When is a rhino just a rhino?

Sometimes a rhino is just a rhino.

This big fellow, bringing up the rear of a group of white rhinos as they lumbered up a rutted track to the top of a ridge before disappearing down the other side, maintained a watchful eye as we jolted along in his wake, in the open LandCruiser, last week in the Madikwe Game Reserve. Every now and then he would turn, sending stones flying, and we would stop abruptly, the ranger assessing the risk of a charge. Then he would carry on browsing, and we would advance, until at last he was silhouetted against the sky, the photograph I had wanted.

He was all rhino, that fellow, and for perhaps twenty minutes, that was all we were conscious of – the morning wind in our faces, the smells of the bush, the early light casting its shadows, the armoured behemoth ranged against the sky above us, going ploddingly about his daily business.

Looking at these photographs now, my first thoughts are simply of that moment – how extraordinary it was, how lucky we felt to be in this presence, to experience this, to be there, in the bush, under a vast sky, waiting, listening, watching. It is a wonderful thing, to be freed from that human sense of urgency, of purpose, of things needing to be done, and simply to be there, to exist and to participate, knowing that the pace, the roll-out of events, what happens next, is out of your hands and dependent on the unpredictable whims of the large irritable animal blocking the path on the hill up ahead of you.

Back in my home office, though, this Sunday morning – how many of us have got used to working from home over the past interminable months of the Covid pandemic? – that rhino takes on other meanings, is suggestive of other possibilities and perspectives. Not least of which is the relief of seeing the rear-end of 2020. Including the rear-end of Trump, for that matter, a blight every bit as debilitating as the pandemic and with effects – social, political, environmental – every bit as malignant and possibly more long-lasting.

So what of the New Year? What of 2021?

One thing that we can be pretty sure of, it seems, is that 2021 will be much like the last year, the almost miraculous speed with which a Covid-19 vaccine has been developed notwithstanding.

It’s one thing to develop the vaccine, but it is another thing entirely, as we know, and will continue to learn in more painstakingly practical detail, to manufacture, store and distribute it. And still another thing to get people to take it, and to get those needles into the arms of those who do want to take it, and need to take it.

Like Rob and me, for instance.

Government here in South Africa, to put the matter delicately, says it has a plan, though how much of this plan is magical or wishful thinking is a matter of some public controversy. Rob and I can expect, or hope, to receive the vaccine in Phase Two of the rollout, apparently. This is the good news. When Phase Two is expected to begin, and how rapidly and smoothly the rollout will occur, is rather less certain.

In any event, we hope to be vaccinated before September, in other words, before we pack up our things here and return to Canada. Meanwhile, Covid-19 will continue to block the path to any easy or rapid return to what we, rather wistfully, think of as ‘normality.’

The thing is to survive, I guess, to stay calm and positive, and steadily plod forward. Live in the moment. Appreciate what we have. Develop a thicker skin towards life’s slings and arrows. Practice patience and resilience.

A bit like a rhino.

Life in Lockdown

I am startled and yet not surprised, in returning to my blog, that almost a hundred days (of solitude, I am tempted to add, in the spirit of Marquez) have passed since my last post.

Last time I wrote we were 10 days into the lockdown, and the number of reported cases in South Africa was 1585. Today, as I write, 97 days later, the number of recorded infections is 166 times that – over a quarter of a million cases, and almost 4000 dead.

Gauteng, where we are ‘sheltering in place,’ is the new epicentre, with the largest number of cases and the fastest daily rise in new infections.

It is all very strange, as I have written before – strange, and yet oddly normal. As if we have always lived like this, as if we were not, only last August, off holidaying with our children in the South of France, stopping in Istanbul for a little innocent sightseeing at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, spending Christmas in Cape Town, visiting the idyllic little village of Rosendal in the Free State in the New Year, then back to Cape Town for a few days as recently as February.

Sweet liberty! Since March, we have barely left the house.

If we had been singled out for such treatment, we would be entitled to complain. But to be caught up in a global pandemic is hardly being singled out, and we don’t complain. At least, not often, and when we do we are conscious of how ungrateful it seems, how lucky we are, at least in relative terms.

To want to get out, though, to see people, to travel again, do things – go out for a meal, go to a movie, heck, go on a game drive and take a hundred photographs – is only human. So that is our excuse for feeling a little – not glum, not down, but flat, I guess is what you’d call it.

There have also been losses and anxieties to darken the atmosphere. My wife Rob’s only brother, Jim, passing away in Michigan, and not being able to travel to attend the funeral. Covid-19 striking people a little too close to us, though miraculously, so far, without serious harm. An old (in both senses) friend of Rob’s, in Vancouver, having to come to terms with the indignities and infirmities of age.

So it has not been altogether easy.

