Category Archives: Nature

What Breaks My Heart

I have been pondering this question over the week.  It is the first task in my Awakened Woman journal.

What breaks my heart is humanity’s disconnect with Mother Nature.  It seems to me that we could solve so many of our social and environmental ills if we could find this connection again.

What breaks my heart is how we cannot seem to live in harmony with wildlife in wild places as we once did.  What happened to being open to learning from Mother Nature?  For She has much to share with us about how we tread in this life.

In June we had World Giraffe Day.  In August it was World Elephant and World Lion Day.  September is World Rhino Month. And so it goes, on and on, each new day dedicated to another species in peril. 

The CITES CoP18 meeting took place in Geneva recently. The results of this conference of the parties was mixed.  While we can take some hopeful moments away for some species after this year’s conference, there is definitely still too much of a focus on wildlife as a commodity for my liking.

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater” JRR Tolkien

The climate crisis continues.  The Amazon is burning.  In a world where we are bombarded with what seem utterly hopeless and insurmountable odds, I want to share some examples that I know of – examples of what is still fair and where there is still love. 

The following are links to messages of hope that fill my inbox, make up the social media threads I follow and come from personal experience having met some of the individuals at the heart of these organisations and collectives.

Elephants Alive

Giraffe Conservation Foundation

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

Greta Thunberg

Council of Contributors

Sumatran Ranger Project

Rhino Conservation Botswana

Peace Parks Foundation

Earth Awareness

Blue Sky Society Trust

Dr Trang Nguyen

Last Wild Places

And many more… so I need to amend the statement I started with… not all humanity has lost that vital connection we have with Mother Earth.  There are still many of us who will continue to use our voices for the voiceless.

And even more than the above examples we need to be encouraged that every single individual action we take counts… we can make a difference for good at an individual level.  It is about the second thought you spare in your daily journey through life, being mindful of how your tread, what and how much you consume, how you dispose of waste.

It’s about how we need to rethink education and empower the next generations to make better choices than we have.

And please understand even if you don’t care about animals and wild places, the changes all these people of are working for are in our own best interests too – the survival of humanity!

And so what breaks my heart is what we’ve lost but in the same breath what shores up my heart and gives me hope is the countless daily actions of compassionate individuals.  It is this conservation collective that will keep the worst case scenarios at bay. Or so I choose to believe…

A Middle Earth Retreat

So I haven’t posted in a month.  It has been a difficult month filled with disappointed hopes, winter illness, a family health scare and a somewhat overwhelming feeling of disillusionment.

For me, I often have these feelings of overwhelm at this time of the year.  I am beginning to believe it is the universe’s way of telling me to slow down, pause and take stock – what is urgent and essential and what can simply wait a little while until it is addressed.  This is seasonal, cyclical…. And perhaps something I should be able to plan for by now…

It also seems to me at times like these that the only solution is to reconnect with nature.  Not something I can always act on easily with living in the city but this year the opportunity to retreat presented and I took it…

Disclaimer: I am about to reveal just how much of a Professor JRR Tolkien geek I am!

I retreated all the way to the end of the second age of Middle Earth…. It is truly wonderful how much of Middle Earth is easily accessed right here in beautiful Aotearoa/New Zealand.  In a little corner of Northland not far from Whangarei I found another little piece of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  To me it felt like the forests at the very end of the Second Age or the very beginning of the Third Age when the Dunedain first establish the Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor and High Elves still linger in Greenwood the Great.  There is a peaceful watching of the Sacred Kingfisher and magic on every path up ahead and around every bend.  Magic also sparkles in the song of the waterfall and the trill of the Grey Warbler.

It was cold – the fog rolling in of an evening and a light frost in the morning. Just as it should be this time of year.  The perfect space to get back in the natural rhythm of things.  A better perspective on the first world problems that brought me to retreat in the first place.  A moment to refocus in gratitude at the grace afforded me and mine.

Extraordinary Voices: The Platter Project

Today is Nelson Mandela’s birthday – 18 July.  I chose today to share the story of this incredible woman, Di Wilkinson, because she has chosen to commemorate his birthday in her own amazing way.

Image from The Platter Project Facebook page

I stumbled upon Di Wilkinson’s story on social media.

