The morning broke with a psychedelic orange peeping out between the horizon and a heavy bank of dark rumbling cloud. The excitement of more rain brought energy to our step. As the morning ripened, the clouds darkened to an inky blue that draped tails of heavy rain swept in an arcing train by strong winds. This big-sky country of Hwange National Park is so impressive when the sky is moody with light changing the folds and texture of the bubbling clouds. Overnight, spectacular pink flowers burst out to show off their delicate beauty, as the transformation of this wilderness began to take a new form.
There is no place more dramatic to document during the year than the Ngamo Plains. Within 12 months, this vast expanse of wilderness changes from a water-wonderland to a barren moonscape. Every blade of grass gets either consumed, trodden on, dies or blows away leaving behind a white sandy ‘beach’ of fallen trees, bare leadwoods, ilala palms and acacia trees. It is dramatically impressive as a landscape and despite its immediate emptiness, is in fact host to an abundance of wildlife.
At this point when the first rains had touched the parched plain, it seemed that beneath these pregnant clouds, underneath those dry grains of sand, the seeds were trembling with anticipation. The soil is -clay-like at Ngamo which is what causes it to retain water, so after one night and one morning of rain, already glassy shallow puddles were starting to form. Around the windmill the pan had a good water level and was fringed with water birds.
Within a week, this landscape will transform again with shoots of grass popping up turning white surfaces into green carpets. As the rain continues to cascade from the vastness above, every indentation of the plain will have a puddle in it with activity from a vast array of water birds. The pounding of newborn wildebeest hooves will thump a drumbeat to create a symphony with the wind. The zebra, impala, giraffe and eland will break out from the tree-line to be part of the magic that is summer on a rejuvenated Ngamo Plain.
And so too predators will arrive. During the dry season wild dogs were frequently seen (The researchers told us the pack is now nine adults and eight pups). The lions will follow their prey and the stage will be set for dramatic interactions between hunter and hunted. The vultures will clean up carcasses fighting for their piece of the action while fending off tenacious jackals and raiding hyaenas.
It is almost like watching a time-lapse – that is how quickly the transformation happens. Every burst of greenness gives a promise of rejuvenation and the life-cycle turns again. This is a wonderful tragedy-turn-comedy-turn-tragedy performance that has to be witnessed to be appreciated. From now till May, Ngamo Plain will fill up with water, wildlife and transform into a green paradise.
Written by Marian Myers
Photographed by Mike Myers