Isak Dinesen, photograph by Peter Beard Stalking Iguanas

Mary Lynn Richardson

for Isak Dinesen1

You had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.2 I knew of it before I knew of you. It was just a place called Karen, twenty miles south of town as we were twenty miles north. Close to the Game Park. Close to the Reserve where you sometimes came upon the iguanas, the big lizards, as they were sunning themselves upon a flatstone in a riverbed . . . 3

In Kiambu, from our farm (where coffee thrives because of the lower altitude), we too see the Ngong Hills.4, 5 They rise over the horizon beyond the coffee in the vlei; beyond the dam my mother built; beyond the mud rondavels and banana-studded mealie plots of the squatters; beyond the Karura forest, dark and primeval, a-chatter with monkeys; beyond the skyscrapers and heaving four million souls that now overrun Nairobi like bush termites.

They rise, those hills, like the spiny back of a giant reptile. An iguana, surely. For as the sun moves over them, those lizard spines also flash azure green and purple like a heap of precious stones, or like a pane cut from an old church window.

If I walked right up to them, if I saw their feet of clay, would they too fade and grow pale? Would all colour die out of them in one long sigh? Would they -- like the iguana you once shot -- also become grey and dull like a lump of concrete?

Is it those forty miles from Kiambu to Karen, those forty years between your face and mine, that keep the live impetuous blood pulsating in the Ngong Hills for me? If I reach them, will the flame be put out? Will their soul fly? Will they too be dead as a sandbag?

Or could I then simply call you Tanne? 6 

Return to Index M.L. Richardson,1994
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