The last two weeks have been scarce with regards to viewings of the Matimba male lions as they have been spending most of their time east of our boundary. The Mhangeni breakaway pride currently have very small cubs and when the Majingilane coalition moved into the core of the Matimba territory recently, this pride headed east in order to protect the youngsters, which we believe are not fathered by the Majingilane. The Matimba males went with them and have been there fairly consistently ever since, barring one or two occasions. Just a few days ago, one Matimba male was seen mating with the tailless Tsalala lioness, which is hugely exciting news. With the Tsalala original pride and breakaway pride now in very close proximity to each other and this mating behaviour happening, we’re wondering what the future holds for the pride. Could they re-join permanently? We’ll be sure to give you more details regarding their movements in the near future.
For now though let’s stick to a story that arose during a morning spent tracking the Matimba lions. For me it’s one that has really clarified how to avoid falling into a negative mindset when tracking… I think it’s a lesson that could help us all to get better at finding what we’re looking for.
We were following the tracks of the two male lions as they meandered through some diverse terrain along the edges of the Sand River and its adjacent clearings. About twenty minutes into the tracking effort, we lost sight of the pug marks in the sand as the substrate hardened. What I typically feel in these sorts of situations is a rapidly rising sense of irritation, I start to berate myself for not finding the process easy, tend to harden my gaze and stomp around in a huff trying to spot the next track. At this point I normally trample any subtle clue in my vicinity, turn on my heel and head for the vehicle, cursing myself for having failed dismally. What I’ve started to realise though is that this really doesn’t do anyone any good and since I’ve expanded my definition of tracking, I’m finding so much more than I used to and having a lot more fun along the way.
This new way of thinking involves exploration and fluidity, a non-attachment to the outcome of finding and a sort of going with what is. You may be quivering in horror as you read this. How on earth do you find something you’re looking for if you don’t doggedly hunt it down? Well you can commit to the doggedness but let’s be honest, this sort of forcing is likely to be far more stressful and your tunnel vision will mean you’ll probably miss a multitude of amazing things along the way.
Crazily enough, what I’m finding is that the more you wander, become aware of all the elements going on around you and allow what wants to happen, happen, you end up not only finding the thing you were seeking but so much more. And the ride is way better.
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper” – W.B Yeats.
Now I think this sort of tracking I’m referring to is something that our master trackers do here anyway and it’s an aspect I’m maybe only starting to truly appreciate. But what it entails is grasping the entirety of what is happening around you, accepting the fact that you may lose tracks, opening yourself up to the possibility of other clues and simply just being ok with the moment (even when you’re doing a terrible job of ‘tracking’). I find that as you slow down and soften your focus, you actually end up seeing and noticing more because you’re in the flow of things and you’re listening to what wants to happen as opposed to trying to force a particular outcome.
So the other day I chose to take a different tack… I took a deep breath, the tracking team quietly re-grouped where we’d last seen the tracks and avoided moving about too much. I chose to not become frustrated and instead stopped to gaze at an Orange-breasted Bushshrike, which flew into the thicket ahead of me. Below it, a beautiful Morning Glory flower caught my eye and I bent down to inspect it when rather fortuitously the faint outline of a lion’s paw mark caught my eye just behind the flower and easy as that, we were back in action. A few hundred meters further on we found the lions, lazing at the base of a Jackalberry Tree.
For me these ‘fortuitous’ events have begun to arise more and more readily and seem to be less and less about luck. Whenever I feel the need to speed up take over, I do the opposite and slow down. It’s in these moments that the muted contact call of a lion can be heard beneath the relative quiet of your slow moving feet, a patch of mud jumps out at you on a branch up ahead from where the rhino recently rubbed past and the smell of a leopard’s territorial marking becomes unmissable because you’re open to the possibility of it. You’re open to every possibility. When you find a sense of stillness, the subtlety of life presents itself to you.
Over the last ten years or so I have noticed how these same trends are happening in the societies we live in too. The political, social and economic tension has been rising but what’s fascinating is that as people accept the place that they find themselves, those that want to change it band together and create a sense of community and they begin to find creative and ingenious ways around the obstacles. The key is to work with what you’ve got because as Byron Katie says, “when I argue with reality, I lose- but only 100% of the time”. Rather than throwing our hands in the air, stomping our feet and giving up on tracking whatever it may be that we’re trying to find, people seem to be gathering, softening their focus and finding alternatives. This is true creativity and tracking.
I think that if we change the way we track not only will we find the lions we’re looking for, we’ll find far more. We’ll take notice of the little creatures, be calmed by the sound of the river running by, safely navigate the other potentially dangerous animals we encounter along the way and enjoy a far more full experience. Let go of the desire to find one particular thing because within that lies the answer to finding everything.