At the Edge of the Lake that Changes Colour

Lake Naivasha, Purple The lake is vast but has been shrinking. The hippos were worried during the drought, huddling anxiously together, passing loud fretful nights and long hot days. This is what Naivasha does; at times, like in the late 1800s, it has shrunk to practically a puddle. And this year when the short rains would not come it was not only the hippos who were edgy.

But here we are, now, after the rains. We sip coffee on the yellow terrace. The lake, they say, changes colour, and I can see it doing so now, shifting from ghost-grey to something, something almost mauve, a sort of brown-purple-silver shade that runs into the horizon, into the hazy impression of Naivasha town, and then the milky blue sky.

We take a walk. This is the morning ritual, and we are almost religious in our careful observation of it. Not a foot out of line; you can't be too cautious when the mean-faced buffalo are about. We cut through the green hills. They would make Hemingway proud, these hills; but just a few weeks ago the rains still had not come, and the land was parched and broken, and the animals were dying. The Masai Mara, we're told, was littered with carcasses. A smell, and a feeling, came over the land. You can hardly believe that now: we're in a paradise, a verdant wonderland.

A haven for creatures of great beauty and exotic allure. We see zebra, impala, giraffe, jackal, lovebirds, waterbuck, gazelle, eland. The earth is heaving with strange life. As humans we are small, and lonely, and half-mad. Occasionally in the distance we see a man on a bicycle, in a cloud of dust, but the Africans think the white man's penchant for walking straight into the heart of danger is absurd, and though you see them commuting to the flower farms at odd hours, though they're often out here in the bush without protection of gun or Land Cruiser, you won't catch them doing it for fun.

I think how easy it would be to become complacent. The zebra don't even give us a glance; we cut through them like we are parting a patterned ocean. The jackal, with their furtive eyes and hunched, wary bodies, trot far ahead, and even the leopard are never seen except via the gashes they leave sometimes in trees; but only last week a buffalo bull charged our friends, and, they say, if he'd wanted to get us, he would have.

Simple. Remember when I said that the lives of men are huge? That the rules out here are unknown? Suddenly, away from the hum of cars, the tin shacks, the human traces, I remember that the lives of men are only as huge as they're allowed to be; that the rules when you remove the human element are as simple as they have been for the last billion years. You survive.

And the lake changes colour with every hour; and in some years it shrinks and in some years it grows, and though now they blame it on the flower farms, on bad irrigation, and though they may be right, it's still bigger than all of the big lives of men put together, and what can we really do in the face of that, but sit and listen to the hippos?