Nostalgia

Our last full day in Xe Sap came sooner than I had expected: On other surveys I felt the weight of the days and was more and more ready to head home as the weeks wore by. But Xe Sap gave me an energy, a vitality, that pushed me on. Perhaps it was the anticipation that this area, unlike many regions I had surveyed in neighboring Vietnam, had wildlife. It hadn’t been snared out. I imagined that this is what central Vietnam was like ten, fifteen, thirty years ago: before the tidal wave of population growth had crashed into the natural-resource-rich forests. On an intuitive level I felt that here, at last, was an area that was indisputably worth saving, and this prospect fuelled my passion for the work. Sure, I was tired. Even knocking on the door of flat-out physical exhaustion. But despite this I still had the umph to keep going. Unfortunately this was not an option: we were on a tight schedule, our permissions only given for a specific set of days, and those days were now at an end. They had slipped by as smoothly as water burbling along a mountain stream.

The last day would be an easy day as jungle days go: we couldn’t venture too far afield. There were many tasks on the to-do list: leech tubes to label and sort, equipment to pack, GPS data to organize. Our afternoon would be filled with desk work, albeit without the desk. But despite our busy afternoon in camp we still had the morning to spend in the forest. I would savor every minute of it. I had one more camera trap left to set. I thought hard about where to set it and decided on a ravine two kilometers from camp. There was nothing particularly special about the spot I had in mind: I hadn’t found any evidence of ungulate feeding sign, I hadn’t seen any hoofprints, there were no natural contours in the land that would funnel wildlife to that area. But I had a feeling that this would be a good place for a camera. And here we come to an important, if often unstated, rule of camera-trapping: Gut instinct can be just as important as the more typical ratiocinations. There was something about this spot that felt promising. For some reason that I couldn’t put my finger on it struck me as an ideal location for striped rabbit: with a little imagination, I could see one of these secretive tiger-striped lagomorphs hop-shuffling through the low-lying vegetation. I gave special care to this camera setup: it was, after all, the last camera I would be able to set in Laos for the near future (later that year I would be Vietnam-bound, returning to my old stomping-grounds near Hue). Khamhou and I found a tree that provided a clear shot of the valley floor. We strapped the camera to the tree, wedging sticks between the camera and the tree to provide the ideal slightly down-looking angle. Then I meticulously cleared away obstructing vegetation so that when the shot came, if it came, we would have a clear view of the subject. At last, when everything was finished, we turned the camera on and began the long walk back to camp. As we hiked back I was again reminded that this was our last day. I was swept with nostalgia for this place, this forest: I hadn’t even left Xe Sap and yet I was already missing it.

Khamhou with our last camera trap
Khamhou with our last camera trap
View from our last camera trap
View from our last camera trap

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