Monday, March 9, 2009
The persistence of feet and water
The train from Nairobi to Mombasa travels to its own timetable, its hours unpredictable. When children in the nearby villages and homesteads hear it, they come running across the fields towards it, specks at first, full pelt with shoulders leading, until they stop with wide grins for the daily spectacle. Whistles, shrieks, waves greet us. The embankments are trailed with paths. The beat of feet have found the most direct way down, identifying the line and then reinforcing it over and over, up and down, wearing it smooth, stone free, curving. The feet have worked with natural features - soft or hard rock, contours, just as a stream would.
In Hell's Gate National Park, close to Lake Naivasha, I was told a story which combines feet and water in the formation of a deep gorge . The Maasai used to herd their cattle between the high plateau and Lake Naivasha. The route they wore attracted running water in the rainy season, which worked with the pathway over the years to gouge a deep indentation in the land. The herders continued to use the route, fairly dry except during the rains, and the gorge deepened to its dramatic formation today. Whether or not this geography is accurate, I like the story of cooperation between human and animal movement and the aggressive momentum of water.In the gorge, the Maasai found boiling water spouting and falling, they thought of it as someone below them, cooking. They were then convinced this ravine led to Hell.
The Maasai and their animals are now settled there, no longer nomadic. But the tracks of wilder animals persist, overlaying each other on the same routes, ways that converge into the only water hole, to lay out a massive spider of paths.Yesterday I walked across the valley near my home. The valley bottom is now a golf course but it had previously been common-land and people walk their dogs or themselves there as if it still is. By and large walkers and golfers cooperate. Over the years the greenkeepers have made efforts to re-direct feet by closing gaps in walls where short cuts emerge onto roads or other pathways. Yesterday I noticed that one of the former ways has re-asserted itself over the non-golfing winter - a thin line has been worn in the grass leading to a small but determined tumbling of the wall.