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”.
Back to level three lockdown here in Auckland as we grapple with our first outbreak of Covid-19 since flattening the curve.
Another chance to pause and reflect. Another reminder that nothing will be as it was before….
What do you do when you can’t go anywhere or plan your usual travel adventures?….. Relive my weekend just gone… much time on the couch attending a virtual elephant radio collaring project in South Africa followed by a virtual concert also live from South Africa – my favourite band, Prime Circle.
I re-watched the concert today…. So good as always! Prime Circle rocks!
They played one of my most favourite songs – Breathing. Then I remembered lockdown a few months ago…. Listening to that song while painting. The ellie painting in the pic above came out of that session and so I added some of the lyrics to a digital version of the artwork… this version on my visionboard.
So, it turns out a few months ago I was putting creative energy into a moment that would make complete sense in my August is for Elephants 2020.
And now I am reminded that in amongst all this chaos and uncertainty, strangely there is pattern, there is connection… even if it is just to remember to breathe, to let go and be on the journey, guided in the flow.
The universe is unfolding exactly as it should…. Trying to find stillness to tune into the intuitions and nudges of this unfolding and not get in my own way.
As part of my journey with Dr Tererai Trent’s book – The Awakened Woman – I have been reflecting a lot about the place of ritual in daily life.
She talks of the importance of ritual in helping her on the path towards her sacred dreams. In the companion journal I am working through there is a section titled “grow your soul through ritual”. She writes about the richness of her culture in the part of rural Zimbabwe where she was born. There is such beauty in the connection of her people with natural world and the rituals that result. It is an inspiring read.
Dr Trent is not the first woman I have come across who speaks of the essential place of ritual in her life.
One of the prompts in the Awakened Woman journal was
to list any rituals you practise already.
At first it was difficult to think of any rituals in my own life. Looking to the past, my ancestry, the idea of
a rich cultural history is fraught. My
ancestors come from a group of people who’s past actions and values I would
prefer to distance myself from in many ways.
Then I started thinking closer to home, to my family and my childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up with my great grandparents and grandparents on both sides. Family tradition in abundance. As I began to list our family traditions a realisation occurred – it was me who turned many of these traditions into ritual. Especially at this time of the year as we head towards the festive season I have become the keeper of my family’s rituals. So without consciously thinking about this before, ritual has played an important place in my wellbeing – in feeling connected with the spirit of the past and in rooting deeply in the present to grow into the future.
There is another quote from the Awakened Woman journal I like,
“Rituals are the actions we can take to help us walk the path to our dreams. They connect us to a more authentic version of ourselves, allow us to pause and focus on what’s important and strengthen our beliefs”.
So what can ritual look like? I think it can be any action sacred to you, that you deliberately and thoughtfully repeat. I believe ritual becomes a very personal thing. I have rituals around prayer, meditation and a mindfulness practice… oooh and time on my Shakti mat! Finding time for stillness in the day to day busyness of life has become essential for me. Particularly as I currently live and work in a busy city – an environment that drains my energy.
The next prompt was to consider how the rituals you practise
help move you closer to your dreams. Definitely
a concept I had never considered!
One of my dreams goes around treading lightly and respectfully on the Earth. And so I got to thinking about whether ritual plays a part in my attempt at living sustainably. And upon reflection it does.
My family has a lot of ritual around food. We use food and precious family recipes as a way to commemorate family occasions, mark anniversaries and the passing of seasons. As immigrants our food rituals connect us to a spirit of place and time as well.
And what I now realise is that I have come to think of food and food preparation as a way to honour what Mother Earth provides – there is ritual in that. I still choose to eat meat – not in large quantity and only if I know where and how it was produced. I focus on what’s seasonal and grown locally. In a country like New Zealand I am extremely lucky to easily know where and how meat, eggs, milk, butter, fresh fruit and veg are produced and make my consumer choices accordingly. While cooking and preparing meals, I have now added in quirky little prayers of thanks to living things, plants and animals, that have given their energy to allow me mine. A weird ritual perhaps but one that has given me “pause and focus on what’s important and strengthening my beliefs”.
All this has made me ponder the food thing when travelling. How can you be comfortable without really knowing where the produce is coming from or how it was produced? I then remembered my time as F&B manager at an ecolodge in the Okavango Delta. The thought that went into sourcing food to provide a 4 star offering in a very remote location. We did source locally as much as possible. We did create menus based on seasonal availability. So the food side of things became as considered in the journey towards a sustainable organisation as the energy use, green building materials or waste minimisation strategies.
Above are some images from my time in Okavango…. best office in the world!
So even on safari in really out of the way places, treading lightly and living sustainably is possible. I take comfort in the knowledge that in their own way many eco-conscious tourism operations in Africa today do incorporate ritual. Ritual that makes them respectful of the wildlife and wild space in which they operate. Ritual that makes them sensitive to the communities they impact and include in their conservation intention. Ritual that ensures their guests are supported to also tread as lightly as possible in their journey of exploration.
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 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