Wilderness – why give a damn??

Wilderness – why give a damn??

Water lilies on the Chobe River – golden in the last rays of the sun.

The last couple of columns have been about wilderness. Which ultimately begs the question: why give a damn? The answer to this question, as detailed below, differs for every person. The account below is unique to me – I trust at least some of it will resonate with you. This is an account not based on facts like ROI – although they provide useful justifications when required. My personal answer to this question is based on a more visceral response – a series of impressions which will ultimately occupy a unique corner of my mind to the end of my days. 

Sitting writing this on a sunny afternoon in Johannesburg, I contemplate the incredible array of shades of green in my garden, stark against a sky of the deepest cobalt blue – a world washed clean by the plentiful summer rains. I know, with deep certainty, that this is where I belong. Different places have, or take on, different meanings for each of us during a lifetime. For me, a large part of Jozi’s significance is its proximity to our wilderness.

The vastness of the Namib Desert.

From the vast reaches of the Namib Desert to the deep blue of our oceans. From the woodland savannahs of Botswana to the subtropical paradise that is Port St Johns. From Pilanesberg’s volcanic splendour to the red dunes of the Kalahari. All but a short flight, or slightly longer drive, away. My love for the wilderness is based on a deep, spiritual connection with the continent of my birth, a profound sense of understanding that this is where I am meant to be. And so, I invite you to join me on this journey of recounting those impressions, ultimately resulting in a ‘feeling’ of why wilderness is important. 

It is a place to ground yourself, to destress and to regroup. To reconnect with something larger than yourself, both peaceful and exhilarating at the same time. Each ‘experience’ has both the ‘known’, the familiar, as well as the unknown, the element of surprise and perhaps even a little danger. So, let’s explore some of the impressions of the wilderness…

Waking in the pre-dawn, the deep silence of the early hours gives way as the darkness lifts for the pale, pre-dawn light. The (very) early birds begin to chirp, letting us know that all is well in their world, and that dawn is on the way. Slowly, the world bursts into birdsong, regardless of where you are in Africa. 

Sunrise and sunset in Africa – those magical ‘between’ times…

The cool and the stillness of first light, creating the impression that the world is reborn anew each day. Long stemmed grass and waterholes gilded by the first rays of the rising sun. A perfect spider’s web, made visible by the drops of dew clinging to its gossamer threads. The fresh smell of the early morning, a sense that each new day is as it was at the beginning of time – an eternal rhythm of day and night, months and seasons, reassuring in their regularity.

As the day heats up, the cicadas begin their shrill chorus – a surreal sound that seems to emanate from nowhere and everywhere. The African savannah at midday has a sense of the other-worldly, with the heat creating mirages and a horizon which shimmers as though fluid. It is no surprise that it is believed that, in Africa, ghosts walk at midday. Just sit, and ‘exist’, soak in the heat and the sounds. Just ‘be’ in this world of extremes, and you will understand from whence this belief emanates.

In the midday heat, the horizon shimmers, indistinct, almost fluid…

Slowly the afternoon cools, and the bush seems to exhale as though finally able to once again breathe. The lethargy of the animals is gone, and they are playful.  The smell of the earth is different now – full of dust, and the aroma of bruised herbs as the animals make their way down to the waterholes. 

Leopard cubs play in the cool of the afternoon…

As the sun moves towards the horizon, the clink of ice in a glass and the liquid gurgle of a perfect G&T being poured is as synonymous with the African savannah as the call of a fish eagle echoing across the plains, or the hippo snorting in the river. 

The evocative call of the Fish Eagle…

After dark has fallen, there is once again a change of mood. Two jackals call somewhere, and in a tree nearby an owl hoots. There is an edge, perhaps hearkening back to our primate-like ancestors, and it no longer feels safe to be out and about. A full moon rises, and the acacia trees are now silhouettes etched in silver, throwing dark shadows on the earth. A lion roars is the distance and a hyaena whoops a little closer… 

At times like these, there is a primal sense of recognition, a sense of foreboding, an awareness of the danger, perhaps left in our DNA from a time when we were still a part of the food chain. It is in these moments that I am so very aware of my mortality, yet completely in the moment and more alive than I have ever felt in a city.

With the darkness comes uncertainty…

Take me to the places on the earth that teach you how to dance,
the places where you can risk letting the world break your heart.
And I will take you to the places where the earth beneath my feet
and the stars overhead make my heart whole again and again.

– Oriah Mountain Dreamer

In this evermore complex world, we need to find healthy ways of coping and managing stress, of returning to source. To me, there is no better way than going into the wilderness. I’m not sure, when considering these experiences, how one assigns “value” to this wild world. What I do know without a shadow of a doubt, is that we would be much poorer without it…

#wilderness #soulcountry #wildernesscalling #serenity

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

Share this post

Start typing and press Enter to search

Shopping Cart