Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Green Dreams in Timu Forest

Timu Forest is a protected forest in northeast Uganda, near the border with Kenya. Only parts of it preserve the arboreal glory once characteristic of much of Karamoja. In those days, great herds of elephant traversed the forest, sharing the space with other East African wildlife greats, like Cape buffalo, rhinos, giraffes, lions, and leopards. Today most of the forest is devoid of these creatures, though rumor has it that there is a lion living somewhere. What you can see are dik-dik, oribi, bushbucks, serval cats, ground squirrels, and a colorful variety of birds. The only human inhabitants of Timu Forest are the Ik and the Dodoth, though modern protected-forest standards are working to keep them out. Where we live in the area called Lokinene, fifteen or twenty villages are strung out along the border of the forest. And the Dodoth are probably only temporary visitors of the forest.


The word Timu is supposed to be derived from the Karamojong word akitimur which means something like ‘to rest’ and possibly overtones of ‘to swoon’. Legend has it that in the old days, Timu Forest used to be a place where you could lose yourself in green, misted fantasies beneath the forest canopy. The trees were tall and thick, allowing only ribbons and bands of sunlight to enter. Swirling mists enshrouded all who entered. Just a few days ago our neighbor, Philip Lojore, told me of ‘those days’ when he and his family lived in a lush section of the forest. He said ‘there was no hunger there’. Their green dream had to end, though, because the Turkana from Kenya made a habit of killing the Ik without just cause. Today much of the forest has been thinned out by fires and firewood gathering, but in a few remote areas, like where Lojore used to live, the real Timu can still be experienced.


I experienced it yesterday, and I wanted to tell you about it. Yesterday afternoon, I set out on foot, on my second attempt to find a way to a certain hill near our Ikland home that has a great view of the Kenyan Rift Valley (I could just ask an Ik the way, but then I wouldn’t be exploring, would I?) Though the sky had been promising rain, it had only sprinkled at the time, so I put on my camouflage rain jacket and rubber boots and headed down the trail. Because of the altitude (6500 ft.) we are often in the clouds. Now I was in the clouds, the silent mists that the Ik call gozhoik. As the gozhoik moved over the ridge, their moisture collected on the high grass, and I quickly got soaked from the waist down. I could hear the ‘squish, squish, squish’ as I trod along in my sopping gumboots. No use turning back now. I am already wet.


Through the fog I kept following a faint trail in hopes that the skies would clear up eventually. They didn’t. When I started going down an incline I was unfamiliar with, I decided I should sit and wait for a while. So I found a rock and sat down. I took off my boots and wringed out my socks. And I sat quietly. And I sat some more. The mists kept wafting gently through the woods. I could only see a stone’s throw in any direction. My world became small and unknown. Little by little, the forest eased at my presence. After a good long time, birds began to stir. A pair of bulbuls came to loudly investigate. The hopped from branch to branch, trying to get the angle that would identify the strange creature huddled on the rock (me). Down the valley through the haze, something—I don’t know what it was. A bird? A monkey?—began a loud, howling call that echoed eerily up the hill. Something else rustled in the grass near my rock.


Then, my mind began to wander. Nearly hypnotized, I began to remember my own dreams: dreams of life, dreams of career, dreams of childhood, dreams of Africa. Over an hour passed while I sat in my green mysted daydreams. And that is exactly what I had been told happens in Timu Forest. After some time, the clouds began to pass, and my dewdrop blanket began to recede. In a matter of minutes, my view went from a stone’s throw to probably fifty miles or more into Kenya. My claustrophobic forest cocoon of time and space split open to reveal not only the slope I had stopped on, but slopes going up and down in all directions. Few trees gave way to a whole forest, and my moment of eternal time gave way to late evening. And so I started back toward home. I never reached my original destination, but I experienced Timu Forest, and that I will never forget. 


Tammy On the Go said...

I could "see" it with you...beautiful

The Reeds said...

That is awesome. I can't imagine that there... Looks like we'll just have to come and spend some time up there with guys now won't we?

I loved this.

Thanks for sharing.

Jennie said...

Wow!! Sounds magical & a step back into time...love this, thanks so much for sharing Terrill! Miss you guys!