Monday, September 27, 2010

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Life in nature is quite hard - by Nick van der Leek

I'm at Shamwari Game Reserve, and my routine is based around 3 hour game drives.  After the third game drive [around 9 hours exposure to the wilderness] you start to appreciate what survival entails.  It means spending most of the day foraging for food, and dealing with the elements, whether it be cold or heat or dry, or in today's case, wind.  The animals are out there whatever the weather.  When the sun goes down, they're still out there, and here's where it gets particularly tricky.  The cat and mouse [lion versus impala or leopard versus kudu or badger versus snake or cheetah versus eland] games don't stop when it's bedtime.  Imagine a life where snoozing too lightly [and thus being sleep deprived] could cost you your life because you've lost the edge to your usual state of alert.  On the other hand, sleep to soundly and you're just as likely to be a nocturnal snack.

You may think predators have an easier life than their prey.  But consider a leopard in a game park.  In Kruger for example all the territories have been claimed; all territories are taken.  That means if a new leopard enters an area he has to fight another leopard and these tussles are often fatal.  A leopard that has to exit one territory then finds himself in another one, and a fresh encounter awaits him there.  Territory defence is one way nature has kept the best of the best leopard predators in the hunt for natural and sexual selection.

In nature the name of the game is staying invisible, being quiet and subtle about one's activities, and doing some strutting vis-a-vis competitors and the opposite sex.  Again, do too little and you risk going hungry or going without a mate, do too much and you risk being run down and susceptible to a range of maladies floating in the air [and remember, you live permanently outdoors, permanently exposed to the elements].

This provides an interesting contrast to human beings who do their best to be seen.  In our world the most dangerous creature is another human being, and commonly, another human being in a vehicle is a deadly combination, often capable of slaughtering handfuls of people at seemingly random intervals.  Even so, these slaughters are reasonably few and far between.  Man though has a bunch of 'stuff' to deal with which animals are probably grateful they don't.  For example, man is the only animal that lives his [or her] life with the knowledge that death is part of the game, no matter how cleverly the game is executed [granted many if not most human beings suspend this belief, this knowledge, either indefinitely or at least until the next funeral they attend].  Equally, man is also capable of humor.  And irony.

Shamwari is an exceptional environment and I've been privileged to visit and encounter animals as diverse and compelling as leopard, cheetah, lion, hippo and rhino.  Earlier today we heard a rhino calf shadowing his large father uttering a plaintiff cry that sounds much like a dolphin, a wheezy noise that elicits a balloon noisily by lyrically losing air.  There are too many encounters to describe [for the purposes of this blog post] but, suffice it to say, these experiences leave an impression on the inner human being.

I have come to Shamwari on my own despite extending invitations to one or two of people.  Beyond the monetary value of experience, the nourishing impact of these nature experiences are invaluable,  I feel refreshed, and buzzing with ideas.  And also, infused with a better sense of my place in the world.   And this seems to be one of the strangest casualties of our consumerist age - nobody really knows what to do, what to be and worse, why one choice is better than another.  Oh, other than in 'money terms'.  The few people who turned their nose up at joining me [for free] on this trip, it seems to me, reflect a sense of being 'spoilt'.  Spoilt because we are either to busy to appreciate something, or too caught up in distractions to know the value of something meaningful when it arrives at the door on a silver platter.

It is wonderful for me to be able to live out my dream; to follow my passions, to investigate the stories, experiences and realities of this world in a way that seems to address my personal set of 'what is meaningful'.  When we are 'spoilt' we know longer recognise the gifts or fruits or blessings of this world.  Through our individual obsessions we have not only lost our connections with a greater community, but also our immediate neighbours, and so it shouldn't be a surprise that we feel empty, miserable and finally depressed for the course of much of our lives.  Nature is where beauty and truth resides, it is where we find ourselves and understand ourselves including in terms greater than ourselves.  We gain a proportion of the size and wonder and difficulty of things, not only for ourselves and others but for a wider spectrum of life.  I for one hope that I can maintain my appreciation, this gratitude for the wonder of things.  Being spoilt literally spoils the experience of life for you and those that cross your path.  The antidote is compassion and gratitude.  It's how we learn to love and celebrate life, and hopefully I can stay on track to do just that.


Anonymous said...

Most enjoyable article - nothing like nature to give one a jarring wake up call!

Nick said...

haha, thanks.