Life carries on, though, which is the important thing. Work keeps me busy, and too much housework keeps Rob busy, too, occasionally grumbling but for the most part simply rolling up her sleeves and getting stuck in, as she always does.

Along with work – paid work, and all the unpaid work that keeps our daily lives ticking over – we both make time where we can for the more creative part of our lives, Rob working on her fabulous collages, me on my photographs, including a series on the Desert Elephants of Namibia, from our last trip there, in 2016, following my son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Hayley’s wedding.

The purchase by a friend of ours, in Montreal, of one of my images, triggered a long-intended, oft-postponed plan to showcase my work in a more focused way, and so I have been labouring away on a new website, www.glenfisher.photography where people interested in my images, whether simply to enjoy or perhaps to buy a print or two, can browse through my portfolios.

So I have been busy. Although the website is brand new, and the portfolios are few, be assured I will be adding to them. And when I do, I will write up the new portfolio and post a link on these pages.

Stay safe, keep well. And let’s make a better world when all this is over.

Staying Home during the Lockdown – Day 10

It is Day 10 of the Covid-19 lockdown, here in South Africa, and autumn is in the air in Johannesburg. It has been an intense week of work, and the calm and quiet are strangely welcome. I say strangely, because the times are not normal, and we stay home not by choice but because we have to.

Outside, the reported number of Coronavirus cases has reached 1585, with nine deaths so far.

It would be nice to think that we are flattening the curve, but that seems optimistic. There have been projections, apparently, that cases may only peak in June, and that we could be in lockdown till August. Not something I wish to contemplate, not at this moment.

Last night I cooked up a storm, duck breasts with a spicy cherry sauce, made with dried cherries that our friends Lisa and Klaus brought us from Germany, in what seems right now another era. Fluffy and crisp baked potatoes, peas, and a lovely and perfectly matched Bouchard Finlayson Pinot Noir, a 2014, made for a perfect meal and a relaxing and happy evening.

We are very aware how lucky we are, and we are grateful.

Today I have found peace and fulfilment working on some images from our visits to the Marievale Bird Sanctuary, which I hope will give you at least some of the pleasure I have had in making them.

What to do in a lock-down?

What to do in a lock-down? This is a question to myself, you’ll be glad to hear, not another of those claims to instant expertise, sunny wisdom, righteous outrage or uniquely personal angst or fear that seem to be spreading around the globe with the speed and virulence of, well, a Coronavirus or a Donald Trump.

So nothing, then, about that squalid little misfit in the White House, nothing even about our so much more admirable and principled President Ramaphosa, no homilies about how to keep fit, or sane, or just plain human.

Just this.

We are in Day Three of our lock-down, here in Johannesburg. Keeping to ourselves, as we should. We are fortunate. We have our comfortable town-house, with its patio and garden and plunge pool and barbecue. The fridge and freezer are full. Rob has a studio where she can work on her collages, I have an upstairs office from where I can look out at the sky and some trees while I work, or while I video-conference on Zoom, or add a few lines to my novel – there is always a novel, in process, waiting patiently, without cynicism, to step outside, into the light of day. The novel has learned nothing, in more than forty years. It lives in hope. And there is a backlog of photographs waiting to be processed, to be selected and polished and posted on Flickr, a catalogue large enough to outlast this pestilence and any pestilences to come.

So we are, as I say, fortunate. We have kept in touch with family and friends, or they have kept in touch with us, via WhatsApp and FaceTime. As always there are jokes, there are inquiries about one another’s health, about how we are doing. We are doing fine, thank you. A-okay. Normal. Yet there is something in the air, isn’t there, an undercurrent of concern, that wasn’t there before. Like an odour or gas, as I wrote in my diary – yes, I have resumed my diary, too. There are unexpected benefits to being locked up at home.

It won’t be so easy for the people of Alex, for those who are unemployed, who live in the townships or in the poverty-stricken rural areas of South Africa; it won’t be so easy for the vast majority in this country who are unimaginably worse off than we are.

And it won’t be so easy for those on the front lines – the doctors and health-care workers, obviously, but also for the army and the police who are trying to keep the streets clear, the supermarket staff who need to get to work each day, the people who pick up the garbage or – for now at least, thank you Eskom – keep the lights on. Spare them a thought, and a prayer if you have one.

There is a strange sense of calm. Is this the phony war, you wonder, as you follow the news? The pretend-war before the real one arrives? And how bad will it be? Perhaps we will – all of us here in South Africa – get off quite lightly. And perhaps we won’t.

It is too early to tell. So back to our pastimes and interests we will go, to our photographs and collages, to catching up on films – we watched The Piano again, last night, and it still packs a wallop – and following the news while we try not to obsess.

Tomorrow is a work day. The work goes on.