Mid-October. I am a couple of weeks into my strange sabbatical. Lots of taking stock and reflection.
It seems someone decided it was wild-for-nature October too, which I appreciate. This was my #wildoctoberart contribution. The art prompt that inspired this sketch and colour was misunderstood 😀
So this wild heart has an #inktober story to share. The meaning behind the new ink on my arm and how Dragonfly Travelling come to be…
I was probably about 14 or 15 years old. It was one of our family wanderings around South Africa. This time into the Drakensberg Mountains and a place called Injisuthi.
There are no words that really capture the grandeur of this place. It is truly wild and the magic of Mama Africa sparkles across the fast flowing streams and flits through the dells and gullys, then soars up and over the grass covered hills, along the cliffs and into the caves. Here the evidence of early human wanderers lingers.
Dad and I intended to try a 4 to 5 hour hike up into the mountains. A couple of hours in we lost the trail completely. Even retracing our steps didn’t work and we were soon well and truly lost. As the afternoon drew in so did the black storm clouds. We could see the river in the valley below that we would have to get down to and cross to find the road that would take us back to camp. Contouring along the ridges trying to find a path down to the river proved challenging as most the dells were thick with thorny brambles. We pushed through and eventually came to a shallow enough spot to cross the river. As we were crossing the heavens opened and the storm broke over us, thunder and lightning lending even more drama to our predicament. I had removed my hiking boots to cross barefoot. Once across I sat on a large flat granite rock to put my boots back on. The boots were new and had given me blisters. I was so tired by this point and pretty wobbly from feeling the concern of being lost in the mountains. We had been away from camp 6 or 7 hours by now and I knew my Mom would be worrying. So I sat on the rock trying to put those boots back on my broken feet. The rain stopped in those few minutes and the sun shone through a small break in the cloud. It shone down on my rock and in that moment two crimson dragonflies alighted onto the rock beside me. They weren’t there more than a few seconds and they were gone, the sun disappeared and the rain came back. We hiked to the road as the storm continued and a passing vehicle offered us a ride back to camp. We accepted gratefully, returning 8 hours after our departure to the relief of everyone.
That moment on the rock with those two dragonflies has left an indelible imprint on my soul. It has taken me years to find ways to express and articulate its significance. The fact I was with my Dad. The fact it was a challenging situation. The fact that it was in those magical mountains of my homeland. The fact it was dragonflies. So much symbolism…. I am an Enneagram Type 4 and we love us some symbolism 😀
It might seem strange to say but the dragonfly moment has become the expression of my sense of place in this world – my deep connection with Nature, with my family, with my roots, with my purpose. It turns out there is an African proverb that expresses this idea too. Ubuntu – I am because we are. For me we includes all of Nature. This has been grounding, particularly in the past couple of years as I have moved towards living my purpose.
And so I began to articulate the significance of this moment. It started with an email address, then a simple tattoo on my wrist. Now in the completed ink story on my wrist including all the colour possible with the African daisies! And this blog…. which still freaks me out every time I am compelled to post! Like I say in my little bio – an act of vulnerability for this wandering introvert. But as a lovely kindred spirit of mine says “growth through discomfort”.
Do you have a significant moment with Nature you can draw on? A moment that grounds you in who you are in the grand scheme of things and how you want to live on this Earth? What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your children and their children?
As the incomparable Sir David Attenborough says in his latest doco (a must watch!), we need “to move from being apart from nature to become a part of nature once again”.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
COVID-19 lockdown day four here in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Time at home to really consider the space between stimulus and response.
I wanted to share with you some of what I’ve been reading
and watching. Trying to make sense of all of this – where is our opportunity to
However, I should say first that not all of us are in a
position to reflect on this current situation in the way that I am able to. Self-care and self-compassion will look
different for each of us at the moment.
Some of us out there will be dealing first hand with the tragedy that is
So, it is to those of us who are simply doing our bit by staying home, physical distancing and encouraging being together apart, that I address these reflections to. And reflecting is important right now as Nature has given us this space between.
