormy darkness and turmoil, over a city landscape. Viewed from afar, looking out across an open plain, there is no fear of being doused by the rain that is seen, pouring down in sheets. The warm colors of sunset form a bright backdrop for the sharp corners and tall beams of skyscrapers. It’s quiet in my jeep, except for the stomping of hooves, kicking up bits of earth, and the quiet glide of wings overhead.
I imagine the storm and the city are both awake; they are alive, noisy and stubborn, as they slash against one another. Cars honk angrily, as scooters wiz through the smallest openings between them. Pedestrians start, when the scooters have no way forward on the city streets and take to the sidewalks instead.
In the coming weeks, I’ll take “Accidental Wanderlust” readers into the city of Kampala, Uganda, to experience the noise and bustle of a city, captured in still image.
Join me on my next Adventure,
Smithsonian: Do Trees Talk to Each Other?: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/
The Great Rift Valley: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/rift-valley/