It’s 15:04 on a Friday afternoon and I find myself on the N4 heading out of Pretoria. It’s hot. I smear away the mist of sweat gathering under my sunglasses, peeping up at the line of cars ahead of me and suddenly I feel like 1 of a zillion cans packed tightly together in a spaza shop. Alex and Lee grow quiet and I’m eventually alone with the road and my super cool Indie Mix 2012.
Soon enough the grey lego like landscape with its lines and corners turns to wavey soft brushstrokes of greens, browns and yellows. There’s too many colours to count. For a moment my music hums to a mumble and I start to hear the old murmuring of Elton John, Enya, Phantom of The Opera, Les Miserables, Abba and Miss Saigon from trips to the Kruger with my grandparents. Something twangs in my heart like a branch slinging back from where you’ve held it to clear a path and I roll the window down, pull the pony tail out of my hair and start to sing out loud.
We arrive at our bush lodge and once I’ve done a thorough inspection of my tent, sealed off all possible cobra entry points and sprayed enough Doom to gas an impala I take a moment to shake the city right off me. It gets really quiet and I step out onto the wooden deck to inhale a full 2 lungs worth of fresh air. A blanket of darkness is shattered by stars like diamonds on a velvet backdrop and the raging waterfall beneath me gushes around rocks and bends like housewives moving through shops at a Sandton sidewalk sale.
Before we set off on our very early game drive I warn the Ranger about not wanting to get close to the animals that could maul me.
Carly: “Carl is it? I have no desire to die today. I don’t need to see an elephant musking or a lion mock charge, u get me? I, myself am somewhat of a herbivore… got no problem being arms length from a zebra.”
We set off as the sun starts to rise and I can’t help but transport to days of hot and sticky car game drives with My Gran when I knew every bird in the bird book. Literally. Every. Bird. The woman had taught me them all from the time I could start talking. She was crazy like that. Crazy enough even… to give a mamba the guillotine with a spade! I tell you no lies.
As the light starts slanting in and illuminating whippets of grass on our path I can’t help but feel her. Her laugh, the way she spoke loud, the way her hair was never straight, the way she’d face anything, her wild abandon, her over-the-top-ness, her fearless approach to life.
I started to think back on the times in my life where I’d had the fire inside me to be untame. I’d jumped out of a plane, I’d signed a bond, I’d said I love you, I’d chased off a mugger (in heels!), I’d uneclipsed myself in a rotten relationship, I’d stood up in front of a full audience with a pineapple in my panties, I’d spoken up to a bully and I’d streaked stark naked through a hotel. None seem as exciting or adventurous as taking down a snake but somewhere inside me I’m chuffed. I know it’s her, urging me to dance with danger, or wrestle with the unknown. I may not be brave enough to have high tea with a hyena or have staring competitions with rhinos but I am brave enough to show people who I am, to be a leader, to tell stories and to make mistakes. That’s more than a lot of people can say.
I climb out of our 4 x 4 and as my chunky hiking boots hit the sand I realize that I’m standing a little taller. I also realize that I’m dressed like a lesbian and laugh about what my best friend Ed would say if he could see me now – head to toe in khaki.
I’m holding what appears to be a dried out twig and it’s prickling the palm of my hand. I’m told to put it in water and wait to see what happens. I feel the dryness against my fingers and wonder what this Ranger dude hopes to achieve by having me put a dead plant in water. What’s done is done I think, what’s finished is finished. Just as I’m about to unzip my tent I see something bright and beautiful from the corner of my eye. It’s a butterfly, delicately perched on a branch. I tip toe near it, knowing at any second it’s going to take off but it does something I don’t expect. It stays. As I walk away I wonder if I’ll be able to muster up the courage to stay in the moment like that. When I’m about to take a step down the isle, publish a book or choose a new road to walk on in heels, hiking boots or Havaianas.
A few hours later my stick in a glass is a goblet of greenness having its last laugh at death and finality and I got to thinking about challenge, bravery and being wild at heart. I think back to something someone had told me in a company dynamics workshop earlier this year. They had said that a plant in the wild would flourish and grow more than a plant in captivity because challenge is required for growth. That facing storms, winds, heat and the elements unprotected was what made it grow taller and stronger. Maybe we need to step out of our doors to appreciate what instincts should tell us everyday. That we should indeed rage against the dying of the light, be fit enough to survive and take on challenge as the gift it was meant to be. The little branch knows it, the butterfly knows it and when my heart is quiet enough to listen to the voice of My Gran through an African sunset or a swooping bird I can’t remember the name of anymore… I know it too.