The Bull with the Third Eye

 

“The hunter is, at one and the same time, a man of today and one of ten thousand years ago. In hunting, the long process of universal history coils up and bites its own tail.”

Jose Ortega Y Gasset

Sept 10th, 2017

Twice a week, since I’ve gotten home from Africa, I wander down to a little creek behind my house in my sandals and go for a wade.

While I was gone the municipality did some rehabilitation work on the banks of the small body of water, a little further upstream, in an attempt to improve the spawning grounds for the various types of fish, particularly salmon, that lay their eggs there. The problem is the debris that they trimmed from the banks further up keeps floating down and jamming itself into a narrow channel created by a footbridge that crosses the creek to the upper dike above the larger river of which the creek is a tributary.

No one notices.

The choke point gets so full of logs and sticks that the rehab done on the rest of the creek is rendered moot. So I go for a wade and clean it out. My wife, who stands with the dog on the bank and watches shakes her head as I pull branches, rocks, leaves, and hunks of drift wood free from the inadvertent dam and watch the water pour through.

To get the build-up of mud and leaves at the bottom moving I grab the bridge and hang from it then kick at the remaining sludge with my sandals until the stream moves freely once more. The sound of the water running, rushing through the narrow little channel puts me at ease and I stand for a moment to watch my handy-work before I wade back to the bank and join my wife and dog for the rest of our evening walk.

August 15th, 2016

“What do you think? Should we do it? The money is there, it’s just a bit sooner than we planned.”

“Talk to your son and see what he says,” was her response.

When the kids were younger we had told them that at the end of their schooling if they worked hard and kept their grades up that we’d take them on a trip, anywhere in the world, to a place of their choosing. In fact, we’d built a savings account for it. When I’d asked my son what he wanted to do he told me he wanted to go back to Africa. He’d been with us when he was younger and remembered it well enough to recall it had been the adventure of a lifetime. For years he’d told me he wanted another taste.

But having been to South Africa once before I wanted the two of us to see and experience something different. So I set my sights on somewhere else.

“It’s your trip and your choice, so you can say no if you want to. What do you think about a safari in Namibia? It’s early, you haven’t graduated yet but I think now is the time to go while things are stable politically in the larger region. Are you interested?”

“Yes,” he replied tentatively, “I just didn’t really think you guys were serious so I haven’t put a ton of thought into it. I can go anywhere?”

“Yup. But if you want Namibia it has to be sooner than later. It’s a safe, stable country and could be a great safari but it’s your choice.”

“Let’s go.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes!”

“Ok, I’ll get crack’n. It’ll be a year to get it arranged and put things in order. Go tell your mother.”

August 11th, 2017

“Would you like a cup of coffee Mr. Carpenter?”

“No, thank you. I’m fine. I appreciate the offer though.”

The lady sitting across from me was lovely, tall and spoke with a German accent in a way that could only be described as dignified but warm.

“Well, then, welcome. There is a bit of paperwork to fill out but I thought maybe we would have a visit before then. I’d like to tell you a bit about what we do here, it’s more than what most people think. My late husband started it all decades ago. Hunting is only a part of what we offer. First and foremost it is a wildlife preserve and a rhino conservation project. We have over sixty white and black rhinos as well as African elephant, lions, cheetahs, and hippos on the property. Our goal is to grow the project, protect the rhinos and expand their numbers and range. We fund this through the fees that people like you pay, and as you can see so far that money is put to good use here.”

“It is. I’m blown away by the amount of wildlife I’ve seen so far. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, even in South Africa.”

“Yes, well, our model is different here. We have around 300,000 acres that we manage. The core of the property which is 80,000 acres and belongs to us is the rhino project and it contains the highest density of game and wildlife. You will encounter almost everything here, both game and non-game species.”

“We want to see it all.”

August 20th, 2016

I sat at the edge of the pool with my leg thigh deep in the frigid water. My son sat next to me in a chair staring out over the Namibian bush.

