I have been privileged enough to stand inside and outside this particular cathedral twice in my life. It is a mind-fumblingly incredible experience – the grandeur, the history, the craftsmanship, the creativity of humankind. And this is just one example. I have had similar thrills in castles in Scotland, exploring the Roman Forum and Colosseum in Rome … and standing outside Notre Dame de Paris.
Over a billion dollars raised for the rebuild after the Notre Dame fire in just two days … I am floored. What does this say about how we place value as a collective? Is it because a rebuild like this is in our control? We can clearly see where the money will go, assured of the outcome?
My creativity is sparked by Nature. I want Nature, my muse, to stay around for many, many generations to come. Intrinsically valuable and infinitely inspiring just because it is.
I think my concern for the natural world is shared by many other humans including the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dr Jane Goodall and the delightful Greta Thunberg. It seems even with this calibre of activist we cannot raise $1 billion in two days to put towards restoring Earth?
Very introspective at the moment…. a middle age thing perhaps? Today I have been thinking about the label “conservationist”. I have thought of myself as a wildlife conservationist since I was probably 10 or 11 years old.
maybe 4 years old, sitting on the back steps by the kitchen door looking out
over this part of the Highveld that would one day soon be taken over by the
southern suburbs of Johannesburg. Our
house was one of the first in the new subdivision, still surrounded by the
grassland and mixed acacia bushveld typical of this area.
It’s May on the Highveld and everything is tinder dry. A black patchwork shows where the veld fires have been this season in the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve just across the road from our house. Walking through one of these patches bits of burnt grass crackling underfoot. Then the dull thud of footsteps on dry, baked red earth. But always life – the titter of a group of red-faced mousebirds in the acacia, the screech of the fiscal shrike, the various species of dove cooing, the flash of red from the black collared barbet darting by, a rustle in the grass maybe a snake or the flash of a tail as a mongoose disappears deeper into the bush and, of course, the black-shouldered kite sitting on the powerline surveying all.
As I got older we ventured further afield, driving during family holidays to protected spaces to witness this life, to immerse ourselves in it temporarily. The most natural thing in the world, where else would you want to just BE? Kruger National Park, the Soutpansberg, the Drakensberg, Umfolozi, Mkuze, Karoo National Park, Tsitsikama National Park to name a few.
time I was a teenager being back at home in the big smoggy city felt
strained. I felt cut off from the
natural world where I belonged. Even in
a city like Johannesburg where the wildness of Africa still finds its way in to
the urban space, I still felt uneasy. And so I came to understand the
fragmentation of wild spaces and how I would want to spend the rest of my life speaking
for the voiceless.
strange journey it has been and continues to be… my conservationist
journey. It certainly hasn’t been a
linear career path and there have been many times when I thought I had lost my
way completely. Thinking how could where
I am and what I am doing right now possibly be about following my passion. But what I have realised recently is that
every apparent detour I have had along the way has equipped me with a rather
unique world view.
It quickly became clear that my work was not going to be that of the traditional conservation ecologist. I have had to come to terms with the educator within. To work through the discomfort I feel as an introvert to relate to people of all ages and stages in the course of sharing one all important message – wild lives and wild spaces matter.
The upshot of all this is that the model of conservation I was immersed in as a child is no longer valid, if it ever was. We cannot hope to make a difference for wildlife and wild spaces by putting fences up and keeping human communities out of the picture. Wildlife conservation should be an everyday practice for all of us wherever we find ourselves on this planet. We need to learn to live in harmony with the other living beings we share this planet with.
in my more selfish moments I think over the incredible moments I have had in
wild spaces and those magical close encounters with elephant, hippo, leopard, and
cheetah – wild ones in wild habitat. Not
ones that I had to pay an awful lot of money for in a contrived 5 star luxury
But more often I want people to have these sorts of magical encounters with wildlife in their own backyards so to speak. Let it be a normal, everyday occurrence – reconnecting humanity back with nature.
These days my original passion for wildlife conservation feels closer, my course more true…. My journey as a conservationist continues…
I have always loved this word – Ubuntu – the philosophy and the worldview behind it.
Here is a little reflection one month out from my upcoming African adventure.
I am not sure of a lot of things but one thing I am definitely sure of is that we are all connected. We impact each other every day for good or ill.
What I find particularly profound about Ubuntu is there is still room for individuality within this human story. To me this means that my actions count. Who I am and what I do makes a difference and is significant in the greater scheme of things. How empowering! This gives me hope in the face of all the tragedy and heart ache I see every day.
Taking this idea one step further I like to think of “we” as all the other living beings we share the planet with. I believe we are connected also. And while some groups of humans have not figured this out yet, I can be a voice for the voiceless. That tends to be what gets me out of bed in the morning, heading to work to teach conservation education to the next generation. A very urbanised, disconnected next generation.
And so I have been led to connect with people like Carla Geyser, founder of the Blue Sky Society Trust and organiser of the Journey with Purpose expedition I am embarking on in a month’s time. Here is woman who by her actions and what she has chosen to do believes in the power of Ubuntu. Definitely a kindred spirit!
Due to the ongoing effects of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, our itinerary has had to change. We will head further south. The original collaring project in Gile National Reserve will hopefully go ahead later in the year.
I also follow Dr Michelle Henley on social media through the work she does with Elephants Alive. Here is another individual dedicated to wildlife conservation but not leaving humanity out of the picture.
Obviously much of the focus in my news feed will be about my beloved corner of Mama Africa and the amazing individuals dedicating their lives to helping wildlife as well as communities of humans in this part of the world.
But I also work with passionate conservationists everyday. Check out this link to an amazing wildlife experience in Sumatra. The incredible woman who put this together is also a wife, mom, team leader, field conservationist and all round inspirational human being!
And I could go on and on with examples of humans who work everyday on the assumption of Ubuntu… our individual actions bringing us together, uniting us in our efforts to make the world a better place.
What I love about this is that conservation of wildlife and wild places can no longer be seen to separate humanity from the picture. We have to take this journey together, learn to live in harmony not just with each other but with all the species we share the planet with. It is a huge responsibility and we cannot see the kindness and compassion it takes as a weakness.
I will finish off with a mention that the fundraising efforts continue, even though the itinerary has changed. And again, I do know that we are all saturated with requests for money for a million different good causes… but maybe this one speaks to you? A bit of Ubuntu
Today we lost my Uncle Leslie to cancer. Thankfully he passed peacefully in his sleep with his loving, steadfast wife by his side.
He’s my dad’s younger brother, only 62 when he passed.
Mom, Dad, my sister and I have had the rare opportunity to pause from life’s business and spend the day together. A few tears, a few laughs and lots of remembering. Remembering a time when we got to be together as extended family, living close by to each other and sharing the every day stuff. We all took that for granted. But how could we know that life’s journey would separate our family, putting oceans and thousands of miles between us.
This is not the first time we have had to grieve from afar. Feeling so helpless. Not able to be practical support and physical comfort for loved ones “on the ground” dealing with all the logistics that go with a fellow human passing on.
So today I am reminded again of just how blessed I am to have such an incredible family made up of strong, loyal, resilient and wonderfully loving individuals. Even though the miles have separated us for 20 years or so now, I have a wealth of rich, warm memories to draw on. Time spent in magical places with these humans I get to call family…. so utterly grateful.
Leslie was not a father and he was sometimes an awkward uncle – not sure what to make of his older brother’s crazy daughters! But he was always kind. I saw him as a good husband to his wife and a doting son to my grandmother. He had that Gill generosity, grit and determination – always willing to help, lending practical support in any way he could. A little rough around the edges maybe but pretty marshmallow on the inside.