In real time, our group has returned from our time in the Umfolozi game reserve with the Wilderness Leadership School and had a full day in Cape Town…..but, in blog-time, I am taking you back a few days. Our story will unfold as the days go-by and I will post my updates sequentially, just a few days behind.
First, I will go back to elaborate on our visit with Dr. Ian Player, founder of WILD, the World Wilderness Congress and our partners in the Wilderness Network and a legendary conservationist. After gathering at the Durban airport, we drove about 2 hours north of Durban to Ian’s house outside of Howick. I felt excited and nervous to meet Ian, who to date I knew only from books, photos and stories.
As we approached the farm, the beautiful scenery and mid-afternoon light set the scene. Prior to meeting Ian, we had a quick tour of the office where Ian’s work is being archived. I’m so thankful that this project is underway; it will serve as an encyclopedia of knowledge for many generations to come.
We were then greeted at the kitchen door by Ian and his wife Anne. They graciously welcomed us into their home for tea. We talked at length about the current rhino poaching situation and other conservation endeavors, both past and present. I just sat, soaked it all in and felt a bit shy and awe struck in the company of a man who shaped so much of conservation is Southern African and worldwide.
As we prepared to leave, I realized it was now or never for me to have a moment with Ian. I sat next to him, so he could hear me clearly, and said thank you. I meant this on multiple levels – from simply having us for tea to saving the white rhino from near extinction to his visionary leadership in creating the organizations within The Wilderness Network. I can only hope that he understood the many levels for which I am thankful!
We then talked about the Umfolozi. He told me that the first time he went there was 1952 and it was then when he saw the white rhino for the first time. He saw two rhinos, walking through the mist, and he knew at that moment that it would be his life’s work to protect them. He chuckled thinking that he once believed this would be a short and simple project.
I asked him what I should look for while I was there. He told me to look for myself. My eyes welled up with tears and I nodded. He told me to not only look outwards at the wilderness and wildlife and take in the landscape that calls to our ancestral selves, but to take the opportunity to look within. The wilderness trail, while it appears as an outward journey with Nature, at the heart is an inward journey with our own human nature.
“I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to each and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Henry David Thoreau.