“Are you ok, dad?”

“Oh ya, I just have to get the swelling down. The water in the pool comes from a well that is about 150 feet deep so its cold. With the shade and the morning temps near freezing, it seems to do the trick. My leg will be completely numb in a few minutes and then I’ll go get ready for dinner.”

I have AS and I control it with a weekly injection. A hike into the mountains at home in early July ended with a twisted right knee. The drugs that I take via needle had lost their ability to keep up with the inflammation in my joints as a result and my knee puffed up like a grapefruit. I was just getting it under control when it was time to leave the country. That meant no more injections for close to a month. I don’t like traveling with the needles, they are a pain in the ass at airports and have to be refrigerated which makes it an even bigger hassle on a trip that lasts days before you reach your destination. So I decided to leave them at home and hope for the best.

“Are you going to be able to go back into the mountains tomorrow? It’s the last day.”

“Yep. It’s just puffy, stiff and a bit weak. I’ll muscle through it. There’s still a kudu bull out there with my name on it.”

“Do you mind if I sleep in tomorrow? After finally getting my steenbok I’m ready for a rest.”

“Go for it.”

I remember what it was like being sixteen. I could sleep for twelve hours a day, easily. Since we’d arrived we’d been up at 5 AM daily, which is normal for me but the early starts were taking their toll on my son. I could see it in his eyes. But he wouldn’t quit. He had his sights set on one of the smallest antelope on the continent, the steenbok. They’re not a flashy or a particularly interesting animal but they are solitary and fast so in the tall Namibian grass they are tough to hunt. And he knew that the only way he would connect was to keep getting up early, so he did so without complaint.

He’d been working on them for three days with no success and to the exclusion of everything else. Towards the end of the previous day, I’d suggested we give the steenbok a break and go after something different. We were on our way to another area to hunt Impala when a ram broke cover out of a patch of grass to my left. At seventy-five yards he suddenly stopped to look back and that was all she wrote. Steenbok down. The boy was elated. He’d killed a big waterbuck bull a few days prior and it never brought on the emotion that common little antelope did. I guess early mornings and miles upon miles of rubber to road and boot to trail gave him a different perspective on the least of all his quarry.

Persistence, under the right set of circumstances, is a virtue.

I pulled my leg from the water once it was comfortably numb and poked my knee to see if the swelling had gone down. Tough to tell but it was time to clean up and get ready for supper. Our camp coordinator and head chef, Bridgitte, as kind and doting on all of us as she was, did not appreciate tardiness at meal times and I learned long ago to never keep a lady waiting.

August 21st, 2016

The Uri bounced and bobbled along the preserve road, in and out of holes and over rocks the size of bowling balls. We were headed for the mountains, a very bumpy forty-five-minute drive away.

The big bulls were in the hills, Steve would tell me day after day and so we’d hike them, usually early in the morning before the heat would set in. Sometimes it was a short stint to peak over a ridge or into a draw and sometimes it was for the better part of the morning with our hunting party traversing an entire series of hills and valleys until noon and the Namibian sun finally forced us off the slopes.

The country was beautiful. Every knoll we topped changed the view and by the last day I was beginning to piece things together; which direction was which, which trees I could safely grab to ascend and descend, where it was safe to put my feet and where it wasn’t, what the distance from one valley wall to another was; all of it.

As we drove I had visions of giant bulls cresting one of the hills we’d hike as we pushed up and over and into a new draw. But, at the same time, the rational side of my brain had accepted that it might not happen at all. My last trip to Africa had not born the bull I sought and there was no reason this one should either. We call it hunting and not killing for a reason.

So I relaxed and enjoyed the scenery and the wildlife. Herds of springbok ran in front of the Uri as it turned a corner in the road which spooked an ostrich which chased off a number of zebra and a group of black wildebeest in the distance.

