We’re all exercised by recent events in America, even to the extent of disturbed sleep. I dreamed of America being violated, helpless to resist. This is not just America’s problem; it has the capacity to rock the world. Facebook is crammed with shared misgivings. My American friends, all Democrats, exchange tens of emails daily. Several attended the Women’s March in Washington. We are all in danger of burn-out, so I seek to restore peace of mind.
As a holiday for my head, this afternoon I watched a documentary on TV about Africa, presented by David Attenborough, about the Sahara, the world’s largest dessert: zebras, birds, silver ants, lizards, camels and other species survive in an impossible climate. High temperatures, no water, no greenery, no shade, challenge their survival. The camera followed a ‘Resurrection plant’ which looks like tumble weed, could apparently be dead for a hundred years, blown rootless around by the wind, then, encountering a puddle of water, it re-hydrates, claw-like branches open, seeds drop off and take root in wet mud, germinating within two or three days, growing shoots; then the desiccation process takes over again for who knows how many years. Seeds lie dormant until the next rain, typically decades.
Silver ants emerged from their burrow in the heat of the sun after a lizard staked them out all morning. By noon the lizard was forced to leave and take shelter from the sun when it hit 50 degrees. The ants rushed out individually, spreading out until they found a beetle dying of heat stroke, seized it collectively and pulled it back to the burrow to feed their colony, several of them working together as the beetle was fifty times their size. They have to work fast because the heat is only bearable for about two minutes.
A dung beetle profited from a camel’s droppings and attempted to roll backwards, with hind legs, a piece several times its size, sufficient to feed it for a year. Defeated by a sand dune, tumbling back repeatedly, eventually it died of the effort and thirst.
An ancient oasis created by a volcano housed a lake with a crocodile preying on fish, and a large mother fish could not flee as others did, staying to protect her young; she hunkered, still, on the lake bed. When the crocodile left at dusk the babies in their hundreds emerged from their hiding place in her mouth. It would all begin again tomorrow. I marvelled at the Creator’s imagination and the diversity of life.
The cameramen filmed sand dunes shifting in high winds, shaping patterns in the sand, and recorded ‘singing sands,’ moaning. Some sandstorms are a thousand miles long and camel trains have been lost forever. They mounted cameras on a pole with timed shutters and left them recording over a year, then showed us the shifting sands on time-lapsed film, speeded-up.
Swallowtail birds migrate from their south Saharan base (the once fertile Sahara is the size of the United States) north to their breeding grounds, thousands of miles away, navigating who knows how above the featureless shifting sand dunes. There was no water until they reached the remnants of a lake so salt, they would have died to drink the water, but already a carpet of flies had died in the attempt to quench their thirst and the birds fed on their bodies for liquid, the salt having been filtered by the flies. Birds skimmed over the evil mass, fed and flew on.
Camels could not survive in the dessert without men to guide them to water and men could not survive without camels to carry their supplies. Beautiful long shadows of camel trains with their robed escorts were strung across the dunes in single file, walking at their leisurely pace.
They filmed a burst of silver ants running alongside a tape measure, then calculated their speed – they half-run, half long-jump – and concluded that the equivalent speed for a human to run like that in ratio to their size would be 220 miles per hour. The film makers endure the African heat over many months, sometimes years, so that we may watch from the comfort of our couches.
I was absorbed by this beautiful documentary, narrated by revered naturalist, David Attenborough, now 90 and still working, a national treasure in Britain and my favorite broadcaster anywhere.
Enjoyment of this program left me satisfied and relaxed when it ended. I reflected on the billions of years of Earth’s history, the short time man has on earth, the immense beauty that surrounds us, the enduring qualities of human engagement and endeavour, and resolved to put as much space between political provocations and my resilience as I can. Stay vigilant but stay sane.