“Being an artist means…ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear … as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!” –Rainer Maria Rilke
“Still and wide.” These are the pillars of a heightened sense of awareness that the trackers of Londolozi access seamlessly. With an untrained eye, I am drawn to understand their method: how do they drop into the consciousness of a wild animal? My conclusion after a week in the bush: profound patience. Let’s start with my experience last week. Andrea, a world-class tracker, has his hand up which means he’s found a track. He steps down from the Land Rover and draws a line in the sand with a thin stick. “A female lion”, he notes, “and her two cubs.” Boyd, James and I hop out. With a cumulative 35 years in the bush, Boyd and James are seeing much of the field in which Andrea is now immersed. I spend an extra moment studying the track. Soon we’ll be moving at a fast walk and the tracks are harder to make out off the road. Andrea begins to move and I try to study him.
He doesn’t walk differently or talk differently, but he might as well be levitating because he’s in a different world.
He weaves through the brush as if the path is marked by the emergency lights on the floor of an airplane. He marks every 4th or 5th track so I can follow along. Even with his indicators, I can barely see them. Moving to a small seemingly insignificant bush beside him he rustles his hand in the leaves. He holds his hand up to me. “Smell her scent.” I sniff. Pungent. “This is how she marks her territory.” Turning his focus back to the ground, he gestures forward. “Now, do you see the next tracks?” I see nothing. I continue to follow.
“Look, she lay down here. The cubs played around a bit while she rested. We’re catching up.” I can almost make out the outline of her belly, but I mostly see more dirt. Two hours pass like this. We cross riverbeds, open fields and heavy brush. The walk speeds up and slows down, banks left and right. James mentions that the trackers consider finding the animal a competition. If they lose the tracks, nature: 1 tracker: 0. I definitely feel like we’re playing a game, but it’s more of a coordinated effort. Nature provides signs everywhere we turn. It’s about reading what the animals leave behind and following every step.
Watching Andrea move I begin to see his larger unspoken framework. It’s one of deep patience. He can find what he’s looking for in 5 minutes or 5 hours. Time is not a factor.
He’s keyed into the natural rhythm of a mother and her offspring. It’s a craft, and there is no doubt that Andrea is a master artist. Many hours of studying tracks and learning the fundamentals is crucial, but his greatest skill is a sage-like patience in which he can sustain himself throughout the pursuit. As Andrea steps out of a dried-out riverbed, his eyes catch something. “There,” he says. The remark is casual enough that I think he’s spotted a couple of grazing elephants. But as I climb up, I see them: three lions. The mother is lying in a patch of slender trees. The two cubs are trotting around her nibbling on each other’s ears.
We found them. But Andrea doesn’t have the demeanor of a typical champion—the finality and swagger. I certainly celebrate more after a try on the rugby pitch. His note of completion is simple: “good job guys.” He’s not only on a different level, he’s in a different field of attention altogether.
No surprise is elicited by the find; he’s been with them the whole time.
As my mind begins to back track to figure out how we got there, I notice my watch. Almost three hours have passed. For that entire time, Andrea was in the minds of three wild animals. He was tapped into their rhythm. He moved with them.
If Mother Nature has order and pace, a network into which we are granted innate membership, then tracking is proof that we have the opportunity to join in. Imagine what we can learn if we can stop resisting and find our own natural rhythm. There are signs everywhere leading us in. To see them, it just takes patience.