Nature’s key

2017-11-06 17:09

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“This is awful! I’ve left my penknife behind!” I gasped as our school bus rolled along a dirt track, two hours after our departure from school. My friends laughed nervously, clearly not paying any attention to my melodramatics. And rightfully so. Three weeks of physical and emotional endurance lay ahead of us, and none of us had a clue what to expect.

All I knew was that I didn’t have a penknife — and who in their right mind walks into the “wilderness” without one?

Every year, a considerable amount of trepidation is felt by the Grade 9 girls at St John’s DSG as the annual uHambo experience looms ahead.

Landed amid the Drakensberg Mountains, we are required to spend three weeks travailing the “wilderness”, not in search of any ultimate destination, but rather in search of what we learn on the way. This year, it was our turn to discover what it had to impart.

Keyrings displaying a multitude of laminated inspirational quotes and family photographs clinked together on the outside of our backpacks as we scaled a grassy mountain slope, chanting various spirit songs to spur each other on.

It was almost time for a lunch stop, and it was all that I could think about. A gentle breeze wafted across the veld and I lifted my face towards the sun, letting the clean Drakensberg air fill my lungs. Suddenly, a shrill scream broke out near the front of the group, and girls fled in all directions.

“Snake! There’s a snake!” One of them yelled. I picked up my pace, hoping to catch a glimpse of it before it disappeared again. As I approached the scene of the outcry, I saw the tail end of a skink slide beneath a bush. A few of my friends and I crouched around it and giggled as the stout reptile reappeared and scurried up the path, before disappearing once more.

Above us, a shady overhang and the perfect lunch spot awaited. We scrambled up a gravelly incline and seated ourselves on rocks overlooking the valley below.

I rummaged around in my backpack and retrieved my camera, wanting so badly to be able to capture this moment in every bit of its magnificence — scaly reptiles and all! For a few moments, I sat spellbound by the natural beauty around me. In the past two weeks, my perspective on life had taken a tremendous turn.

For the first time, I was faced with the stark realisation that my outlook on nature had been that of an aesthetic orientation rather than that of an understanding of its significance in our world, and the importance of what it has to instil within us. Above all, I had discovered that this incomparable wealth of insight lay within the very soils of KwaZulu-Natal upon which I had grown, in a delightful mixture of beauty and authenticity.

The days that followed continued in the same light, each one bringing a new life lesson far superior to any divulged in the classroom. Although a fair amount of determination and physical vigour were required of us, the immersion in nature had a profoundly peaceful impact on our beings.

On my group’s last evening together, spirits were high. Before settling down around a fire to share our experiences, I dashed away to retrieve the orange I had been saving the entire day — fresh produce was of immense value under our conditions! As I rifled through my backpack, the glint of a zip which had gone unnoticed caught my eye.

Desperate for my orange, I drew it aside. Out of the pouch fell a cold metallic object. I stared at it in disbelief, not sure whether I should be elated or incredibly irate with myself for not having noticed it before now. In my palm lay my penknife. That evening, as we discussed our experiences, I recalled that first day. I recalled how nervous I had been to face uHambo, especially sans penknife.

How naïve I had been to believe that it could make or break my experience. It was as though I had set out with the perception that it was me against nature. Along the way, I began to understand that it is not our material possessions that act as our safeguard, but rather that which we contain within ourselves — a sort of depth of capability that succeeds all unease. The penknife was there with me all along, but it was in making a way without it that I truly found this capability within myself. I believe that it is only within nature that this capability is unlocked, and for me, I found it in the rolling hills and grassy expanses of KwaZulu-Natal. In the heart of a place I am fiercely proud to call my home.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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