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Likely Stories: Secrets of the Savanna, by Mark and Delia Owens


A long time ago, I stumbled on an interesting story by a pair of Ph.D students who gathered up all their worldly belongings, and moved to Botswana to study African Lions and hyenas.  The adventure drew me to them as I read the story of their lives in Africa.  I still have that worn copy, and hardly a year goes by when I am rereading Mark & Delia Owens Cry of the Kalahari.  

I tracked down a signed, hardback, of Cry, and then came upon Secrets of the Savanna.  While not as exciting as Cry, it certainly had loads of interesting stories about Africa, its inhabitants, and above all, the wildlife.

In a prologue by Mark Owens, he wrote: “A heavy fog, thick and white, settled lower over the hills of Masailand in Kenya.  I eased off the power and slowed down but pulled back on the cyclic stick, giving up altitude grudgingly.  Our chopper’s main rotor tore ragged chunks out of the clouds underbelly and

stirred great corkscrews of vapor that trailed behind us as we flew on.  Fifty feet below us, malachite green hilltops dotted with flat-topped acacias and running giraffes—snapshots of Africa—flashed into view out of the white, then we were lost to opacity.  We flew on, while the fog squatted heavy on the hilltops, forcing us to skirt around and between them.  But then the vapor began filling the valleys ahead; we were fast losing sight of the ground” (xi).

Delia, whom I consider to be a much more interesting writer than Mark, wrote, “Between the trees of the forest, amid the thorny undergrowth, under tangles of twisted twigs is a space that is more color than place.  It is a grayness painted by drooping limbs and distant branches that blur together and fade into nothingness.  It is not a shadow but a pause in the landscape, rarely noticed because our eyes touch the trees, not the emptiness on either side of them.  And elephants are the color of this space. As large as they are, elephants can disappear into these secret surroundings, dissolve into the background” (1).

In a chapter by Delia, “Upside-down Elephants,” she wrote, “As we stirred our pots, our slow movements around the fire cast giant wavering shadows against the glowing tree.  We ate in silence, and then I wished the men good night and moved over to my tent.  I was so fatigued I could have fallen asleep instantly, but it wasn’t even seven o’clock.  If I slept this early, midnight would wake me stiff and sore.  I dragged a small log from their woodpile, placed in front of the pup tent door as a stool, and sat reading by candlelight.  The stars were so bright in the black sky I felt I could reach up and touch them—even move them around.  But who would want to rearrange Scorpio or disturb Orion’s belt?” (25). 

This exciting and marvelous story—Secrets of the Savanna by Delia and Mark Owens—is one any nature-lover is bound to enjoy.  5 Stars

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.