Hoedspruit, South Africa holds a special place in my heart.  I spent many happy school holidays in that area as a kid.  The Drakensberg Escarpment provides a dramatic backdrop to the mixed bushveld plains that stretch eastwards.  The scenic Blyde River winds its way through the area bringing the waters from the escarpment down to these lowlands.  Interesting rock formations abound.  This unique mix of habitats supports a wide variety of flora and fauna.  It is a place of orchards – citrus, mango and macadamia.  It is also a place of game reserves and over the years has become a hub for conservation research and wildlife rehabilitation.  There are a number of wildlife rehabilitation centres and orphanages in this area.  I follow one of them, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, on social media.  And this brings me back to Di Wilkinson of The Platter Project.

She is a wonderfully talented artist who produces these beautiful drawings.  Most are inspired by the wildlife of Southern Africa but as I mentioned at the start, she is currently sharing a special print with a portrait of the great Madiba.

I absolutely love her depictions of these three gorgeous southern African bird species – the Lilac-breasted Roller, the Carmine Beeater and the Masked Weaver … these hang in my home and bring my joy.

She “sells” these beautiful pieces – started on platters and is now mostly A3 prints.  All the money you pay for her art goes to charity.  Specifically charities focused on wildlife conservation, like the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, and organ donation.  A strange combination of causes to support, perhaps, but there is more to her story.

In June 2013 Di was diagnosed with kidney disease.  Serious kidney disease requiring dialysis five hours a day, three days a week.  Miraculously, in May 2018 she found a compatible donor and underwent a life-saving kidney transplant.

To think of all she has gone through during this time but not she has not given up on life, on her family, on her creativity, on her passion, on community.  In fact to still have that generosity of spirit that shares her talent with the world and using it to support lives outside of her own…. Di is a truly an extraordinary woman!

And there will be more to her story too.  She will be a partner, a mother, a daughter, maybe a sister, a friend – all those things that make us who we are.  But I suspect if we asked her she would simply say she was an ordinary woman just trying her ordinary best in space she finds herself.

I find her creativity spectacular.  I find her resilience inspiring.  I find her care and generosity moving.  I find her “voice” extraordinary.

Be well, Di Wilkinson 💚

Check out her beautiful work on Facebook – The Platter Project or on Instagram @theplatterproject.

Journey with Purpose: The Bigger Picture

What is the significance of finding your tribe?  You are in your element, time stands still leaving your open heart to soak up all you are experiencing, really seeing the people in front of you and really hearing their stories.  There might be no other purpose to this than for those people to be seen, to be heard.  But it could be that in this flow you are being given access to knowledge and understanding which moves you forward on your path.  For me those 14 days on our Journey with Purpose was the latter.  I feel compelled by all I have seen and heard to champion these stories, to spread the word about the incredible work of these passionate individuals working for wildlife and community.

Now I love nothing better than seeing the “bigger picture” and some of you reading will know how I love a good map!  And I didn’t see this straight away as we progressed through our itinerary, but I think I see it now…. What connects all our conservation and community stories from this expedition together is the increasing collaboration and building towards recognising the increasing value of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs).

The Dream! Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/about/the-dream/

Here is where I mention the Peace Parks Foundation.  Their single purpose is “to restore a tomorrow for life on Earth”.  Their dream – “to reconnect Africa’s wild spaces to create a future for man in harmony with nature.”  What does that look like in action?  Helping, guiding, supporting, facilitating TFCAs.  Creating a hub for a conservation collective in a particular region.  This hub transcends national borders and helps take these seemingly small, individual actions and bringing them together – the dragonfly effect

Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith are a husband and wife team who have applied what they term the dragonfly effect to using social media to affect social change.  Their book – The Dragonfly Effect: quick, effective and powerful ways to use social media to drive social change –  is an interesting read.  They talk about the dragonfly being the only insect to move deftly in any direction when all four wings work in unison.  This effect is similar to the ripple effect and is used in sociology, psychology and economic circles to show how small actions can create significant change.  While their focus is the use of social media, I think the effect applies to the situation I am describing here.

