My first thought when we stepped out of our nine-passenger Land Rover was that the terrain looked something like home. I live near the American River and not too far from the Sacramento River in Sacramento County, California, and riparian habitat is familiar. But when I looked more closely at the trees in Zambia, I could see they were very different from those at home. Acacia trees were the most dramatic and familiar; they are iconic images of Africa. They look sculpted and wind-blown, and the tops of each layer of growth look intentionally sheared flat. Sausage trees have dense, thick foliage and can grow up to more than sixty feet tall. They have magnificent colorful magenta and white flowers as wide as a fist that produce hard, cucumber-like fruit. The fruit can weigh as much as twenty pounds, has many medicinal uses, and contains moisture in its pulp that elephants and other animals also go to for moisture during the dry season. Elephants disperse the seeds of sausage trees in their dung and help propagate them.

Red Velvet Lice

Red Velvet Lice

Manda our guide helped us train our eyes to see birds, animals or plants we would never have noticed, even the teeny fuzzy, neon-red lice that live in sandy areas and are called Christmas spiders because their bright red velvety appearance makes them look like they're wearing a Santa Claus outfit. Zambians believe these insects drop down from the sky because they only show up a few weeks before Christmas, but they come out of the soil after a heavy rain. At home now when I ride my bicycle along the bike path at the river near my house, I imagine a small group of elephants emerging from the trees, headed to the river for a long drink of water in our Sacramento summer heat. If I let my imagination wander, I can even see giraffe heads sticking up from behind the shorter trees as they daintily pick foliage for breakfast.

Written by Patricia Cole

An Africa Hope Fund board member for 7 years, Pat is a writer and a conservation activist. After traveling to Zambia, she became dedicated to helping Africa Hope Fund provide education to the next generation of Africans and ensure their future by protecting wildlife. Find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter, or on her websites www.writepatwrite.com and www.patmcole.com.

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Carol Van Brugen