“Reflecting is not a lazy way to avoid moving forward; it is a crucial part of untangling ourselves from the dominant cultural patterns that are so easy to replicate when we ‘just do it’. Reflecting takes skill”
Let’s start with what seems to be the unravelling picture of
the causes of the unprecedented time we now find ourselves in.
Gates’ TED talk 2015 – this is a link to Bill Gates’ eerily accurate prediction
about epidemics and what we would need to prepare. His suggestions mostly focus on building capacity
for epidemiologists, innovation, health ministry preparedness and government
collaboration. Much of this seems to
have fallen on deaf ears and the work hasn’t been done.
Gates’ TED Connects March 2020 – How we must respond to the coronavirus pandemic. In this 50 minute conversation with Bill Gates
a lot of ground is covered with regard to testing, therapeutics, vaccines and other
logistics around managing the pandemic.
What I love is his pragmatic optimism, his belief in
humanity and his unswerving belief in our creativity in terms of science and
innovation. But I do wonder, if we are
not in that particular creative sphere, on that sort of scientific front line, where
do our responsibilities lie? As just
average global citizens, what difference can we make, if any?
The next piece of the puzzle for me is why would a pandemic
of this nature be an inevitability as Gates suggested in 2015? Well, from my research it seems we have
brought this on ourselves – the sheer numbers that make up the human
population, the amount and the way we consume, the biodiversity loss and ecosystem
service disruption we have caused, the accelerated climate change we have
Here are some links worth reading/watching:
John Scanlon, African Parks Network has written an eloquent article
on wildlife crime and the link between wet markets and disease spread.
If ever there was a time when Mother Nature herself was speaking up and giving credence to what scientists, researchers and conservationists have been saying for years, it is now.
But what can we do?
What hope is there? Are there individual
actions we can each take that will make a difference?
Yes, I believe so!
What follows are a few ideas that range from the deep and reflective to
the more light-hearted, surviving lockdown ones. All ways to consider the space between.
At times like these it is useful to pause and consider our values. Values are our guiding forces. They are quite individual to each of us, although will be influenced by our culture and upbringing. My values are very much based on the environment and how I see my relationship with other living things and the planet in general. Many people have values based on how they value their social relationships and still others may focus on themselves and their individual well-being. Or a combination of these values. None are right or wrong. But what I think is interesting is that no matter where your core values lie, we can no longer deny the need for change as the human species – behaviours and actions. Setting a new norm that will impact on individual health and wellbeing, the good of humanity and future generations, as well as the planet we are so intimately connected to, is imperative.
That was the deep stuff.
On to something more practical.
If we are mindful of how we are living on the planet and the impact we
are having, we can take practical steps to mitigate and reduce negative impact. For a super interesting read on a scale of
solution focused ideas to address climate change, check out Drawdown. I think there is something for everyone here,
no matter your circumstance or where you find yourself in the world. I found this information incredibly empowering!
Then, I really think we should be thinking about what we eat and how it is produced. Regenerative agriculture makes the Drawdown list at number 11. Here is a one farmer’s perspective – Angus McIntosh talks about the case for regenerative agriculture. As I mentioned above, living mindfully is key and knowledge is power. Food for thought 😉
I have another quote from Niki Harré’s Infinite Game that I think fits here:
But the idea kept popping into my head that life is based on radical cooperation. Cooperation fitted because the actions of each life form supported the growth of other forms; and it was radical because these actions were at the root of both individual survival and the functioning of the entire ecosystem.
Or travel virtually… my friend Carla from the Blue Sky Society
Trust is currently taking us on an epic African Safari experience…
As for me…. Painting calms me down… here’s some new ones…
And that about wraps up a very long post. I will be back in April hoping to post most
days with photos and short stories from my travels over the years. Join me for some virtual wanderings.
Take heart, dear ones.
All will be well. Our collective
courage, compassion and kindness in this space between will make it so.
