Of all African game animals, the one which turns me on most is Kudu.
I’m not usually enthusiastic about the heads, antlers and skins. My Grandpa, who taught me all I know about hunting, started out as a pot hunter, then when he didn’t have to rely on wild meat any more discovered the joy of hunting for the sake of hunting (hunting for sport, as some call it) but he never got to dig the ‘trophy’ part of the thing. The antlers of the moose he shot were all around his place – serving as coat hangers, mostly – and ridiculously poor coat-hangers they were – and usually, the sight of any mounted antlered head reminds me of those coat-hangers and makes me think “I wouldn’t want this gather dust in my apartment”.
But Kudu antlers are different – when I get to see a good Kudu head, it makes my jaw drop off and my mind go “well, that’s bloody impressive, isn’t it?”
But even aside of the antlers, Kudu occupies a special place in my mind. It’s all probably because of Ernest Hemingway. “Green Hills of Africa” was not the first Safari book that I read, but it was the first that had a sense of reality. Like everything Hem ever wrote, it felt like it was happening now, and you could be a part of it if you wanted. I was struck by “Green Hills of Africa” twice – first in Russian translation, then when I got to read the original. I read the latter on the plane from DC to Moscow through Frankfurt. I don’t remember the flight at all – I was in Kenya with Hem and Pop and Memsahib and Karl, hunting Rhino, Sable and Kudu.
I don’t think Hem ever uses “Grey Ghost” to refer to Kudu in the book, and if he doesn’t, it’s not because he didn’t know the phrase. He used the “Ghost” as an implied image, the one which hangs in the background, unspoken, but understood, the subtext which ensures the depth of the book and colors the perception. It’s not an accident that the hunt for Greater Kudu is the axis of the story, making the pursuit of the “Grey Ghost” its main symbol – like, you think you’re hunting an animal, but you’re really after something else, which you which you will never be able to grasp with your hands. And even if you succeed in getting the animal, something unharvested will still be there – the Ghost, which is, by definition, a wandering restless soul – which you’ll be missing and which will be urging you to return.
So, while there’s no chance I can go for a safari in the next five years or so, when (if) I will, I will be after the Greater Kudu.
Afterwards, I might end up with my body and mind in the civilized place and my soul wandering restlessly in the African wilderness.
But at least I’m going to have these totally unnecessary, big, long and beautiful corkscrew antlers.
If you can’t have the substance, you can at least have the symbol.