Good Friday morning ...

Of all the things I have written about East Africa over the years, I have never written about the Serengeti. Although most of my work among the Maasai for the past twenty years has been either in or on the eastern edge of the Serengeti, it has never been the subject of my pen. I have decided to change that since it is that time of the year when the largest mammal migration in the world begins in the Ngorongoro area of the southern Serengeti.

The Serengeti is a vast ecosystem in east-central Africa that spans 12,000 square miles. The vastness of the area gives rise to its name, which is derived from the Maasai language meaning "endless plains." When you enter this massive expanse of land, you know how true the name is, for it appears to be endless, going on to the distant horizon.

The region known as the Serengeti is located in north Tanzania and extends to southwestern Kenya. It encompasses Serengeti National Park and a number of other protected game reserves and conservation areas maintained by the governments of Tanzania and Kenya.

Altitudes in the Serengeti range from 3, 020 feet to 6,070 feet. The usually warm and dry climate is interrupted by two rainy seasons --- March to May, and a shorter season in October and November.

The Serengeti landscape is quite varied with flat-topped acacias, rolling plains and open grasslands that are bordered by hills and rocky formations. Extreme weather conditions plague the area, with harsh winds combining with heat to create a harsh environment.

The expansiveness of the Serengeti is interrupted by Ol Doinyo Lengai (the Mountain of God), the only active volcano on the continent and the only volcano that still ejects carbonatite lavas that turn white when exposed to air. When it rains, the ash turns into a calcium-rich material that is hard as cement.

The southeastern area lies in the shadow of the Ngorongoro highlands and is composed of shortgrass and treeless plains as this area does get rain. Some 43 miles west, acacia woodlands rise suddenly and extend west to Lake Victoria and north to the Loita Plains of Kenya.

The landscape is dotted with a number of granite outcroppings called kopjes (Danish for "bald head") which are large rocky formations that are the result of long-ago volcanic activity. These shapes appear abruptly across the landscape and seem to be way out of place, but there they stand, the only resistance to the harsh Serengeti wind.

The great marvel that attracts so many to the Serengeti is the annual animal migration that begins in December. It begins in the southern Serengeti near the Ngorongoro area which offers rich grasslands for feeding. This is a huge attraction for tourists and while many think it is an intense and short-lived phenomenon, it is actually a fairly slow trek. It occurs during this time because there is plenty of rain-ripened grass available for the 750,000 zebra that precede the 1,200,000 wildebeest followed by the hundreds of thousands of other game bringing up the rear. The Serengeti is inhabited by huge numbers of Thomson's and Grant's gazelles, hundreds of thousands of various types of antelope, thousands of lions and a significant but uncounted number of cheetahs and leopards.

The migration moves from place to place always looking for and finding fresh grasslands and water and finally moving back to the general area where they began. It is said that some 250,000 wildebeest die during the journey, a total of 500 miles. Death is usually from thirst, hunger, exhaustion or attack by predators of which there are many.

All of this unfolding scene ... the assortment of animals, the variety of grasses, the metamorphic kopjes, the occasional gnarled tree, the expansive blue, cloudless sky, the steady 70 degree daytime temperature ... it all speaks of the heart of one who believes in the Creator God who "made me and all creatures" ... who said "Let the land produce vegetation, seed-bearing plants and trees" and "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kind ... and wild animals each according to its kind."

The marvel of God's wonderful and magnificent creation is all around us every day but stands out in marvelous ways when we leave our daily routines and travel to new places. Whether it is hiking the trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains or climbing the paths of the Grand Canyon or flying across the expanse of an ocean or walking the marshy shoreline of a tidal stream or river or standing on the edge of the Serengeti ... each is a powerful testimony to the creative ability of our gracious God ... Maker of heaven and earth. What a joy it is to behold His creation through our own eyes ... to hear it through the bustling sounds of nature ... or to sense it through the sometimes casual, sometimes violent movement of wind and creature and even our human activity.

                        O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder
                          Consider all the works Thy hands have made
                        I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
                          Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed;
                        Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
                          How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
                        Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
                          How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

This Thanksgiving weekend take a few moments to thank God for the marvel of His creation which we get to enjoy every single day ... and don't forget to thank Him for you being part of it.

Enjoy your weekend ...