Leaving you with a couple more quotes from the hugely inspiring
Infinite Game which seem written for a time such as now…. Thank you, Niki Harré, for sharing your wisdom 💙
“This is what being an infinite player or a community that cares about our lives together means. Getting up each day, remembering what matters, and trying like hell to live that in the confusion of real life. It does not mean knowing what is right. Sometimes it might just mean rejecting that which is clearly wrong (as far as you can tell). And, I humbly suggest, this process may be aided by imagining life as an infinite game. Not because it is, exactly, but because imagining it so might help to focus us on what truly matters.”
“Love is at the heart of the infinite values. Radical cooperation is a way of translating this into the mind-set of an infinite player. It involves trying your best to let go of the belief, trained into us by our society’s emphasis on self-promotion and self-acquisition, that security lies in what you have cordoned off for you and your descendants. Insofar as security exists at all, it is better understood as lying in how well we cooperate with each other and the natural world in which we are embedded.”
On Friday 27 September 2019 I had the opportunity to participate in the Schools Strike 4 Climate Change in Auckland, New Zealand. As a conservation educator it was a thrilling moment to be able to march alongside my colleagues and the youth of the world as we speak up to secure our World’s future. To continue to walk my talk of many years.
Now not everyone agrees with Greta Thunberg’s or
Severn Suzuki’s type of action. But this
is just one approach that supports countless others as we each work or fight
for change in our own way. The future of
our planet really does rely on every individual, mindful action as well as
policy change at the highest levels of government.
I was sixteen years old when 12-year-old Severn Suzuki gave her moving call to action at the UN Earth Summit in Rio 1992. The South Africa I grew up in was only just emerging from the evil, tragic grip of apartheid. Rio’s Earth Summit certainly did not play out widely in my troubled environment. I didn’t even hear about Severn and the Rio Summit at the time. I only got to hear about her and the Earth Charter at university a few years later while completing a degree in Environmental Science.
There was no such thing as recycling of rubbish while I was
growing up. But I did have an inspiring
Geography teacher who talked about CFCs and the hole in the ozone layer, rising
sea levels and global warming.
An immense amount of Good Work has been done since then. Voices for action can derive hope from that,
I think. I know I do.
My personal journey with Sustainability started as a child, privileged
to be surrounded by the magic of prolific wildlife. Though back then I would not have described
my passion as ‘in aid of Sustainability’.
Wildlife conservation is my original passion. For me, the heart of my desire to make a
difference in the World has always been derived from my intense love of all
things wild in Africa – wild, pure, open spaces and all the marvellous creatures
that are so precious, deserving of their right to life and their perfect role in
a thriving ecosystem – simply because they are, like I am!
As I hit my tweens, I started to realise that the human
world I had been born into was messy. I became aware of the concept of Ubuntu. In light of this ancient truth I could see
that South Africa was in a dark place. I
am because we are – for me “we” is all aspects of Mama Africa, and by
extension, Mother Earth.
The ‘wildlife’ concept of conservation had to be expanded to
include human communities. Some decades
later I guess we would now refer to this more holistic approach as ‘Social
My degree focused on Environmental Science and Conservation
Biology. I began to understand
sustainability – the complexity of unsustainable human practices that focus on
technological advancement, convenience and to some degree simply because we
can…. pushing the human brain to its creative limits. This level of advancement and focus on
economics, profits and convenience is energy-intensive, to say the least, and
the highest cost has been to Mother Earth.
Even to people whose compassion doesn’t extend beyond their own family it must be becoming alarmingly obvious that the outcomes of unsustainable practices, particularly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, will affect their future – health, ability to generate wealth, perhaps even their whole way of life.
You would think that I would be a sustainable living Champion,
with all the information I have gleaned in my education and in the course of my
professional life as an environmental scientist and conservation educator! But it has been a journey of years to put the picture puzzle pieces together and
genuinely start living sustainably.
To be honest, my practical buy-in started really simply with the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. What’s possible in terms of recycling looks different in diverse parts of the world, depending on infrastructure and resourcing. It varies greatly between urban and rural areas in New Zealand, where I am currently living. And it will continue to change over time, hopefully rapidly and for the better. Even just getting the 3Rs right can be confusing, frustrating and certainly inconvenient, depending where you live.
