To be bewildered….
It is difficult to describe this journey, this experience. ‘This place’. I’ve noticed that that is how we all refer to it. Hardly ever simply as ‘here’. Which is fitting, because this place deserves a respect beyond the ever-changing, anthrocentric view that is implied by the egocentric word ‘here’. In any case words seem such paltry things when one is confronted by the grandeur and majesty of true wilderness. To lie in your tent at night, separated from the world by only a few thin sheets of fabric, and to listen to the roaring of the lions, the eerie whooping of hyena, the distant grunt and bellow of hippo, the grumble and trumpet of an outraged elephant, is to come to a new, and fuller, understanding of your place in the world.
We humans are so used, whether consciously or subconsciously, to regarding ourselves as the pinnacle of creation, the apex of evolution and consequently, the masters of the Earth. Then one comes to a place like this and all such conceits are revealed to be the hubris that they truly are. We are custodians at best, all the more so because we, alone amongst all the animals, have the capacity to understand our custodianship. At our worst we are mere agents of destruction, the force of entropy written large on the face of this complex system we call the world. Perhaps the overwhelming realisation of coming to this place, balanced, harmonious, perfect, is the fact that wilderness, true wilderness, does not require our presence in order to function. This wilderness is vast and we as humans within it are small and insignificant. That is how it should be. The wilderness is a place inherently outside of our control. That is why some people fear it, why some people hate it. It seems to defy that all-too human urge to classify and catalogue and control. That is also why some people love it. To enter into the wilderness, to strive to live in harmony and balance with it, is to surrender yourself to a complexity that, far from being chaotic, is merely far beyond anything that can be comprehended by our narrow rationality.
Someone once said that while this expedition is a journey into a place it is also, in perhaps a more meaningful way, a journey into the past. It is a journey into the natural world as it once was, balanced, harmonious and perfect, as it was before we humans with all our cleverness and lack of wisdom thought it expedient to our aims to erect fences and eradicate predators and dam rivers and drain wetlands and try, with all the might of human technology and ingenuity, to bend the world to our will. Perhaps we did it out of fear. It is slightly more comforting to believe that than to believe that we did it out of mere megalomania and greed. We fear that which we do not understantd. More than that, we fear that which we cannot control. To be bewildered, in the oldest, truest sense of the world, is to be surrounded, enveloped by that which one cannot comprehend, cannot control, cannot fathom. To control wilderness is to destroy it. To live as we strive to do on this journey, in the wild, with the wild, in harmony with the world, rather than in opposition to it, is in a very meaningful way a surrender of yourself to the wilderness. It is a surrender, as all such surrenders are, of control and consequently of ego. It is also a surrender of that most cherished of human self-delusions: that we, merely because we have the cleverness and the power to do so, have the right to make and break, create and destroy.
For all of its power over our psyches the wilderness is fragile. It cannot long withstand our meddling. Like a diamond, if mistreated it will shatter, and while each shard might retain some fragment of beauty and value the individual value of the pieces will never begin to approach the value of the whole. Once wilderness is gone, it is gone forever. We cannot console ourselves with the the thought that what we destroy today, whether through malice or mistake, we can simply repair tomorrow. With all our cleverness and ingenuity and technology, we cannot recreate a wilderness once it is gone. For wilderness, true wilderness, there are no second chances. In this plain, inescapable fact lies all the responsibility and all the burden of our custodianship.
You lie in your tent at night and you listen to the lions roar, the hippos grunt, the chorus of hyenas and elephants and insects and frogs. Your mind travels out, and out, over channel and floodplain and island and lagoon. Fo thousands of square miles all around you know that the same sounds are echoing over the vastness of the bush. And you, alone in your tent, a mere speck on the map, if you listen deeply, is you listen close, if you allow the ancient magic of the wilderness to seep into your soul, can maybe come to a new, truer understanding of what the world is, and what it once was, and of what role we, as humans, should play as its custodians.