Wind makes me edgy.
It did so long before I came to the bush, and I never really understood why. Wind on a rainy, stormy day I didn’t mind so much, as it added to the atmosphere, and the weather was bad anyway, so I’d simply retreat indoors and everything would be fine. But on a clear day, with the sun shining and only one or two light fluffy clouds scudding across the sky, windy conditions would generally dampen my mood.
I used to row at school and university, and wind is the rower’s worst enemy; glassy calm water is what you want, so I imagined any wind-caused anxiety I might have experienced may have been due to a subconscious awareness of how the wind would be ruining rowing conditions for someone, somewhere. Since moving out to the bush however, I’ve come to suspect that it actually relates to something far deeper than that.
August is usually our windiest month at Londolozi. Rangers and trackers will all be familiar with pulling up to a stop in their Land Rovers, only to have a cloud of dust envelop them as the tailing wind sends it billowing around the vehicle. On a windy day, whether cloudy or not, a distinct change is evident in the behaviour of the herbivores, and more specifically the prey animals like impala and wildebeest.
Herds cluster that much more tightly together, glances thrown at the surrounding thickets are that much more nervous, and heads that are lowered to graze are jerked up just a little more quickly to scan for danger. Wind is not the friend of those lower down on the food chain; smells whirl around and get confused. The rustle of grass made by an approaching lion will be lost amongst the blustery sounds. The camouflage of a leopard, usually dependant on the animal remaining dead still, now has a free hand, because all the grass and bushes are being blown around, and detecting a predator in all that movement becomes much harder.
The awareness in the herbivores of Londolozi that wind equates to good hunting conditions is fact, and the tension out in the bush is almost palpable on windy days.
Chatting to a few other staff members at the lodge, I’ve found that they feel a similar thing when the wind is blowing. I’m convinced that no matter what your background, there are certain innately animalistic characteristics that all humans posses that are designed to keep us safe out in the wild. Call them sixth senses, call them what you will, certain stimuli elicit a response in our bodies, whether we are aware of them or not. These responses are more noticeable for some people than others, but as a species that once depended on reading our environment in order to stay out of danger (some people still have to), somewhere buried in all of us is a natural reaction to unfavourable conditions, be they weather-related or otherwise. An instinctive awareness that the danger level just ratcheted up a notch and total focus is required for survival.
Since few people live in wilderness areas in which this situational awareness is still necessary to make it through the day, it has been repressed over the course of our progression and continued advancement as a species, but can still manifest itself very subtly, sometimes almost undetectably. A slight anxiety on a windy day, or a waking up for unknown reasons in the middle of the night, only to hear a lion roaring in the distance. Survival instincts can still be at work in us, even though most people are far removed from anywhere they may still be needed.
It is through awareness of ourselves that we can at least attempt to partly reconnect with these base instincts. I’m not suggesting we will be able to sniff out a stalking leopard at 100 metres, but a knowledge of our past as humans, allied with a slightly raised appreciation of what is going on around us, can serve to if not remove that long-forgotten and now misunderstood anxiety of the hunted, at least to understand it for what it is: the recognition that we also once occupied a place in a wild environment, and that no matter how urbanised some of us have become, we are all just animals, trying to survive.