Name ID 1397
Matthiessen, Peter The Tree Where Man Was Born
Page Number: 182
Extract Date: 1972
... I camped on the rim of Embagai, in the hope of going down into its crater. The rim was an alpine meadow dense with flowers, like a circlet around the cloud in the volcano, and under the cloud a crater lake lay in deep forest. All day we waited for a clearing wind, to locate a way down the steep sides, but instead the cloud overflowed onto the meadow, smothering the senses. Uneasy, Martin said: "It is so quiet," and was startled by the volume of his gentle voice: we could hear a mole rat chewing at the grass roots and the tiny wing flutter of a cisticola across the mist. In a bed of lavenders and yellows, cloud curling past the white band of its ears, lay a big serval. The cat remained there a long moment, shifting its haunches, before sinking down into the flowers and away.
In the late afternoon, the meadows cleared. Not far off, a band of ravens connived on a dead Haegenia, the lone uncommon tree left at this altitude. Before the mists reclaimed it, I climbed the tree and with a panga chopped down dry limbs for a fire. Already, at twilight, it was very cold, but in this hour of changing weathers, odd solitary light shafts, fitful gusts, the mists were lifting, and treetops of the crater sides loomed through the cloud, then the crater floor, and finally the lake, two thousand feet below, where a herd of buffalo stood like dark outcrops on the shore. Out of the weathers fifteen miles away, the Mountain of God loomed once and withdrew... Then the mists closed, and, around the rim of Embagai the fire tones of aloes and red gladioli burned coldly in the cloud.
... By morning, clouds had settled heavily into the crater, making the descent impossible. We returned south fifty miles to Ngorongoro across a waste of coarse tussock, wind and bitter cinder where the swirls of ash, puffing through each crack, burned nose and throat. In summer the moors are parched despite dark stagnant clouds that shroud the circle of old volcanoes, ten thousand feet and more, that in many trips across the Crater Highlands, summer and winter, I had never seen. The three villages here are the highest in Maasai Land, and once the car was caught in a tide of milling cattle, a maelstrom of shrouding dust and rolling eyes and a doomed bawling, as if at last the earth had tipped on end. At one time there was forest here, and water was more plentiful, but the Maasai have cut and burned the trees to make more pasture, as they have done also on the west slopes of the Mau Range, and so far they have paid no heed at all to those who tell them they are ruining their country.
The three villages between the volcanoes have some seventy people each, and because the moors are treeless, the villages are fenced with long split timbers brought up from the ravines; the bony staves, bent black on the barren sky, give a bleak aspect to the human habitations.