It’s time to depart the Karoo and head back to Cape Town, leaving the gorgeous desert sunsets to JP and Hester, our friends and gracious hosts at Ganora. Saturday morning marks the end of our 4th extended stay near Nieu Bethesda, and it’s always with some regret that we leave them to the peace and tranquility of the region. Without neighbors or roads close to the farm, and away from the light pollution of the bigger South African cities, a clear evening sky is an image to remember. Venus, the brightest shining object during sunset, appears at the horizon soon to be followed by the Milky Way which stretches from the horizon across from the house in the image, arcing overhead, and disappearing behind the sandstone outcrop behind the cottage. The southern cross makes its way into view to the East, and all of the other constellations make their way into view. Orion’s Belt may look the same, with three stars aligned in a row, but, to us, the stars outlining his sword are upside down. Our African colleagues jest that this is the correct way to view Orion; we demure.
Objects not normally visible even in a quiet area such as Waterville are now obvious. There are the satellites that orbit Earth, seeming to float across the sky at a low trajectory, glowing reddish. Then, there are the meteorites that streak the night, originating from any part of the sky and heading towards the planet, only to be vaporized in their descent. The more vapor, the better the show. The pitch black background makes for memorable evenings, allowing us to retain a mental image of how small our planet is, and how much more there is out there that we yet understand.
Our two weeks in the desert examining the rock sequence that records the Permo-Triassic extinction event have given us some perspective not only on the vastness of the universe in which we live, but also of the immensity of Earth history locked away in the geological record, of times past that serve as models for how the planet has responded to times of crisis. If we can add a little more knowledge to this puzzle, we’ll have been successful. We won’t remember (or maybe some of us won’t) the long hours, fatiguing conditions, and enormous effort to make small strides towards achieving our goal. But, we will remember the camaraderie, conversation, and intellectual stimulation that is Ganora.