Since Africa, we call each other when something reminds us that a magic spell was cast back there in the wild, where we belong.
This elephant stopped not 5 feet from my right side. I could have touched her, easily. She looked me straight in the eye for a good 3 minutes. And she let out a low rumble from deep in her throat while she held me still and enrapt. She’d ambled up to our open-air Land Rover with a slow but purposeful stride, looking my way all the while. And then, after she delivered her message, she walked on by. I turned to my mates in the truck, and our stunned silence gave way to “oh my Gods” and awe in the face of magic. I can honestly say that this was one of those moments – like childbirth and first love and reaching the mountain top and, let’s hope, death – when I came home to myself, when I knew God, and when I took a deep dive into faith that we are all a part of a grand and perfect plan.
I spent a week at Londolozi last May, on retreat at this gorgeous South African safari camp with a dozen fellow seekers and our mentor, Martha Beck. We spent 5 or 6 hours a day tracking on the bushveld, sometimes parked about 20 feet away from lions at rest, elephants at play, leopards strolling by, or giraffes cocking their heads in our direction as they munched the treetops. We shared all meals and Martha coached us ‘round the table and on into the night, as the campfire blazed and we told our stories to each other. These people have become my treasured tribe of fellow seekers; we get on a group phone call once a month and chat online and call each other when something reminds us that a magic spell was cast back there in the wild, where we belong.
We carry the wildness inside ourselves, as we always did, but now we feel it more readily.
Since Africa, I’ve poured effortless energy into new ventures. I came home and said to my husband, ‘We need land. And animals!’ And, bless him, he said, ‘OK.’ So we are developing 105 acres of gorgeous land in western North Carolina that’s chock full of woods, wetlands, streams, waterfalls, and wildflowers. We’ve christened it Blue Star Ranch, which will be home to horses and burros and goats and dogs and people, who’ll come on retreat to learn or re-discover what they truly can do or be. I can see our new retreat center in my mind’s eye: People gathered by the huge stone fireplace, holding a coffee or a brandy, talking about their day in the round pen with the horses or hiking the trails or doing nothing much but remembering how much they love something that they had forgotten about…
My time in Africa was more powerful than I realized at the time that I packed my duffel and headed toward Johannesburg for the 15-hour flight home. I’ll keep unpacking memories and finding more lessons, but, for now, here’s a list of things I know now because of my journey:
● Animals do what they are designed to do, effortlessly. I want that.
● Getting quiet and still can be more thrilling than just about anything.
● Amarula (a liqueur from a native tree) and red, vanilla-scented rooibos tea are delicious.
● Boyd Varty, whose family owns and runs Londolozi, regaled us with storytelling that had us laughing with tears. I’d forgotten how much we love stories. I came home and asked my Dad to tell me his.
● Hippos are the most dangerous animals in the bush. Go figure. There was a mud wallow just outside my tent. I’d recognize that hippo call anywhere, now. It’s like a low rumbling snort that lasts a long time.
● Do not make eye contact and engage in sweet talk with monkeys. They will follow you everywhere and steal your food, purse, and hairbrush. Oh, and it is possible that your laundry will not be returned if the monkeys decide it’s a good day to raid the clothesline.
● Giraffes like it when you sing to them. One of our mates, Devin, has a knack for calling whales with lovely, low, sonorous chanting. This also works with giraffes, in case you’re wondering. We actually sat on the grass of the bush, Devin sang, and the giraffes came.
● Lions do everything with powerful energy: hunt, mate, raise cubs, play, roar, and rest. A lion can go from deep slumber into the focused pursuit of prey in an instant. From gorging on a kill to deep slumber in the blink of an eye. Nothing half-hearted. No maybe’s or what if’s or worries. I want that.
● We all have our own journey and our own struggles. Most of us keep that part under wraps. Telling our stories to each other without judgment is a sacred act.
● When it gets dark, it’s good to have a mate to walk the path with you.
● If you stop doing what you imagine that you’re obligated to do, and instead, go for things that inspire you, your whole life changes. Fast.
● Tracking animals is like tracking your inner landscape – follow the hot tracks and you’ll find your prize.
So my journey continues, as does yours, and this is what I wish for me and for you: Lion energy for whatever is on your day’s itinerary, a good (inner) tracker to show you the way, unexpected joys of beauty, song and stories, the wisdom to get the monkeys off your back and steer clear of hippos, and the occasional elephant to remind you that we are all connected.