Island Blog 172 Low-hanging Fruit


Pack that life you lead back home and bring it here, to Africa.  Wrap the sharp edges of it in soft clothes, pull in the straps and close the lid.  Fly it a thousand miles, and a thousand thousand more, over deserts wide as oceans and oceans deep as a human heart.  Let it spill out into a room, a little, into the space that lies between strangers well met under a burning sun.  We are all seekers here.  Some seek lions, some birds, some moments of light and inspiration.  Some come to find friendship, purpose, change, courage or peace.  From different countries, different tribes, different pasts, we wanderers gather.  We make of it what we can and, as we do, we find that the life we lead back home shrinks from lack of food, water, attention.  What was great seems small when feet away from a lioness and cub, a herd of elephants, a starling the colour of oil on water, or of standing beside a lunch queue of 500 African children, plates in hand.

I was often taught that to wander is a lost thing, something idle, time-wasting.  Forward motion, I was told, is purposeful, marching like boots on parade and yet in wandering I move slowly enough to connect with the air around me, I wear it like a garment, I feel the soft folds of it gentle on my skin;  I hear the sound of it settle in my ears and taste of it on my tongue, its sweetness unworldly.  Wandering, I can see the colour of raindrops, watch their journey’s end around my feet, see them become the earth that holds me up.

It might be possible, you could say, to do this wandering thing at weekends or on holidays, but not inside that trajectory of commuting tension that is my life, where it’s all fire and firings, fears and deadlines, meetings and paperwork, junk lunches and yawning afternoons; where I get so tired I can barely manage a civil word to my spouse, my kids;  where every evening is a rush to Brownies or Tai Jitsu or practice for a swimming badge, and supper is just something to eat before bed.

I sincerely hope that it is possible to wander whilst young, however many demands are made.  I remember it as a complete impossibility for me, even living in one of the most peaceful wanderley places on earth.  Everyone else went for afternoons on the beach, or for picnics, but not me.  Looking back now, I don’t believe it was because there was too much to do, which there undoubtedly was. for everyone has too much to do, not just I.  There are wisdoms fleeing about like wasps that tell us what to do to become wanderley, but nobody can give us the How.  How do I, when I can’t even think straight, when the demands on me are so overwhelming?

Sadly I have no answer, but what I do know is that nowadays there is a greater understanding of the What of living a fulfilled life. We know we must attend to our physical, spiritual, social,financial and cultural needs.  Stress management therapy is attending to a wound way too late, but it is still better than internally combusting on the way to the school sports day.  And, let’s be honest, who really never suffers from stress?  We are pushed and squeezed and contained and controlled and yet we expect ourselves to behave perfectly, no swearing in front of the kids or in the post office queue.  We demand too much of ourselves.

I am learning to be imperfect and I recommend it.  If I could go back and do it all again I would tell myself to lower the standard.  Half mast is high enough. I would let myself be tired and to call for rest.  I would let myself walk to the shore and sit there, not in rebellion as I did (a rebel without a cause) but because I allowed me just to ‘be’.  No need to explain, nor justify, no plan of action, no wisdoms learned, lining up to be listed by rote, just me not judging me.

If you have an apple seed, plant it and wait for the rains and the sun to give it life.

Watch it bloom in spring sending fragrance out like a song, to call in the bees.

See the rich sweet apples in Autumn.

Rise, for it is time now.

Pick the low-hanging fruit first and sell some by the roadway.

When there is enough silver in your hand

Buy a ladder.

Island Blog 171 Wild Life

leopard family

We are wild creatures, every one of us, born into captivity.

This is a good thing, for we would not survive well, nor for long without the protection of those who have already learned how to fit inside the world, without their guidance, discilpline, leadership.  Of course, there are varying levels of quality in such beginnings, for not all of us find the perfect launch pad from which to elevate ourselves into adulthood.  However, the common denominator remains, whether parental protection and guidance means two delicious, loving and sensitive people to whom we can always go and whom we always trust, or an atribilious, or absent father, and a bitter, cold or missing mother.  The baby born is completely unknown, to himself, to his parents, to the world.  He, or she, is a wild thing, and not a blank canvas as some might say.   A blank canvas suggests that someone else plans to paint me, and that is never going to sit well with a wild creature.

