The modern busy world that many live in today is a very different place from the wilderness of Londolozi that some of us get to call home. Wherever we are, the environment around us has a subtle, but powerful effect on us. That realization came to me in the latter parts of my training as a Londolozi ranger, during an incredible period where we had the fortune of being immersed in the wilderness alone for 12 hours a day. It is a period dedicated to learning the roads that traverse Londolozi, but it has a much deeper effect on us. Your connection to the land grows exponentially, your senses are heightened, and inquisitiveness about the world surrounding you takes over. Every day I would see thousands of different tracks and signs – my curiosity begging to know the story behind each.
One of the days was very hot, and I found myself stopping for a break under the shade of a large tamboti tree along the banks of a beautiful riverbed. I could see that no person or vehicle had been here in days. A White-throated Robin-chat swooped down from the upper branches and landed next to me. She started to hop around and peck away at the ground every couple of seconds. I shifted closer to get a better view, this caused her to fly a few metres away and settle in a low-hanging branch.
Looking closely through my binoculars, I could see her little tracks and the small marks where her beak penetrated the soft sand while searching for food. She was eating tiny ants that were racing around throughout the leaf litter. I watched as her wings blew the fallen tamboti leaves away as she took off or landed. Looking at all of the different tracks and signs around me, it was fascinating to try and piece together the entire story that had unfolded prior to my arrival, of which she was only one small part. Some things were quite obvious to me, but other parts of the story were very difficult to piece together.
It made me realise that all our lives, everything around us in the modern world is constantly screaming for attention or trying to grab ours. Whether it be bright flashing lights or colours, loud sounds or vibrations – we are rarely required to have our senses fully activated to survive in the modern world. We forget how to see, we forget how to listen, smell or touch. Take this moment to close your eyes, and imagine yourself walking through a shopping mall or a busy street in the middle of a city. How many times would all your senses be tugged in all different directions? The compound effect of this over a prolonged period of time will tend to reduce our sensitivity to all life’s most subtle cues.
Relatively speaking, the wild is a quiet place. Most animals rarely draw attention to themselves or beg to be seen. They will go about their day in the most unobtrusive fashion. The only time that birds or animals draw attention to themselves is when it is necessary to do so for survival, for brief periods of the day, or at certain times of the year such as their mating season etc.
Being in a natural environment makes us far more receptive to some of the most subtle signs. Some of the most awesome experiences I’ve had out in the bush hinged on my ability to be fully present within each moment or experience. This same tracking ideology is fully transferable to our own lives, and I am incredibly grateful for the way that the process of tracking and searching for animals has taught me a new way to see over the years. Not to mention all of the many magical wildlife experiences that come hand-in-hand with a successful track-and-find.
The tracks and signs are quite literally a language. They are a story, always written truthfully in perfect chronological order. How in tune you are with your environment will determine how accurately you can interpret the story that lies before you. Mother Nature is continuously writing some of the most incredible stories that we as Rangers and Trackers try to piece together each day and interpret for our guests. The tracks are only a small part of this language, and can only be understood through sincere observation.
Tracking has taught me mindful observation. To pay attention to the most intricate details of the natural world, from the patterns on leaves to the smells of the seasons to the slightest tonal changes in bird-song. It truly has deepened my connection with the natural world and inspired a sense of wonder in all living things. I hope that one day, it may do the same for you.