California safari prompts fantasies of Africa
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, June 22, 2012

I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.

Karen Blixen, "Out of Africa"

I had a tent in Africa, or the California version of Africa, in the Sonoma Hills just outside the Napa Valley. The 40th latitude line from the equator runs through these highlands, 75 miles from San Francisco; the altitude is between 90 and 1,100 feet.

When I was there in mid-June, the days were sunny and cool; the nights would have been very cold in the tent if it hadn't been for the electric blanket and layers of quilts.

I'd always wanted to go on safari in Africa, see the wild animals of the Serengeti. Safari West, "the spirit of Africa in the heart of wine country", was close enough for someone who no longer enjoys long airplane flights, doesn't want to get shots, and tries not to be within a thousand miles of savage civil wars.

So when planning this year's vacation with my family, I searched for "African safaris in the United States", and found one a short drive from their home in northern Nevada.

I half-expected a glorified zoo, but Safari West is "an authentic African wildlife preserve a working ranch" which holds more biological diversity than one could get with any one real African safari. Most animals have been bred here in the United States to preserve, protect and showcase various species that would be found from Madagascar to the Kalahari Desert on the other continent.

From our tent we could see the herd of reticulated giraffe, native to Kenya, and walk to the new exhibit of flamingos, various shades of pink from South Africa.

This privately owned park, through exchanges with other zoos and parks, helps keep the gene pool healthy for various species, some of which are considered to be virtually extinct in the wild but may someday be re-introduced there. This mission made the cost of a one-night stay and two-hour jeep excursion a contribution to more than just our family's multi-generational enjoyment.

Lance and Mary have been taking my grandchildren camping since they were toddlers, but they had never slept in a double bed-sized bunk (11-year-old twins had easy dibs on the upper: I won the king-size bed that my knees could easily get me out of). The tent was from South Africa, open with screened sections all around for air during the day; we were quick to lower the flaps when the sun set and the wind rose from the nearby Pacific Ocean. Must admit we turned on the heater in the attached full bath.

By 9, we were all in bed reading, the covers up to our chins; later in the dark we could listen to the squawking of the flamingos and the occasional howl and screech from somewhere outside. I was getting up every few hours to step out on the deck, look at the stars in a clear sky above the trees.

I could imagine I was Karen Blixen, who took her Limoge dinnerware with her to the farm, trying to introduce an element of European civilization to her African experience. I remember thinking as I watched the movie "Out of Africa" decades ago, that in her place I would quickly revert to our hominid ancestry, be squatting in a loincloth near a lightning-caused fire, gnawing on an antelope bone. But I was young then. Now I want a picnic lunch with plastic cutlery, and indoor plumbing.

The next day we went down the hill to a buffet breakfast, then climbed into an open jeep for our safari. We had to stay in the vehicle, as our guide jumped out to open and close the various gates dividing the animals who don't get along. The zebras mixed happily with the wildebeest herd, but the cheetahs and rhinos had their own large enclosures. We saw the dangerous cape buffalo from a distance, but I could have touched an ostrich, had I been so presumptuous.

There were many varieties of antelope, including one that can kill a lion by impaling it on sharp curved horns. We saw a newborn antelope, protected by its father as its mother was eating the afterbirth. A lemur nursed its baby in a tree.

I could imagine myself at that level of my kind's evolution, catching the sun's earliest rays on a topmost branch. I could also imagine myself staying in a tent at Safari West for the rest of the 2012 election year.

I'm back in Massachusetts but, catching up on the news I think of what Doc Ford said in the latest Randy Wayne White novel: "We gave up life in the trees, the ability to hang by our toes and scratch our own backs, for this?"

Never mind. Without those protective fences, life in the African wild wasn't and isn't a picnic for anything but the largest predators, which we can vote against this year.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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