Each generation makes its own changes.  As awareness develops we consider how we will live out our life.  Will we copy the ways of our parents, our guides and leaders?  or will we rebel and create anew?   I know it really isn’t that simple, nor an ‘either/or’ thing, for there are thousands, nay, billions of hectares in between, with as many opportunities to paint newcolours and shapes, add a personal light, to add new hopes, dreams, accomplishments and mistakes.  The nature and nurture conversation can snake on deep into the night.  If I was born to another family, with other built in rules and standards, would I still be me?  If my family had been cold and unloving, what would I be like now?  It isn’t just nature, nor just nurture, but a combination of the two.  Every single lesson I learned has changed me, altered my course.  Every person met has taught me.  Every painful hurt, moment of joy, mistake made, accomplishment achieved, everything has gone in to the development of me.  I am me because of my life thus far.

So what do we do with the person we are?  We can take this person and make a difference, that’s what.  The alternative, to not make any impact at all, is not worthy of any one of us, nor is it possible.  We would have to not be born at all.  Although the wild beginning inside us – our soul – is faithful and true, always there right up to the last gasp, it appears that we can forget we have one.  It is tempting to whine about what we don’t have, didn’t achieve, didn’t get on-a-plate, will never accomplish, and, in that time-and-life-wasting process, we deny the existence of our wildness.  Oh, it’s been beaten out of me………..I have no choice………….they are too powerful……..and so on.  It’s like a disease, a deadly virus if allowed to spread.

Watch children at play.  Remember being one of those little creatures, full of energy and noise, their voices rising like birds, their imaginative games, the way they sing together, image free?  Well, that’s where we all began.  Even the children who appear to have nothing, have the ability to play.  Nobody told them they should.  It’s a wild thing.

As our awareness develops, we have the brain to consider and reflect on the things we have learned.  Some of us find a wise place for our curiosity to land, a guide who will answer and explain, a parent perhaps.  Some of us move into irridescence (my word for adolescence) with questions squirming inside our heads like a writhe of trapped snakes.  Either way, the awareness continues to develop.  We notice more, we question more, and inch by pimply inch we find answers that resonate with our wildness, although most of us have no idea how that happens.  It just feels right, so we adopt it, fashion it into our developing persona, make it our own.  All of this is grand, as long as it doesn’t get too fixed.  There are many who shoot themselves in the foot by holding fast to something learned years before, refusing to change, even though everything else has changed at least a million times over since the initial ‘aha’.  Refusing to cant in the ever changing winds of life is a dangerous, and often self-imposed limitation.  It pushes away any opportunity for new growth; it pushes people away and the chance for new encounters.  You might say you don’t want that anyway, but your soul won’t agree, that I am certain of. You might say you are quite happy as you are, but you aren’t.  None of us are.  I don’t mean we are dissatisfied with our lives, not at all, although many are, but more that we are often more aware of that exstrinsic to us, the out-there of life and able, with supreme success, to silence our inner voice, the song of our heart, our soul, our very wildness.  And this wildness is not the same as anyone else’s, for not one other living person has lived our life, not one.  Much like snowflakes and zebras, we are each unique.  No two the same.  Ever.

With this knowledge comes responsibility.  There is no time for any of us to lie on the couch moaning.  Just outside the door, there are encounters waiting, unpredictably dotted about, visual, olefactory, verbal.  It’s not a movie in the making, our ordinary journey;  It’s far more wonderful than that.

Learning about the dynamics of animal life out here in Africa is fascinating.  Although we humans have been fashioned with larger brains, in so many ways we are similar.  Everything affects our walk through life.  If we are weak, we must learn how to get stronger, or we become ‘lunch’.  Others of our species can protect or try to destroy us.  There is danger all around.  The big difference, however, is that our real danger lies not in external predation but deep inside.  What we think of what happens and what we do about it, or don’t, affects our whole life.  Nobody can ruin our lives, however hard they may try, if we refuse to let them. I do acknowledge that it is possible to live under the control of another and to allow it for a while, thinking it a safe place, the right place, the best place to be, but, once the heart speaks out, which it always always will, saying ‘this is not what you want, make change’, at that point it is no longer right nor healthy to remain.  It isn’t about packing physical bags.  It’s about the first step down the road less travelled, the road you don’t know, the road that leads to inner acceptance and peace.  Fundamentals may not change, or they may do just that over time, as one metaphysical shift affects everyone else involved, but this doesn’t stop the process.  What does change is the person who decides to begin learning their own heart song, to relocate their wild spirit, whatever it takes.  An invisible change is always the most powerful, and not one living being remains unaffected by it.  It is transmitted in silence, but transmitted nonetheless.

