Conversations With A Baobab

I want to tell you about an encounter I had on a nameless tract of veld opposite the entrance to Mapungubwe National Park. There is a Baobab tree standing there at the end of bush track, a huge tree presiding in benevolent grandeur over all the smaller denizens of the veld who wander around, oblivious to this ancient plant. The encounter may seem inconsequential to you, dear reader, but it was to have a profound effect on my thoughts for weeks until, in a flurry of keyboard keys, I purged myself of this particular tome.

The encounter took place at the foot of the great Baobab one warm, late morning in March. Some lodge guests and I had just finished a morning drive in the splendour of Mapungubwe National Park and were on our way back to Mopane Bush Lodge for a sumptuous brunch when it was agreed that we should pop in to see the tree (one of the largest in the region). The usual oohs and ahs were uttered upon arrival at this truly magnificent specimen and we then set about taking photos. It was at this juncture that it happened. One of the gentlemen in the group turned to me and said “Imagine what we could learn if this tree could talk.”


Pretty disappointing, I know but I couldn’t shake the thought of being able to sit in the shade of this immense botanical masterpiece and chat to it over a cup of Earl Grey. The question that began to needle my sub conscious was “would we like what the tree might say?”

We presume this tree to be between 1500 and 2000 years old. I know that that doesn’t sound particularly old in the grand scheme of things. Evolutionists in their infinite wisdom talk about the earth in millions of years. This rock, ladies and gents is between 50 and 70 million years old…….give or take a few mil. This tree is not that old, yet it has an underlying, mildewy ancientness to it that I find hard to explain, yet its’ power speaks somehow to a primal part of me. It’s sort of a cross between the lonely eeriness of Stonehenge and the cobweb draped wonders hidden in Granny’s attic. Just think of the history that took place during the life of this plant. It is conceivable that this tree was a sapling when Christ walked the earth. It was an older tree when my ancestors, bedecked in tartan, slaughtered the English at Bannockburn and left them for dead amongst the heather on the hills. Older still when Napoleon met his Waterloo. It was already an old tree when Cumming, Bell and Selous hunted and pioneered the interior of this Dark Continent. Perhaps it was a resting place for generations of San Bushmen long before the arrival of colonial man. I could go on friends but I feel that I need to return to focal point of this story. If this Baobab could speak, would it be in a language lost in the mists of time, a language no longer spoken like Aramaic or perhaps an ancient African tongue full of clicks and gesticulations? If it spoke in English would it give me insight into the history of our dusty continent or extol the virtues of our modern veld management practices? I don’t think so.

I think, as a species, we would be in for a tongue lashing of epic proportions, a roasting so all-consuming that Aunt Aggie, treasurer of the Dendrological Society might well rethink her position on slash and burn agriculture! This tree would ask us to justify the internal combustion engine in terms of it’s’ impact on the quality of the air. It would bemoan the existence of these steel barriers that criss-cross the landscape and the strange multi-coloured bovines they seek to contain. Also the pestilential, shaggy antelope-like creatures with bells around their necks that indiscriminately strip the surrounding veld. Industry, agriculture, all our marvels of technology and infrastructure and the fact that we multiply and ravage our planet like locusts, all these things would be mentioned in a rapacious monologue that would leave me ashamed of my kind.

Or maybe not. Either way, there is nothing, dear friends, which exudes philosophy and the age of Africa like the Baobab. Come and visit us in sub-tropical Africa some time………the surrounding veld is full of ‘em.

Andrew Rae

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