This is one of my favorite photographs from my years in Namibia. I especially like the way the coppiced mopane tree in the foreground mirrors the braided track with its reflecting pools of water. This is a picture taken in late afternoon during the rainy season in northern Namibia at a place called Iilyateko and a little Roman Catholic Mission station where I lived and taught during 1992.
You will note the heavy browse line in the foliage and the grass reduced to stubble by goats and herds of cattle. Colophospermum mopane has the virtue of resprouting from stumps, and this tree with its twisting leaders has been harvested at least twice: the first it lost its main trunk, and then two of its four respouts were later hacked off. Mopane trees can withstand this kind of use but the forest that remains is greatly altered from what it might have been had the trees been allowed to grow. There are many people here, and mopane wood is in great demand for fencing and household construction. Overuse leads to desertification, and if there is one thing Namibia has plenty of it is desert. But the northern area where the seasonal rains fill the shallow pans called iishana even support fish during these times, and a major flood or efundja even brings down a few crocodiles from better watered Angola to the north. Roads in oshana country customarily wend their way around wet areas, widening and braiding with use. This track was too wet for passage a week or so before I took this picture.
It was late afternoon when I walked outside the kraal, listening to the cattle and children singing and the sounds of the birds gathering before nightfall to dip and drink in the iishana. I was 24 years old and finding my way in a new nation that was finding its own. I learned to travel that braided track, and those I have found myself upon in my life since then. Sometimes you have to stay on the path and apply steady pressure rather than striking out on your own. At others it is best to dodge the traps and avoid the pitfalls and keep moving forward. There are costs to each approach, and knowing when to apply one or the other can make all the difference.