I have met and spoken with people who have suffered horrifically at the hands of others and who shine like full moons.  They were given no explanation, no heartfelt apology, no opportunity for revenge, no closure, so they did it all themselves. They decided to remember the childlike wild inside them and to fan the embers back to life.  Too many of us waste life longing for someone to say sorry.  I’ve done it myself, imagining it would make everything okay.  Take it from me……move on.  It won’t happen anyway.

Imagine this going on in the animal world?  Those wild creatures we love to spot, to watch, to marvel at.  Any of them who paused to re-stock their supply of self-pity, wouldn’t last the night.  And we can learn from them, from the natural world.  It isn’t separate from us, and it never was.  This planet of ours belongs to all of us, and we are just a part of the dynamic and ever changing whole.

So, do we play our part?  Do we really paint our own canvas…….make our own mistakes, wash the colours off when they turn to mud and paint again, and then again and then again, altering lines and hues and shapes according to everything we learn as we travel on, or do we stand still whilst life marches by, immersed in what didn’t come to us, what wasn’t fair, deaf to the song in our heart?

I believe that every hurt and every frustration, failure, disappointment, mistake, every wound, every pain, all of these and more are essential materials for our development.  We must learn to celebrate them, be thankful for them, and to learn the lessons they taught us.  Unmindfulness is a human failing and the reason we live like hamsters.    We must notice everything, try everything with open, and above all thankful hearts.  We must re-kindle the child, the wild one, not to make sense of our lives, for who on earth has ever succeeded at that, but to honour the fact that we are here at all, to be mindfully thankful for everything that happened to us, to celebrate our glorious survival thus far, and then to work out how each one of us ordinary people can live out an extraordinary life.

Island Blog 170 A Little Rebellion

alice in wonderland

Recognising a dream to be that thing that will not leave you alone, no matter how loudly busy your life may be, is just the first step on the road of inconvenience. It would have little opportunity to develop itself inside all that busyness…….just look at how busy I am……can’t you see?  If anyone imagines that it would ever be possible for me to find the time, space and energy to walk out my dream (considering how foolish I feel even mentioning it out loud), that thing that lifts and excites, just the thought of it bringing on a smile, that thing that keeps me awake at night, then they are asking too much.   It’s like wishing my whole life was a holiday, and, to my knowledge, there is no fairy with that amount of wand power.  I have to go to work, put my all into it, rest completely assured that, without me, everything will degenerate into chaos.  Besides, the family comes first, the kids, the partner, the outlaws, the job, the garden, the community commitments and I, little unimportant ‘I’ come somewhere down the bottom of all such lists. No, not true.  I put myself there.

But what about the dream to make a difference?  What about that journey only I can make?  We are not born attached to someone else.  We are one and only one and only ever one, however many attachments we make along the road.  Often we think of ourselves in relation to A.N.Other and we put ourselves in their shadow, dragging all the longings of our soul along like ankle chains. It does demand energy, yes, but energy is always available and is surprisingly responsive to our call for action. It also demands time and effort, but what we don’t seem to realise at the beginning is that we only have to take one step, and then another until we learn, all over again, how to run.

I talk with people often about relationships and I find one thing to be a constant.  If I make someone happy, bending into unbelievable shapes a thousand times a day for years, then this is enough.  If this were true, which it absolutely is not, then how come it never is enough?  Sometimes I can’t see where I start and you begin, so efficient have I become at pandering.  Now, this is not to be confused with the giving of love which is always a free gift.  However, if it comes at a price, these things I do for you, these accommodating things, denying myself, quieting my own desires, my own voice, then it is not love I give you, it is domestic maintenance and there is no blood in the veins of it.  I can do the same inside my house, plumping up cushions, emptying the ashes, sweeping the floors, only to go through the whole process again tomorrow and throughout all my tomorrows.

