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Africa Notes addresses the following question: How are exceptional travel experiences, especially ones taken to realize life-long dreams, not only integrated into your memories, but also informed by your past experiences, your knowledge, and your values? In this sense, the book’s theme is transferable to other aspects of human lives as well as to experiences that are not necessarily chosen but nevertheless have a major impact on our personal futures. There is plenty of biology in Africa Notes, but that biology is quite different from what you would find in the rest of the tourism or African natural history literature; this difference is enough to qualify Africa Notes as literary non-fiction. Chapter subjects range from the author’s wife’s first encounter with a lion, to the view of elephant-wrecked trees as sculptures, to the back-home behavior that can be attributed directly to precious time spent in sub-Saharan Africa.
The author brings to these ecotourism adventures the background, interests, and observational skills acquired during a career as a professional biologist, writer, and artist. Thus Africa Notes is a sort of travel writing, but heavily laced with a kind of natural history not really found in the travel literature. Field observations for Africa Notes were derived from two safaris, one to the Okavango Delta in Botswana and one to the Serengeti in Tanzania. In that sense, the thousands of digital images and pages of notes are not much different from those brought home by the other thirty million tourists who visit the continent annually. A significant fraction of those images, however, were taken from the perspective of a professional biologist planning his non-scientific writing, a good example being hundreds of photographs of elephant-sculpted trees, taken from distances of a few yards to a few centimeters. While in Africa, the author was constantly thinking about what a person with his background could, and should, be saying to the rest of the world through his writing. This kind of thinking has shaped the narrative; the author’s goal to let a reader see the experience in a unique way.