One morning during my time as a trainee, we set out to go and see the most beautiful Strangler Fig tree (Ficus stuhlmannii) in the Southern part of Londolozi. For those of you who have seen this ancient giant will know exactly why this tree cannot be forgotten. Its green crown stands among the dry grasslands, drawing in your eyes and creating a feeling in your inner self. As we sat underneath the giant canopy, I thought about a video we had recently watched on Alex Atala, a well known Brazilian chef, who spoke about how he understood what the meaning of life is…
This young leopard is not often seen on Londolozi soil, spending much of her time around the fringes of her mother’s territory to the south.
In the video Alex Atala described this statement better than I can;
He was annoyed by the question, “What is the meaning of life?”.
One night he had a dream that he was walking on the street as a kid. In this dream he was led by hands, like a Father or a Mother, someone bigger than him, guiding him. He asked this big person, “What is the meaning of life?” The big person showed him circles, circles of life. He was then shown a flower. Why? A plant has a circle. A seed becomes a plant that has a flower which transforms into a fruit. The fruit drops. There’s another seed and the plant grows again. This is a circle. And he then said, “I see. I understand. But why did you show me the flower?” He was told that the flower is the moment that we live, the most beautiful moment of the circle. The most beautiful moment. Alex then says, “Contemplate this.”
Sitting under this fig tree, I started to think about the circles of life and the meaning of Gaia. In the 70’s a scientist named James Lovelock came up with the concept that earth itself is a living creature and that we are sustained by a harmonious balance between life and the planet itself. He considered that earth has its own self-sustaining life-support system, where life and earth interact through mutually beneficial feedback mechanisms: the circle of life. Basically, sustainable life and a healthy environment are linked or rather, rely on each other and co-exist.
I am then distracted by the sound of a troop of baboons, all over the tree feeding on the ripe figs. They startle me as they begin barking; a leopard slinks by to drink from a waterhole near the tree. As they scramble amongst the branches, they drop fruits to the shaded ground below, an inviting scene for a slender nyala that will feed on these tasty snacks. But then my hearing starts to open up to new sounds around me: birds are singing their melody from every level and every branch of the tree I try and count them. There is the excited squeal of a Speckled Mousebird, a powerful call and a flash of crimson red from a Purple-crested Turaco. I grab my binoculars and observe a flutter of butterflies, a jerking blue head of a tree agama and a cluster of dragonflies. A tree snake is being mobbed by birds in between some slender branches.
If this fig tree was hanging over a pool of water I might have heard bubbles popping as the Tilapia fish brushed the surface that swim on the surface of the water and if we patiently waited for long enough, as the sun slowly turned into a gentle pink, we might have heard the high-pitched call of a fruit bat and a whisper of a green luna moth elegantly flitting past.
All dancing with each other in a circle around the Large Strangler Fig tree. This is all part of the creation. The flower.