It’s confusing I agree, but it is, nonetheless, a common misunderstanding among lovers.  What we believe to be the good and the right things are often the wrong things.  What it leads to, in the end, is often an explosion, because this dream thing, will never let us rest.  So many of us go to our graves with the song still in us and yet it is always in our power to avoid that being said about us.   What seems to happen is that we find ourselves in a situation that appears so established as to be impossible to change, let alone tear down and start again.  This is the way we are expected to behave;  this is the way we have always done it;  we don’t know another way.  The questions are endless.  What will he/she/they think of me?  Worse, what will they say?  How can I change something I didn’t have much say in creating?  I just went along for the sake of peace even if my restless heart felt none beyond the ‘ah’ that comes when we are congratulated for being a good girl. Well, that lasts about ten minutes which is not very long at all.  If the well dones do not directly resonate with our soul, it means nothing.  I never wanted to hear such well dones after achieving something that was merely something I taught myself to do very well indeed, unless, that is, it was something to do with my dream, in which case, bring them on!

The thing about building and walking out a dream is that we usually need support, because what we plan to embark upon is going to cause some degree of inconvenience.  I might, for example not be here to take delivery of the new washing machine because the weather is perfect for catching cloud photos.  I might not be here to have supper on the table at 7 because I am meeting a friend to talk through pigments or Nietzsche or the fabrics of India or constellations in the southern hemisphere.  Yes, it is thoroughly selfish of me I know.  No, I can’t re-schedule……well I actually could but I’m not going to because this is the time I want to do this thing.  But, be careful whom you choose for this role.  To have your dream micro-managed before you even learned about it yourself is to ensure failure, until, that is, you have quietly walked, with love, with kindness and understanding of the ‘inconvenience’ you are causing, all alone for a while.  Why we always ask another’s opinion on our own wild imaginings is beyond me, even if I have done exactly that mysefl, and learned from it.

This is where we women find our biggest road block, and so few of us climb over it.  We accommodate everyone else until we have no path at all other than the collective one. We make it okay, we make it easy for ourselves, saying, well, what could I achieve anyway, or, it’s too difficult and I can’t face the fight.  In short, we give up.  I am not surprised at all that men do great things and women support them because it is we who let that happen. Nor am I saying there is anything wrong in it, providing it works the other way around when a woman dreams a dream.  The minute we commit to it, life will help us.  It will be rocky, bumpy, challenging and inconvenient, and that’s before walking out the front door, but these dreams are gifts and we are powerful and intelligent and strong and utterly brilliant after all.  Didn’t we prove that by  raising children, learning how to balance books, caring for our loved ones, soothing, nursing, supporting, cheering on, always there……… always?

It all begins with saying yes.  Yes, to me. Yes I will build my dream.

I’ll leave you with the wisdom of Nietzsche…….

“Any human being who does not wish to be part of the masses need only stop making things easy for himself. Let him follow his conscience, which calls out to him: “Be yourself! All that you are now doing, thinking, desiring, all that is not you.

Every young soul hears this call by day and by night and shudders with excitement at the premonition of that degree of happiness which eternities have prepared for those who will give thought to their true liberation. There is no way to help any soul attain this happiness, however, so long as it remains shackled with the chains of opinion and fear. And how hopeless and meaningless life can become without such a liberation! There is no drearier, sorrier creature in nature than the man who has evaded his own genius and who squints now towards the right, now towards the left, now backwards, now in any direction whatever.”

Island Blog 169 Dream Walkers

African women at work

Listening to the colourful mamas laughing as they clear the breakfast dishes and prepare for their room cleaning tasks is Africa for me. I am astonished each time I come here to find such joy in ordinary hard work, and it is hard, even for they who are so used to this 38 degree heat. They brush the courtyards with palm branches and clean down rugs with a hosepipe, turning the jet of water on each other often. The shrieks of laughter drown out even the birds, even the Ha-di-das and the Squeaky Barrow birds and the rise of it turns our heads, each one of us, for nobody can avoid such punctuation. Last evening, Sindi came to tell us that the power had gone off in the kitchen and that she, generally capable of bring down a buffalo, should the need arise, refused to touch the mains switches because Tembe had soaked her shorts and they were still wet.

