Life here is a lot like Grinnell; the work comes in cycles, when someone wants a piece of you everyone wants a piece of you and they want a big piece of you at that. When people are done with you, you have a lot of time to yourself to explore your surrounds.
University of Namibia's (UNAM) Biology department descended in full force on Gobabeb at the beginning of September wanting a big piece of everyone at the station. When UNAM arrives you basically drop everything and prepare yourself for a week-long intensive course starting about 6:30 am hopefully ending about 10:00 at night. For me it is stressful, frustrating, aggravating, but really worth it once you realize all of the frustrating, stressful, aggravating stuff just isn't that important. There is something about having a group of students (any students really) out in the field and letting them explore the area around them. Maybe it is their thrill of discovery I feel.
The day for the dunes was perfect; I woke up and looked out side to see an eerie white blanket covering the landscape. The dunes truly come alive in the fog. The students nearly raced out into the sand once we got to the study site for the day, some trampling their fellow student's study sites along the way. I checked the small mammal traps futilely hoping that we had caught a gerbil or something. The traps were emptyâ¦except the one in the !nara that hissed at me?â¦but that one was empty too? Another ten minutes of moving my hand around near the trap to determined that the sound was coming from under the mat of dead !nara and detritus. Some of the interns and other staff were behind me saying not to mess with it because it is a snake. My only response was; "how will I know what kind of snake it is unless I mess with it." I went and got a shovel and lifted up the mat. A very cold and rather annoyed sidewinding adder began to undulate its body up the !nara hummock. While not rare, the sidewinder does manage to conceal itself quite well so you may not see them that often. I nudged it down from the hummock with the shovel while Vilho took out a pen and trapped it to the ground while we fetched some buckets to put it in. (First we wanted to show it to the students, second it is a bad idea to have a sidewinder in the same area as 30 students.) We gazed at it in excitement and wonder since the students and myself had never seen one before. We eventually had to make the students go back to their work. As the fog left and the sun came out lizards, beetles, birds, spiders and moreâ¦also started to come out. Interestingly, like the animals responding to the heat of the sun, the students also became more active, running around up and down the dunes instead of doing their fieldwork.
After UNAM and the drift of work that piles up during UNAM, you again have time to yourself.
Dunewalks are my favorite part of being out here. I can clear my head and just enjoy the vastness of the Namib. I don't go out into the dunes looking for anything in particular but I am always hoping to find what I end up finding. Lasting 6-7 hours I start at 9 or so in the morning and come back at three. I just pick a direction and head that way until I decide to go back. I have to be careful. As beautiful as it is in the dunes I may forget to go back. Out in the Dunes you get a real sense of perspectiveâ¦or lack there of. What looks like a simple interdune turns into a four kilometer march to across smaller dunes camouflaged by the red sand finally ending up on that next dune ridge. From the ridge crest you can see the next ridge and from that ridge the next and the next until the sky swallows the dunes. Each interdune is a little different from the previous one: more vegetation, more animals, different sand, different rocks.
Now at least 3 or four ridges from the station I could see into the next interdune. This one was very different; it was green. I gazed in wonder and slowly realized that it was all !nara. The green covering the interdune in about a 1x4k area was all !nara. The !nara that I saw near the station looked small compared to these hummocks and they were also few in number, but here there were at the very least 100 plants probably closer to 200. Later I found out it was, of course, called !nara valley. Walking through the valley only looking at a fraction of the plants I counted about 100 large fruits on the plants. I picked one that looked ripe. The ripe !nara has a really exquisite tasteâ¦I think, others disagree. I walked back through the valley to the river hoping to follow it back up to the station.
I realized that I was a good distance from the station, but after a few kilometers of walking I saw the Kuiseb Weir. Now Joh had told me about the Weir earlier. When he talked about it, he talked about it like it was pretty far away. The next few hours of walking got me to the Topnaar settlement of Soutriver where I stopped by Jakob's house to speak with him, really it was to give him the !nara fruit and to ask for water. He seemed appreciative of the fruit, said it was ripe, and gave me some water. 3 weeks earlier I had gone to Soutriver with Snake to speak with Jakob about taking a school group there. I had stood there listening while they discussed the possibility in afrikaans (which I am more or less lost in), then suddenly they switched into nama and Jakob glanced at me briefly. It was at that point that I realized they were talking about me. Jakob then told me in english that I had too serious a face and was putting people off by it. I explained myself; I have had so many people tell me I look angry all of the time, I told him I was not angry and that I rather enjoy having people stop into my office to talk. I also think he just wanted to give me a hard time. So the !nara and the stop in Soutriver was part of my on going attempts at making myself seem more friendly.