For 51 weeks of the year, I feel the mounting anticipation of my annual birthday escape to the West Coast. As my Golf heads northwards on the N7 the fynbos seems to sing out in chorus, welcoming me to the wild spaces of the West Coast. There’s something more than the usual celebratory element – something more pervasive which has given me fuel for thought as I’ve sat in the solace of this wild coastline.
This annual journey has been joined with countless others from my calling as a travel writer – journeys that are not only vocational in nature but feed a much deeper need. I also know that my experience is not a unique one, but one joins a myriad of others undertaken by those who have also heard the call of the wild.
What is it about our lives that make us oftentimes so urgently need wild spaces. The wisdom of Irish writer John O’Donoghue has provided valuable insight, and I share below some reflections on why I sense we so desperately need wildness.
The Inner Life
One of the tragedies of our time is the silencing of our inner lives. The deep-seated centres of ourselves that house our heart, wellness of being, dreams and creativity. Our inner life encompasses that which moves and motivates us but also reminds us of that which hurts and pains us. I know from my life that a reluctance to hear the latter means that I do all I can so silence the inner life. In this case, to our detriment, the inner voice doesn’t shout but sits and waits patiently to be engaged with.
As a result of our oftentimes unwillingness to deal with the pain that sits under the surface – but also the alluringly busy lives we lead – our inner life can be neglected. Silenced through addictions, busyness or the deafening noise of modern life. Nature, however, possesses some of the ability to slowly coax us into a much-needed space. O’Donoghue says that ‘Rather than taking us outside ourselves, nature coaxes us deeper inwards.’
He goes on to describe something of what happens when we allow the inward journey to gently surface. ‘The slowness and stillness gradually take us over. Our breathing deepens and our hearts calm and our hungers relent. When serenity it restores, new perspectives open to us and difficulty can be seen as an invitation to new growth… The tired machinations of the ego are abandoned. It no longer needs to push or prove itself in the combat of competition. Beneath the frenetic streams of thought, the quieter, elemental nature of the self takes over and calms our presence.’
My conviction is that as humans we’re designed to search for, and delight in beauty. This is one of the reasons why I’ve given myself to travel writing. Yes, the unbelievable experiences and endlessly changing horizon are reward enough in themselves, but deep down I’m always looking for glimpses of beauty that I know will also bring joy and meaning to others.
Sadly, beauty has been commodified into something it was never intended to be. It’s often pushed into taking an unfamiliar shape of success, glamour, achievement and striving.
In spaces of wildness, we’re somehow more easily able to tell beauty apart from its counterfeit parts and contesters. Learn to see anew and search out beauty where it naturally dwells. It is no longer a tradeable commodity but a natural gem to be sought and treasured. “The graced eye can glimpse beauty anywhere, for beauty does not wait for perfection but is present already secretly in everything. When we beautify our grace, the grace of hidden beauty becomes our joy and our sanctuary.”
Perhaps this is why wise men, holy people, and prophets have sought the wisdom of the wild, and why we should be quick to turn to wild spaces in times of need.
Free of Programme
Almost every time I’m on a safari I’m reminded that one of the wild’s most precious characteristics is her ability to surprise us. The unpredictability of the wild means that we enter not on our own terms, but rather hers and accept whatever she has to offer. This falls outside of the predictable patterns of our everyday life.
This is not to say that we don’t encounter surprises in our daily life, but I’m talking about the flashes of wild beauty that await us in natural spaces. Yesterday, the sunset seemed like a divinely staged production, designed to impress me; the sun large and heavy, seemingly lowered by a pully above and soon replaced with a darker yet peaceful backdrop. Today the feeding-frenzy I witnessed over the ocean as countless dolphins below and gulls above seemed to delight in some bounty suddenly offered by the sea.
O’Donoghue says that beauty ‘cannot be programmed nor it’s arrival foreseen. It never falls simply into the old patterns of what is already there not is it frivolous or burdened with leaden solemnity.’
Wells of Creativity
Creativity was never intended to be forced from a place of freneticism but rather a blank canvas. I feel that should I have taken any form of fine art training I’ve have learned this lesson much earlier. When I retreat to the wild, almost always within a day of solitude, creativity slowly wells up. Pictures, words, ideas and narratives emerge from places that hadn’t been given breathing space.
This is why as I child my father introduced me to the Drakensberg, allowing the mountains to educate me on sacred things long before I could even put words to them. This is why the barren beauty of the West Coast and uninhabited remoteness of the Wild Coast keep me returning to their shores. And why the wild spaces of Kruger and other Game Reserves are where I turn to for both healing and inspiration.
The call of the wild is the call to beauty. To an inner journey of embracing peace, sensing beauty, being surprised and released.
“If we allow time for soul, we will come to sense its dark and luminous depth. If we fail to acquaint ourselves with soul, we will remain strangers in our own lives. When we begin to awaken to the light of the soul, life takes on a new depth. The losses we have suffered the delight and peace we experienced, the beauty we have known, all belong together in a profound way.”
May we prioritise the call to the wild, and in doing so, find not only it, but also ourselves in a deeper and more profound way.
If you’re looking for a West Coast escape, I’ve loved my stays at both
Skye (Brittania Bay) and Dunstone Beach House (Jacob’s Bay)
* Image credit Claude Morcos