We’ve been here five days now and waking at 5 am has already become a habit. Everyone else is up by then, anyway, heading off for game drives into the bush, or to clear sickle bush on the reserve, all grabbing coffee and toast and chilli peanut butter spread which tastes surprisingly wonderful in the warm sunshine. Vervet monkeys crash through the branches around the lodge, just waiting for the chance to grab from any abandoned plate, which is why we don’t abandon them. They, in this place, are scavenging pests, although it is hard to see them that way when their cute little faces peer at us through the acacia branches. As I wandered into the gardens this morning I saw two blue waxbills picking through the leaves, the aquamarine of their tiny wings, a flash of rainbow. A loan scarlet-chested sunbird watched me for a while from the top of a frangipane and, over there, where the mother bush buck and calf lie almost invisibly bar the flicking of their ears, a yellow-fronted tinkerbird skittered through the emerging blaze of orange blooms on the fire poi tree, which is not what it’s called at all.

To be honest, it is a lot to take in. I try to remember the names of everything, and yet I often have to ask a passing guide who is only too happy to help. Their passion for their work, that of understanding everything that lives as a dynamic part of this eco-system makes them approachable at all times. I marvel at their dedication, these young people, so bursting with knowledge and, better, the endless (it seems) burn to find out more and more again. I overhear conversations about the Klaserie lions, K2 having been spotted or that K5, a lone female, starving and yet ferociously sure of herself has now been accepted into the pride, causing sighs of relief through the ranks of volunteers and guides alike. Without this serendipity, she would have slowly starved to death. Even though it is the lionesses who hunt and kill, as a rule, they always have to stand back once the buffalo or impala or zebra or giraffe is down because they could easily be mortally wounded by a male should one step forward before he is done. And it isn’t just one male. It could be 2 or 3 or even more, so that she is lucky to pick at bones once they roll away full-bellied to sleep off a feast. It seems the animal kingdom still holds with the ‘guys come first’ rule, even if it is the females who do all the hard work.

Last evening, as we sat around the braai table, I heard rustles in the bush. The bush is all of two feet away from the dying fire and rustles can be any size you care to make them as you peer into the darkness. Predators, unlike prey, can see better in the dark, and I felt very vulnerable in my light desert khaki, even though I know that the hyenas we just heard whooping in the distance are, indeed, in the distance, and that leopards keep well away from humans, ditto lethal snakes and spiders. But the weeny little scared bit of me suddenly finds her voice and tells me there are always exceptions. After all, didn’t we have a spitting cobra in the courtyard this afternoon? It didn’t mean to be there, having squiggled its way along a nice cool pipe, and all it wanted to do after said squiggle was to make an immediate u-turn, but nevertheless, a snake startled is more than a snake. It’s Trouble.
This is life in Africa and not one of the creatures who can hurt us wants to, possibly with the exception of the Grumpy Ones, such as buffalo and white rhino, but the chances of either wandering into our space is ten zillion to one. So I sat there, telling my wee inner fearty that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Even five days into this Big Adventure has learned me much. I doubt I will ever be confidently cocksure which, I am reliably informed by the well-experienced guides, is exactly how you do get eaten.

It is like so much in life. Whilst writing my book I constantly questioned myself. I knew I could write, but the world of writers is massiverous and it is very hard indeed to find either an agent or a publisher. What made me think I would make it? Well…..nothing really beyond a decision to never never never give up. In the face of self-doubt and the voice of a cynical world, we are, all of us, alone with our dream. One person, one vision, one body, one mind. Although we all nod as we read uplifting wisdoms from those who have followed their dream, taken the bare bones of it and slowly, patiently, steadfastly and against tremendous odds, built it into a shape even they could not imagine at the start, it is not enough to nod. Those who refuse to allow monkey mind to be at the wheel must continually and continuously whack him on the head with a broomstick, for not one us is really free of him. Although it may appear that ‘this’ person who achieved ‘this success’ is lucky, fortunate, chosen by Lady Fate to rise higher than the rest, this is all a pack of lies. Although it can immediately step us back into the shadows, cause us to let go of our precious and fragile dream, for…… how can I ever achieve what they have achieved…….look at me……I’m just a this, or just a that…..I tell you right now that this thinking is not for dreamers.

Sometimes there is no road; sometimes there is only you peering into the darkness, imagining monsters; often there is no encouragement so don’t bother seeking it; the same goes for approval. Expect to inconvenience people; expect criticism and cynical eyebrows raised. Expect to go a bit hungry, to be tired out at times, to be filled with self-doubt and to hear hyenas whooping in the distance. Expect it and be done.

This is how you build a dream.