I first visited Sabuk (in north-central Kenya) about twenty-five years ago (when delivering, on foot, young camels from one ranch to another!). About seven years ago and by coincidence, it is in this remote place that my mother ended up living. Since she moved there, my family and I have visited the place numerous times. It is a wilderness, a great retreat and a spellbinding place. The Ewaso Ng’iro river flows along the eastern edge of the land; this is the only river to flow into the arid rangelands of northern Kenya (and it never makes it to the sea, petering out until it disappears entirely). This alone makes it compelling in that it brings life to many people and animals living in this wilderness but the section of the Ewaso Ng’iro river that forms the edge of Sabuk is also one of the most dramatic of the river. Here, the river starts its descent from the Laikipia Plateau to the arid Samburu lowlands and over millions of years it has cut a deep gorge, slowly eroding the hard granite bedrock.


There are four parameters that play themselves out across the Ewaso Ng’iro and its granite bed. First, there’s the seasonality of the river. Over the past few years, I have seen it at its lowest recorded level in the middle of a deep and devastating drought. I have also seen it turbulent and wild in flood – the result of heavy rains upstream (although looking at the driftwood caught high up on the banks and hearing the stories of its rage when it really floods, it is clear that I have not really seen it at its wildest). But each time we visit, the river flows differently. Second, there is the light – direct, diffused or reflected, the light is always compelling. Third, there are the textures and forms of the rocks. Water, one of nature’s most powerful sculptors, has been at work on these rocks. This has not only sculpted the rocks into fascinating forms – which would have been inspiration for Henry Moore – but it has also revealed different textures. Finally, of course, at every moment, the ever-moving water meets rock, creating textures, forms and splashes of light.


All this makes for a deeply compelling place as these elements play themselves out and every time we visit Sabuk, I spend long hours (especially in the early mornings and evenings) along the river. The challenge, then, is to make sense of what appears at first to be a jumble of rock, water and light. I have little doubt that one could spend a lifetime seeking compositions in this jumble and then trying, in fleeting moments, to bring those elements into harmony with each other.


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