Here is a quick report on what’s new at the gallery: China’s “Year of the Tiger” brought forth a commission for Doug to create a special tiger sculpture in bronze entitled “Forever” depicting the Legend of Baitou Mountain, it will soon be cast and available in a limited edition. New giclees soon available feature King Cheetahs with an Egyptian theme, “King Cheetah” and “Cleopatra”.
The United Auburn Indian Community and Thunder Valley casino in Lincoln, CA, had its grand opening of a new hotel and grounds the 4th of July. If you plan to be in Northern California, be sure to visit them and see the wonderful settings they have created for many of Doug’s sculptures to be seen on their grounds.
Nigel Kingsley-Heath, our African guide and long time friend made a visit to Auburn as guest of those who went with him on photo safari to Tanzania this year. For those interested in joining us, he is setting up three possible trips in 2011. Tanzania will again be in the middle of March for 10 days, while trips to Botswana and Namibia will be slightly longer and held in late August and September.
Our 2010 African research trip to Tanzania in March was full of nice surprises, and it’s time we shared an update with you all. It was perfect in ways you cannot make happen. East Africa finally had its proper rainy season the end of 2009 with nice January rains as well. The Ngorongoro highlands were so green and carpeted with a yellow and purple haze of wild flowers, while the Serengeti plain was covered with white wild flowers, producing beautiful backdrops for wildlife photographs.
The migrations were in one huge mass and seemed to know this year where they were going. With the drought the past few years, the wildebeests have been in strings, meeting themselves coming and going, earning the nickname “bewildered wildebeests”. Not so this year. There was an unusually large number of baby elephants, and lots of baby everything else: zebra, giraffe, baboon, and of course, large nurseries of baby wildebeest. The yellow billed storks moved across the sky in waves, and in other areas the sky was black with abdim storks. The cheetahs did not disappoint at Ndutu and most importantly, the friends who joined us made an awesome group.
This trip was a celebration of Doug’s 75th birthday. The night we had our traditional party at the Crater Sopa Lodge, Renee Christensen surprised us by reading a special writing of her first time impressions of Africa on photo safari, her birthday gift to Doug. We were so impressed with her writing talent, we want to share it with you here in the Newsletter: Written for Douglas Van Howd, Ndutu Tanzania, March 14, 2010
You won’t understand until you get here. You can be told about the wonder of this place, that it will completely overwhelm you: The warm, clean smell of swirling around you and the soft touch of the breeze. The constant undercurrent of sound – insects strumming on a hundred guitars, birds shouting to each other, “This tree is mine!” or serenading a potential lover – full of longing and hope. Wildebeest mooing. Zebras screeching. Is that a pride rumbling in the night?
Then there is the look of this place. How can you know until you see it? A plush carpet of grass – green and gold, rippling, ruffling, and stretching all the way to an enormous sky. The trees with their small feathery leaves and long stabbing thorns, each an intricate sculpture created by a master – some classically open and table-flat, others bushy, round, homey and protective, and some dead and leafless, but still able to delight your eyes with their twisting, spiky limbs.
And of course there are the animals. Their presence will bombard your senses. You will thrill at the sight of them, which is amazingly both familiar and unfamiliar. For who hasn’t seen an elephant, a giraffe, a lion, a zebra? You see them all the time in cartoons, picture books, and during occasional trips to the zoo where they probably seem bored and sad. Who hasn’t heard about the eternal quality of a leopard’s spots? Or felt as hungry as a hippo? Or longed to run like a gazelle?
You know these animals. Of course you do. Except you don’t. You won’t until you get here and find creatures everywhere that you thought you knew so well, then realize you’d never really seen them before. Not really. You can’t know ahead of time the stately glide of the giraffe. It will blink at you from behind its long lashes before casually tearing free another mouthful of leaves.
You’ll catch your breath at the sight of a sea of green grass broken by a cluster of huge tusked, trunked shapes, gray and wrinkly, back lit by a faded denim sky, all connected by invisible links that you can actually see as they caress each other, surrounding their babies in a fortress of size and strength and love.
And sure you’ve seen him roar at the start of countless movies, but you haven’t seen him here, proud and thinning and scarred, his nose and mane black, the notches torn from his velvet ears, those gigantic paws. You thought you knew these classic African animals, but here they are so much more.
Then there are the animals who are completely new: golden jackals, tawny eagles, hyrax, the various bustards (be sure to pronounce their name correctly!), the secretary birds, stomping across the plane, their headdresses fluttering with the effort. You’ll see them all here and their novelty might fade, but your awe at the sight of them won’t.
And the migration. You’ll watch hundreds, no thousands of wildebeest and zebra, in lines and clumps – some running, some standing, some resting on each other, others butting and snorting. There are the babies glued to their mother’s sides, and others who are lost and desperate. So many individuals spread out to the horizon, ringing your field of vision, all separate creatures, but one huge overwhelming mass of life. But you won’t understand their impact until you’re here in the middle of them all.
Then there are your fellow travelers. Is it that only the strong and interesting choose to come here or is it that being here opens people up and enables them to share that fascinating, engaging side of themselves that is normally covered up by work and mundane responsibility? You won’t really understand what kind of people you’ll be with until you are here with them – standing together in an open-topped Land Rover – marveling together about all you’re seeing.
Some have been here time and time again but keep coming back and you’ll know why once you’ve had a taste of it yourself. Those repeat visitors are not experiencing Africa for the first time, but adore watching you experience it for the first time. They will grin at you, eyes sparkling, and say, “Now you understand.”
And then there are the stories shared throughout the whole day, but especially at dinner. Stories of what’s been seen that day, stories of what drew everyone here, stories of heartbreaking times in the recent past and the strength and grace it took to survive that pain. And of course, the stories of past trips. You who are here for the first time know more than you did before, and are beginning to understand what draws people to the incredible swath of life and beauty that we call the Serengeti and all the stories of Africa now ring true for you in a way they wouldn’t have before.
Here’s a story that spoke to me. It was told by an artist and traveler who has been here 43 times.
A Maasai man once admired a belt buckle worn by the artist and traveler. The Maasai complimented him on the buckle frequently over the course of the week they spent together. And when the visit was drawing to a close, the artist gave his belt to the Maasai man who’d loved it so much. The Maasai man was joyous and grateful to receive such a precious gift from so far away.
Now here is where the voice of the artist telling the story swells with feeling and amazed disbelief. For after he gave his belt buckle to the Maasai man, the man showed it proudly to his friends, and when one of them exclaimed over its beauty, the Maasai man took it off and gave it away. He gave it to his friend less than a minute after receiving it himself.
“Can you believe that?” the artist asks. His words are thick with awe and wonder. “We would never do that!”
Except we do. He does.
Three hundred people have come here because of him and his beautiful wife. The artist has given this, which he loves, to all of us. Who does that? Gives what he loves and admires away? The Maasai man did. The artist does. And once you’ve been here and experienced it, you’ll want to pass it on as well.
I can try to tell you about it all, but once you come here, you’ll know.
Written for Douglas Van Howd
March 14, 2010