My old chap
When we first met in 2008, the venerable tree was shining in the morning light, standing proudly in the desert garden. We befriended at the first sight. The portrait picture the I created on that occasion counts amongst my favourite pieces of landscape photography.
Since then, I revisited my old chap many times in my mind, staring the printed photograph, recalling the words and the thoughts that we exchanged. We met again for real only recently – 14 years after our first encounter. It was a tremendous joy to revisit my old chap after so much time.
Unfortunately, the desert garden morphed into a drier and harsher environment. Against all odds, my friend fares well. Its outstanding resilience is deeply rooted in its pride to live in the stunning Namib desert. Hence my essay is about sand and wood, as a tribute paid to my old chap.
Sand is close to everything in the Namib desert. It aggregates in thousands of dunes that are reinvented constantly by the wind. Sand records footprints of animals and people, but only for a while. The Namib relentlessly resets its scape anew.
Sand dunes in Namib desert are so high and so large that they appear surreal, imported from another planet. Against their might, human beings are no more than tiny sand grains. Those gigantic dunes awake my mountaineering spirit. I need to climb to confront myself with them, to contemplate the sand scape from above, to discover the horizon invisible from the ground.
Namib sand dunes fascinate and even confuse the eye. Their unique deep reddish tones vary according to weather and wind conditions, calling for colour photography. From another perspective, the sand dunes display very graphical shapes with strong curved and straight lines. They call for monochrome photography despite the attractiveness of the sand colours. I chose not to choose to practice both types of photography.
Like my old chap, trees in Namib desert have not an easy life. However, they manage to grow, survive, if not prosper, despite their challenging climatic environment. Namib trees are not only stubbornly and fiercely resilient; they are immortal. After a long life, their remains still animate desertscapes for many centuries. Dead wood does not decompose in Namib desert, owing to the dryness of the environment.
I love wood and woods. Trees in Namib desert are natural art masterpieces in their life and after-life. Their raw elegance touches our senses to our heart. Furthermore, they remind us that the odyssey of human, animal and vegetal life does not necessarily end upon death.
Taking some distance from the Namib desert makes me feel already nostalgic. The sand is still everywhere, though in compacted and at times burned forms. Single trees stand here and there, but not as proudly than my old chap deep into the Namib.
I thought about preparing for my old chap a tomb in a natural pyramid in the Namib’s surroundings. Not an Egyptian pharaoh’s magnificent tomb, but a simple but elegant, inaccessible and inviolable resting place carved deep into the rock. My old chap flatly rejected the proposal. As its fellows, the venerable tree wishes to rest in the open and pure air of the Namib desert beyond its death.
So will it be.