Two weeks ago, Helanya and I turned off our phones, folded away our laptops, locked up the house, and headed north for a visit to South Africa’s Kruger National Park. We are fortunate to visit frequently and, without exception, these visits remain some of my favourite memories of the last decade. Exactly why that is I don’t quite understand. Perhaps it is the thrill of the chase; hours of driving in search of the elusive leopard (we caught a glimpse of one, but only for a few seconds before it disappeared into the bush), or that moment of awe when a herd of elephant races towards a watering hole evidently upsetting a sleeping hippo, or the Mozambican spitting cobra that silently passes in front of the car, raising its head as a warning to not try anything stupid (and close the windows).
But, in truth, the thrill can quickly wither away, especially when travelling slowly along a bumpy gravel road in the hot, midday sun. When minutes turn into hours since the last ‘spotting’, your thoughts easily drift into the distance, away from the veld, before you suddenly realise you’ve completely neglected your job as animal spotter. You focus again, concentrating on the veld, on the trees and bushes and grass that take the shape of animals but are anything but. It’s not long, though, before you’re lost in your own world again.
For the first few days after your arrival, your thoughts automatically jump back to work. You fail to get away from the daily buzz, to lose track of the immediate newsflashes, the tweets, the facebook posts, the emails, the sounds of urgency that surround our everyday. It’s tough to willingly slow down, zoom out, to take the longer view. To relax without thinking about tomorrow.
But one fine day when the animals are hiding deep in the underbush and when you’ve once again forgotten to look for them, you stumble upon something magical: out of the nothingness, an idea emerges into the open, hoping to entertain. A day-dream. A vision of the future that captivates you, that exhilarates, that awes. It moves into sight, so real you take a mental picture of it to preserve it in memory before it moves on, off to the land of Creativity where all such animal spirits retire. It’s only later, on the plane back to Cape Town, when you recall the flash of brilliance and begin to plot your plans for future fulfilment.
None of those pictures would have been possible in the daily buzz of everyday life. Too many distractions, noise, pollution. The ‘urgent’ must sometimes be set aside, in the hope that the ‘important’ will show itself.
There be Dragons in the Kruger Park. And animals too.