February 2011 and Tanzania is in the throes of a mini drought. Evidence that the seasonal rains are late can be seen everywhere. Anything that moves over the surface of the earth kicks up a fine dust cloud that penetrates into your very soul. The relentless sun burns the air and makes breathing a laboured task. The air is heavy with dust particles and sparse shade lures the senses as the sirens lured the sailors. Ice, shade and cold water take on new meaning.
A short geography lesson on North-eastern Tanzania reveals the presence of volcanoes, both active and inactive. A short walk however reveals so much more. The fine dust layering the surface of the earth appears devoid of nutrients. Vegetation is sparse and day and night temperatures approach desert conditions.
The unexpected surprise is the quality of the dust. The essence of this dust is a contradiction in itself for a photographer. Dust is generally regarded as a foe. Dust is a scary term whispered softly in case it should take on a life of its own and wreak revenge on a sensor, or inbetween the moving parts of a zoom lens or prevent a shutter from firing. Dust cloths, dust blowers, dust covers, dust bags are all essential components in the arsenal of the wildlife photographer (and probably most other photography disciplines).
But, on the other hand......there is magic in the air when it is laden with dust and the light refracts through the particles. Sunsets and sunrises in the dusty climes of the world are breathtaking and keep many photographers in business.
The Serengeti is surely one of the dustbowls of the world. The fine volcanic dust that coats the earth is easily disturbed and a modern day safari vehicle sends up magnificent clouds as the fast moving wheels slice their way through the powder. An open roof top on a vehicle does little to keep the offending particles from entering and settling on everything. At the end of the day eyes, ears, noses, collars, cuffs and bags are a different colour.
The contrast however is what lies on the memory card of the camera. Magical data is recorded and images that stimulate the senses are revealed. The Serengeti delivers something more than just a world of wild imagery. Dust clouds turn mediocre images of fleeing wildebeest into first class work, animals scrapping with each other suddenly have an ethereal quality about them and a fast moving cat on a kill transforms into a breathtaking display.
Once the memories of discomfort have passed as they always do, one is left with a sense of wonder. A surreal feeling permeates the memory, it is as if you have been transported to Middle Earth where the fairies, hobbits and gnomes reside and your camera has managed to capture some of that.