Zimbabwe native Kim Donaldson was exposed to an unfettered Africa from an early age growing up on his family's ranch in Africa's bush country. His professional artist career started in the seventies and he has become known as "one of the world's leading wildlife artists".
Africa, An Artist's Journal is my first experience with Kim Donaldson and from the first page I was thoroughly impressed by his talent and obvious love for the land and animals. He takes the reader on safari with him as he reflects on the countries of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Tanzania with some comparisons on how the regions have changed over the last thirty years. The focus is on the national parks he has visited from each area and a few off beaten tracks.
You can't be a fan of Africa, its history and its people without looking at its land and wildlife. In the intro the artist asks the reader not to "view this book with a critical mind" but as a "collection of work that represents a wonderful period of travel in a unique continent." Through his journal excerpts and comfortable narrative I read tales about lions, buffalo, roan, antelope, gemsbuck, cheetah, otter (I know, I was surprised too), springbuck, vultures, meercat, brown hyaena, oryx, giraffe, ostrich, zebra, wild dog, and elephants. Some were tranquil, others not.
Tears were brought to my eyes many times due to the harshness, real and perceived, about his experiences. I learned about the sheer isolation of Chobe and of termite mounds as tall as elephants. He impressed on me that Africa is not for "sissies". He introduced me to the balance of nature, of life both interrupted and not interrupted by man. He had me cringing over the eminent danger in Chobe National Park when he and his crew inadvertently turned on a wrong road and he ended up at a military base with a gun to his head. Imagine being in your tent and being awoken "by the rasping of a lions breathing just outside". I couldn't fathom such a thing until I read Kim describing the experience of watching his friend's first experience.
And I haven't even mentioned the images yet. His ability to catch light and shadow are amazing.
Some of my favorites include the lone zebra basking in late afternoon sun on page 29. A group of impala sharing the shade of a sparse tree on page 41. A cheetah on a slow prowl looks as if you could reach out and scratch the fur under his chin on page 43. On page 62, two old buffalo bulls, their textured bodies, amazing! And of course many elephants and lions. I've always been in love with elephants but Kim introduced me to so much more. He even makes warthogs seem beautiful.
Along the way he talks of many people (usually friends) that he respects and who have had an impact on the flora and fauna of Africa. Very little is said about the tribes until he gets to Kenya when they are mentioned almost in passing.
Africa is not all doom and gloom. It is majestic and the experiences surreal. Surreal, like being stroked and sniffed by an elephant trunk in the dead of night. Kim Donaldson definitely brings the experience home. He wraps the book up by sharing his views on conservation, trophy hunting, poaching and land development giving me a different point-of-view to consider.
Despite this book's cumbersome size for reading I highly recommend it.
Africa, An Artist's Journal is available from Amazon.com.
Africa, An Artist's Journal is available from Amazon.ca.
M. E. Wood lives in Eastern Ontario, Canada. If you are going to find this eclectic reader and writer anywhere it is probably at her computer. For more information visit her official website.