Headwaters

by An Ordinary Man (the novel)

“He raised himself onto his elbow to look at her.  All the hills and valleys, textures and scents, cool dryness and warm wetness lay before him like an exotic landscape. The thin gold chain of the necklace she was wearing traced over the muscles and bones like the dotted path of a caravan on an old map of Saharan dunes but the rest remained uncharted and he sort of had to gather his courage like Speke must have as he left to find the headwaters of the Nile.  Such countryside never becomes second-nature.”

John Hanning Speke is credited by some with having discovered that the source of the Nile River was Lake Victoria in 1856.  The history is complicated because he was partnered with Richard Francis Burton, who became too sick with tropical fevers to make the last leg and thought Speke had reneged upon an agreement when Speke announced the discovery to the Royal Geographical Society in 1859, before Burton was able to return to England.  There was also controversy as to whether Speke had followed the river’s entire course, or just took an educated guess.  1859 was quite the year in England, as that was the same year Darwin published On the Origin of Species.  Poor Mr. Speke died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while hunting in 1864; it was officially determined to have been accidental, but could, of course, have been intentional.

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