A Lilac-breasted Roller flew from tree top to tree top next to us and a pair of Bat-eared foxes scurried from one side of the path to the next. I thought about the Red Rock Hare I’d almost stepped on a few days earlier at the top of one of the mountains we’d hiked and wondered if I’d ever see one again? I started to wonder how many people had ever seen them at all or even knew they existed? I wondered if I would have if I hadn’t nearly tripped over one?

I remember thinking that Cheetahs were much, much larger than they appear on television and hoped maybe I’d see one more tear off across open ground in full stride, its massive front shoulders grabbing, flexing and stretching as it tore up the dust and earth beneath its paws.

And the sunsets. Damn, I would miss the sunsets.

I wondered how I would adjust to a landscape that wasn’t filled with thousands of springbok, impala, wildebeest, and giraffes or the sudden and hurried scoot and flight of plentiful guinea fowl. One of the other PH’s, a naturalist who didn’t hunt, suggested there would be a period of withdrawal when we returned to Canada. I figured that was likely true, so it was best to let things go and soak in as much as possible while I could.

Then the Uri turned another corner and stopped. Steve grabbed his binoculars and started glassing a piece of heavy bush along a riverine that we’d pass each day on our way to ‘kudu land’.

“There are three bulls in the bush over there,” he whispered quietly.

About a hundred yards off to our right was a small group of kudu milling about a thick patch of thorns and what passes for timber in Namibia. A few cows, some small bulls, and a herd bull hung tightly together, oblivious to our presence.

“He’s not terribly long but he’s nice and wide and heavy. He’s an older mature bull and a good representative of the species,” Steve instructed in his calm and honest manner.

I looked at him through my own glass. I wasn’t sure what to think. I’d been looking for him for almost a decade and now there he was, standing in the bush, tending his cows with only a hundred yards of cool Namibian air and branch between us.

We glassed for a bit as he milled about. The bush was too heavy to shoot through and we couldn’t risk taking a shot with the other bulls and cows so close. So we watched and waited.

As we sat quietly spying on the herd with the wind in our face and the sun at our backs we could tell that something wasn’t right. The animals must have sensed we were near and although they hadn’t seen us yet, they did what all prey does when they know they are being watched; they became nervous and agitated.

The cows are always the first to sense something is wrong. Their behavior alerts the herd bull then the younger bulls.

We repositioned ourselves a few times, trying to get a good angle on the bull as the group moved nervously through the bush. Then a moment later the master of the house threw caution to the wind, broke ranks and began to trot. As he left cover and stepped out into the open I pulled the trigger and the pure copper bullet hit him in the shoulder, taking out his lungs and dropping him on the spot.

It was a strange moment.

The hunt hadn’t started or ended like I had envisioned. It just happened while I was daydreaming. There was no climb, no hail mary shot on an animal three hundred plus yards across a valley, no follow-up shot on the notoriously tough ‘elk of Africa’ and no quarters to haul out on our backs for miles off some remote hill. It was finished. Without fanfare or drama. Simply and quietly.

I picked up the bulls head to examine his smooth, thick, black spiral horns and noticed in the middle of his face a third horn staring back at me. I hadn’t seen it until just then. I wondered how I could have missed it?

It was rare and unusual, Steve told me. It looked like a third eye.

So we snapped some pictures and brought the Uri over. The boys knocked the guts out and we loaded him up.

And it was over.

Just like that.

I pulled myself up from the water on the opposite side of the creek and shook both my feet to clear the moisture, sand, and bark from my sandals. I looked at my knee again, having submerged it in the cool current of the creek while clearing debris, and poked it. The swelling was nearly gone but still present. I thought maybe tomorrow I’d start running on it again. The weather was perfect for it. A bit of rain had cleared the smoke pouring in from Washington state and the interior of the province and put a chill in the air in the process. It felt like fall, finally.

I climbed the bank and joined my wife and dog on the lower dike. She smiled at me and the dog wagged its tail.

“You take some sort of joy in that, don’t you,” she asked?

I hadn’t thought about it that way.

I guess I do.

The bull with the third eye.