Magical Mukuvisi …..
A memory from my childhood….by Lin Barrie
I am the child that wakes scared in the night, seeing a robber’s shadow always in the same position, his hooked nose defined by the handle of my half open bedroom door.
I am the child that hovers in delicious, terrible fear on the edge of my bed in the dark, knowing that there be monsters below, waiting until I can wait no longer to make the leap outwards over the parquet floor blocks as far as I can, away from that stygian hole under my mattress. Upon landing I dash to the dimly lit passage and bathroom, not daring to look at the darkness behind!
And now I am out and about in that very darkness, nervous but on a secret mission with my father and dog. He does not say why but we amble to our favourite place, the Mukuvisi Woodlands, for a late, very late, afternoon walk. A full moon rises orange behind entwined Msasa tree trunks.
I know these trees.
We run and climb and play hide and seek with our dogs through these trees.
We spot birds nests, orchids and frogs on our ramblings through these trees.
But now it is dark.…..
We come into the open, in what my father calls ‘the amphitheater’, to sit on pale beige sand still warm from the rays of the late sun, surrounded by dusk and an audience of whispering Msasa trees. We are peering upwards. I look at my dad and I am whispering as well, “Why?”..
An impossible moth shape drifts in front of the moon and over my head as the dog and I crouch low on the sand next to my father.
Bigger than any moth feasible, a fantastical beast floats its shadow over me, trailing two impossibly long white pennants that flutter against the African night sky. Only the presence of my father and my dog leaning against me enable me to look up in wonder and not fear.
It is not a huge alien moth but an exquisite fantastical bird that we have come to witness as it dances aloft like an oriental kite flown by a masterful string puller. Soon it is joined by another, their long pennants fluttering as they dip and swoop in aerial display. My father knows these birds. “Pennant-winged nightjars”, he says.
We crouch in wonder for many minutes, and I can feel my father grinning. What a gift he has given me. What a gift the dark has given me, and I wander home to my suburban supper in a daze; to an ordinary life under lights, macaroni cheese, and my second favourite T.V. series, Batman.
Am I to embrace the dark after all? My fascination with Batman the night avenger might indicate so…and now I am entranced with the promise of creatures of the night so elegant and so compelling that they exceed my wildest eight year old imaginations and fill me with awe.
When I awake in bed later that night, as I know I have to, the shadows of my bedroom seem more filled with promise than with fear. I pull my curtains open and the sinking moon smiles back at me.
Out there, somewhere in the dark, the pennant wings dance and fly.
A surreal avian memory, a bird which was a moth which was an oriental flying kite, which was a fantastical part of the African night sky, has remained one of the clearest, most resonating images of my young life. A hunter of insects by night, with seasonal display pennants that turn it into a fairytale creature of the moon…
I think it has helped to form my fascination with synergies, linkages between elements of landscape, people and animals, such as the flow of water which becomes fish, the texture of baobab skin which so closely resembles that of elephants’ limbs, the shapes of monumental rock outcrops which take human or animal forms, plants which echo human parts, animal totems and people….
Whether we are humans living in sprawling cities or traditional villages, or dung beetles rolling our food stores; whether we are monumental baobab trees thousands of years old or whales birthing our young in cold currents; each of us has a vital role to play as strands of the greater web of life. Diversity and linkages between people, plants, animals and their environment are insurance for the future of our earth.
Biology became a passion for me during my school years. Plans to enter the world of medicine or science were superseded only by the decision to pursue the lonely path of an artistic career.
From my memories and my constant field sketches I create artworks on canvas with a treasured old palette knife inherited from my father with which I create expressive strokes.
I relish every visit to the magical miombo/msasa Mukuvisi woodlands in Harare, my childhood haunt.
Lin Barrie Art Catalogue:
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