So here’s what I’ve learned … being mindful of how I tread on this planet, and making environmentally conscious decisions, has to supersede convenience. I recognise that it is not my right to live conveniently at the cost of All around me.
These days I work with the 7Rs in mind – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rehome, Replant, Rot. Here is an image of what that looks like, taken from ubuntunomad.com.
I also like this image (below), with RETHINK at the centre, taken from a Google image search – Be mindful of your consumption, your relationship with “things” and your relationship with the Earth.
From a place of Rethink anything is possible. This is motivation to mindfully, actively,
continuously pursue the 7Rs strategy.
For example, we can find out about composting in our area. For me a recent delightful discovery has been
that my hair salon belongs to the Sustainable
Salons initiative – I’m very happy to support ingenious organisations like
There are so many amazing examples like this now. Yes, it does take a little extra time and
energy to do the research, but I believe it is worth it in the long run. Spending
money with local businesses that have sound sustainability initiatives is a
simple and practical contribution everyone can make. I have found social media to be an invaluable
tool in connecting with environmentally conscious groups and organisations I can
So that’s it in the daily micro-moments of my life. Turning off lights and electronics on standby, separating out the soft plastics for recycling, refusing disposable cups or straws or single use plastic bags, thinking about water use and saving where I can, being a mindful consumer as much as possible for everything from clothing to cosmetics, being aware of the palm oil predicament and only purchasing products containing certified sustainable palm oil.
The list goes on and I will make it longer as I learn to tread as lightly as I can. I have to believe that each of our small mindful actions will make the necessary difference in the end.
In my bigger picture, I try to make my mark by taking my conservation education career very seriously – and I never forget about the beleaguered African wildlife that planted this seed in me that lead to greater knowledge of the plight of life everywhere .
This year my focus has been to look at conservation and sustainability
when travelling, which is another great love of mine.
I spent a number of years working in high end ecotourism
lodges in Botswana. Such an incredible
time in my life! What particularly stands
out for me is the environmentally sensitive architecture used to construct
these lodges – the temporary footprint
they are able to create, completely off the grid and very sustainable. If this can be achieved in extremely isolated
areas of the Okavango Delta, I think there is little excuse for organisations
based in areas of the world which are better resourced!
I finally managed to get back to Mama Africa this year. Previous blog posts cover this absolutely amazing Journey with Purpose. I chose that particular trip because it ticked so many of the environmental and social sustainability boxes that I am trying to be mindful of in my travel choices.
On my bucket list, since always, is to visit East Africa,
the birthplace of safari, so I constantly search in hopes that a perfect option
and opportunity will arise. I am looking
for tourism organisations that focus on wildlife conservation, community
conservation and sustainable practices in their delivery to guests. My experience in Botswana tells me exactly
what to look out for.
I have been following Asilia
Africa on Instagram for a while now, and I find their authentic community
conservation initiatives utterly inspiring.
Of course, their tourism offering looks stunning, too! And Yellow Zebra Safaris appears
to be a good bet to organise a truly caring, conservation-conscious safari in
Kenya! Their concern
for solo travellers backs that up.
And so my journey dreams continue … next on my agenda is how to tackle the carbon footprint of air travel, especially from this part of the world? For such a vast distance, I’ll have to look further than contributing to the planting of thousands of trees.
I will finish off this rather long post with a thought-provoking
excerpt from The Infinite Game
– How to Live Well Together by Niki Harré:
“Well, changing the behaviour of other adults has always seemed to me both patronising and misguided. What we need, if we are going to promote human and ecological flourishing, is people working together on creative solutions, not experts training others like circus animals. The enormous beauty and power of our species lies in our capacity for collective innovation. It is an endless, uncertain task, improving this world of ours and trying to do so with love and joy. It takes both big, powerful players and small, discrete players each working within their sphere of influence – experimenting, adapting, and negotiating new practices; and the policies, laws and technological innovations that help hold these practices in place. We need to ignite that creative capacity in each other – not smother it with assumptions that ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ may be) know best.”
I have been pondering this question over the week. It is the first task in my Awakened Woman journal.
