“My religion is nature. That’s what arouses those feeling of wonder and mysticism and gratitude in me.” – Oliver Sacks
On a balmy November morning, I pulled up a chair in the Ubuntu Hut to hear ranger Shaun D’Araujo deliver his village talk. I won’t give away the story (it must be heard in person), but in his introduction Shaun made a point that intensely resonated with me.
Like Shaun, I arrived at Londolozi with a scientific research background but eager to find a less analytical way to make sense of the biological world. And as Shaun explains in his talk, working as a Londolozi ranger has shown him just that: the possibility of understanding nature in a more holistic way, not through quantitative analysis but through the interdisciplinary lens of a naturalist and guide.
Of course, a comprehensive grasp of biology and ecology is essential to every ranger’s training, but the theatre of the natural world on display at Londolozi brings out the storyteller, the mystic, and the seeker in all of us. Science has proven that spending three days in nature has a powerfully restorative effect on the human brain and body, but it also stirs up in each of us an innate, uninhibited, and equally powerful feeling of childlike wonder at the beauty and diversity of life.
Perhaps better than any scientist or writer of the last century, the late neurologist Oliver Sacks knew how to communicate that sense of reverential curiosity in his writings about the natural world. However, in the same way that Ken Tinley and the Varty brothers were seen as iconoclasts for their views on land care and for-profit conservation, Sacks was long disregarded by the scientific community for pairing scientific observation with an almost spiritual appreciation of nature’s splendour, the same synthesis that underpins the interpretive wildlife experience of every Londolozi game drive.
“Clearly,” Sacks wrote, “nature calls to something very deep in us. Biophilia, the love of nature and living things, is an essential part of the human condition. Hortophilia, the desire to interact with, manage and tend nature, is also deeply instilled in us.” After two months immersed in the natural world of Londolozi, I’m newly aware of the depth of that animal instinct. Our drive to seek scientific answers to life’s questions may be unique to the human condition, but nothing runs as deep as our instinctive bond with nature.
Given the way Sacks’s book titles – Awakenings, The River Of Consciousness, Everything In Its Place – tend to sum up the feeling of being at Londolozi, I imagine he would have been awestruck by a safari here. That said, the conclusion of one of his final essays, called “Gratitude,” speaks to the value of maintaining a connection with nature not only while on safari but throughout one’s life. I’ll give Dr. Sacks the last word, which expresses just how I feel about having been welcomed over these past months into the land and community of Londolozi:
“Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”