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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 12, Number 1, March 2018

Marcyn Del Clements
Claremont, California, USA

Checking Off the Wants:
Kilimanjaro National Park, Tanzania

first day
up the west slope
I slip on the trail—
grab handholds of jungle fern
and laughing porters

My eyes glaze over after one thousand nine hundred sixty-three photos of heather and moors, colobus monkeys and turaco, lichen, impatiens, craters, a lava tower, mist coming up over ridges, frost on our tents.

I wasn't there just to climb that mountain I've had on my bucket list for the last 20 years. Not just to fill out my bird list. But to photograph all the wildlife. To study the strange plants of those high African plains.

One day as I was sitting on a rock, eating my sandwich, an alpine chat scrapped right under my legs—my legs as nonthreatening as tent pegs. Three days later, at the highest camp on the western flank, sun flayed down the Western Breach, illuminating the way to the summit of Uhuru. Each day, I scanned the horizon to see if the peak was visible yet. And checked out the raptors, trying to pick out the largest one, the lammergeyer. Each day, sun thawed the roots of giant lobelia, releasing them from their frozen graves.

malachite sunbird
dodging around
the lobelia—
I fail to photograph
its twin tail streamers

How many shots did I have of Bosco, my native angel-guide? Perched on the tallest boulder in the plain. Leaning against the wall of a dripping flower grotto. Turning to see if my tired knees would descend that last day in Mweka's enchanted forest? When I complained that the pace was too fast, he shrugged, "It's not me, Mama, it's them." (Meaning the crew wanted to go home.)

I hated our forced march on that last day. The porters, balancing equipment bags on their heads, running down the deep steps. All five of the other climbers and the two guides already an hour ahead. Horses headed for the barn. I hated it, it hurt. I didn't want it to end.

I stalled, hearing a bird sing in the elfin woods. I stopped and turned to Bosco to ask about it. He told me, patiently, "It's the tropical boubou, Mama." What he didn't say was, "You've heard it often, many times."

But two days before that—on Summit Day—Bosco took my camera and turned it to the sun rising over Mawenzi, a castle-volcano. He turned it on me shuffling with baby steps up the steep slope, downing a box of energy chews. And at the crater rim, my crew giving me a dose of oxygen for the final push. Then, posing before the southern glaciers. High five-ing at the summit sign.

At the end of that day, a day that will never come again—when clouds rose up past nineteen thousand feet, covering the fairy woods, obliterating the camp, blotting out the alpine swifts, hiding Kibo's crater rim—I crawled into my tent and laughed as I saw that the four-striped mouse had found my stash of trail mix. I poured some for her on the dry ground outside the vestibule, wormed into my silk cocoon, snuggled into the down bag and fell asleep, dreaming I lived in a mansion of sun and of sky.

so hard to breathe
at sixteen thousand feet
lammergeyers soar—
my most-wanted bird
against my most-wanted peak

Author's Notes:

This process of freezing at night and thawing by day is called solifluction. It is one of the hardships plants such as the giant lobelia must face to survive in the Kilimanjaro Park. Solifluction affects the climbers as well, who experience summer weather in the day, deep winter at night.

The bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), also known as the lammergeier or lammergeyer, is a bird of prey and the only member of the genus Gypaetus. It was a bird I could have seen, but missed, in four other countries.



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