What breaks my heart is humanity’s disconnect with Mother
Nature. It seems to me that we could
solve so many of our social and environmental ills if we could find this
What breaks my heart is how we cannot seem to live in
harmony with wildlife in wild places as we once did. What happened to being open to learning from
Mother Nature? For She has much to share
with us about how we tread in this life.
In June we had World Giraffe Day. In August it was World Elephant and World Lion Day. September is World Rhino Month. And so it goes, on and on, each new day dedicated to another species in peril.
CoP18 meeting took place in Geneva recently. The results of this conference
of the parties was mixed. While we
can take some hopeful moments away for some species after this year’s
conference, there is definitely still too much of a focus on wildlife as a
commodity for my liking.
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater” JRR Tolkien
The climate crisis continues. The Amazon is burning. In a world where we are bombarded with what
seem utterly hopeless and insurmountable odds, I want to share some examples
that I know of – examples of what is still fair and where there is still love.
The following are links to messages of hope that fill my
inbox, make up the social media threads I follow and come from personal
experience having met some of the individuals at the heart of these
organisations and collectives.
And many more… so I need to amend the statement I started
with… not all humanity has lost that vital connection we have with Mother Earth. There are still many of us who will continue
to use our voices for the voiceless.
And even more than the above examples we need to be
encouraged that every single individual action we take counts… we can make a
difference for good at an individual level.
It is about the second
thought you spare in your daily journey through life, being mindful of how
your tread, what and how much you consume, how you dispose of waste.
It’s about how we need to rethink education and empower the next generations to make better choices than we have.
And please understand even if you don’t care about animals and wild places, the changes all these people of are working for are in our own best interests too – the survival of humanity!
And so what breaks my heart is what we’ve lost but in the
same breath what shores up my heart and gives me hope is the countless daily actions
of compassionate individuals. It is this
conservation collective that will keep the worst case scenarios at bay. Or so I
choose to believe…
What is the significance of finding
your tribe? You are in your element,
time stands still leaving your open heart to soak up all you are experiencing,
really seeing the people in front of you and really hearing their stories. There might be no other purpose to this than
for those people to be seen, to be heard.
But it could be that in this flow you are being given access to
knowledge and understanding which moves you forward on your path. For me those 14 days on our Journey with Purpose
was the latter. I feel compelled by all
I have seen and heard to champion these stories, to spread the word about the
incredible work of these passionate individuals working for wildlife and
Now I love nothing better than seeing the “bigger picture” and some of you reading will know how I love a good map! And I didn’t see this straight away as we progressed through our itinerary, but I think I see it now…. What connects all our conservation and community stories from this expedition together is the increasing collaboration and building towards recognising the increasing value of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs).
Here is where I mention the Peace Parks Foundation. Their single purpose is “to restore a tomorrow for life on Earth”. Their dream – “to reconnect Africa’s wild spaces to create a future for man in harmony with nature.” What does that look like in action? Helping, guiding, supporting, facilitating TFCAs. Creating a hub for a conservation collective in a particular region. This hub transcends national borders and helps take these seemingly small, individual actions and bringing them together – the dragonfly effect.
Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith are a husband and wife team who have applied what they term the dragonfly effect to using social media to affect social change. Their book – The Dragonfly Effect: quick, effective and powerful ways to use social media to drive social change – is an interesting read. They talk about the dragonfly being the only insect to move deftly in any direction when all four wings work in unison. This effect is similar to the ripple effect and is used in sociology, psychology and economic circles to show how small actions can create significant change. While their focus is the use of social media, I think the effect applies to the situation I am describing here.
Our JWP01 South expedition took us into two significant TFCA areas – the Greater Limpopo TFCA and the Lubombo TFCA. The people we got to meet and spend time with, the projects we got a little glimpse of on our journey were some of these small pieces working to their strengths and their passions. Placed in the bigger picture of the TFCA landscape there is more than a little hope of significant, lasting change both for wildlife and wild spaces as well as the human communities coexisting here.
For me this sort of hope is especially inspiring as I am on my own journey where I am currently planted to demonstrate how this dragonfly effect can work for conservation and community upliftment anywhere in the world.