Friday, September 7, 2018

OUT OF EAST AFRICA: FINDING TRIUMPH IN THIS VALE OF TEARS



JOAN AND ALAN ROOT

This week's arts and culture column begins:

On my summer travels this year, I stopped to riffle through a sidewalk cart of used books.

There I unearthed a treasure by journalist Mark Seal: “Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Death in Africa” (Random House, $14).

In it I learned a bit of the checkered history of East Africa, and of Kenyan wildlife photographers Joan and Alan Root. Their heyday was the 1960s and ’70s and their films include “Mysterious Castles of Clay” (termites), “The Year of the Wildebeest” and “Two in the Bush” (don't miss the last 10 minutes or so, when the two coax a spitting cobra to firehose venom directly onto Joan’s eyeglasses).

I finished “Wildflower” on the plane home. This was the passage that stuck:

“One of the last films Alan and Joan Root produced together was entitled ‘The Legend of the Lightning Bird.’ As always, she and Alan spent a year together in the bush, persistently filming the hammerkop — known as the lightning bird and regarded as the king of Africa’s birds — in its inexplicable annual ritual: building a massive and flamboyant nest, a stack of scavenged vegetation as big as a bathtub, complete with a thick thatched roof crowned by feathers, animal hooves, and sometimes even wildebeest tails, only to have the magnificent structure decimated by time and predators.


READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.

CRAZY RIVER: EXPLORATION AND FOLLYIN EAST AFRICA
BY RICHARD GRANT

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