Greater Limpopo TFCA. Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/tfcas/great-limpopo/

Our JWP01 South expedition took us into two significant TFCA areas – the Greater Limpopo TFCA and the Lubombo TFCA.  The people we got to meet and spend time with, the projects we got a little glimpse of on our journey were some of these small pieces working to their strengths and their passions.  Placed in the bigger picture of the TFCA landscape there is more than a little hope of significant, lasting change both for wildlife and wild spaces as well as the human communities coexisting here.

Lubombo TFCA. Map source: https://www.peaceparks.org/tfcas/lubombo/

For me this sort of hope is especially inspiring as I am on my own journey where I am currently planted to demonstrate how this dragonfly effect can work for conservation and community upliftment anywhere in the world.

Journey With Purpose: Finding A Tribe

A map of the original journey. Our itinerary had to change after Cyclone Idai hit the Mozambique coast in March 2019.

It’s been a month since one of the most profound travel experiences of my life so far began.  For my last blog post on May 4th I couldn’t even find the words I was so excited about the upcoming adventure and so just posted a pic of a recent painting.  But here I am at the other end of it and still processing. And while I have been posting photo highlights in Instagram @dragonfly.travelling, it is taking time to reflect in writing.

In the days since I got home and back into my “life as usual” routine, I have also spent a lot of time writing about this journey.  This writing has been with the hope of being published on a few different travel platforms that help champion Blue Sky Society’s Journeys with Purpose.  Now that task is mostly complete, I have time to shift focus to reflecting in my Pure Spaces way.

To be honest I did not have any real expectations about this trip.  Rare for me but I decided to just be in the flow of the moment, so utterly grateful for an opportunity to set foot on African soil again.

Now as I continue to reflect on these past weeks, I am starting to put pieces of a much bigger picture together.  I have decided the universe works in some mysterious ways. It will take a couple of posts over the coming weeks to show what I mean by this.

Let’s start with introducing Carla Geyser, the founder of the Blue Sky Society Trust.  The organiser and leader of our expedition and the brains behind Journeys with Purpose. In 2016 I’d read about the Elephant Ignite Expedition, the first of Carla Geyser’s epic African journeys – an all-female crew travelling 10 000 km through 10 African countries raising money for conservation NGOs, raising awareness for the plight of African wildlife and raising the profile of women working with wildlife.  At the time I wrote in the margin of my journal “blue sky society trust”.  Then life happened.  Fast forward to November 2018 and Carla opens applications for JWP01 May 2019 – fundraising for Elephants Alive and the expedition being to collar elephants in Gilé National Reserve, Mozambique.  Without hesitation I applied.

On 15 March 2019 Cyclone Idai hit the Mozambique coast making landfall at Beira and causing devastation up and the down the coast as well as inland.  JWP01 going ahead in May seemed doomed.  But Carla got straight onto Plan B and JWP01 South eventuated.

I now have the honour of calling Carla a friend and kindred spirit.  Sharing the road with her, Dora and the rest of our small crew was infinitely rewarding and so so much fun.  And that is saying something for this introverted wanderer who travels alone most often.

Dora is Carla’s 22 year old TDi Defender short wheelbase landy well kitted out and beautifully branded with her pink accessories.  She has oodles of character just like proud “mom”, Carla. 

JWP01 South Day 1 – Dora & Charles at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg

So we couldn’t get to Gilé to help with the elephant collaring project.  But it turns out a new purpose was playing itself out…

And so on a cool, clear May day five adventurous ladies set out on an overland expedition to visit some out of the way places in north eastern South Africa, northern eSwatini and southern Mozambique over 14 days.  Our Journey with Purpose was to immerse ourselves in the African bush to soak up some Mama Africa time…. Oh so good for the soul!

The next 14 days held so many delightful wildlife moments and new landscapes to explore. The mixed bushwillow plains around the Hoedspruit area with its stunning escarpment backdrop providing dramatic vistas at every turn.  The autumn colours of the Mopane bush around the Letaba area in Kruger National Park.  The top of the world rocky outcrops of the Lebombo Mountains in eSwatini.  The coastal plains, undulating grassy dunes and tangled forest of the Maputo Special Reserve in Mozambique.  The clear, blue waters of Maputo Bay edged in mangrove.  We saw so many species – insects, reptiles, birds and of course all the iconic mammals.  Special moments with elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, spotted hyena, giraffe, zebra, impala, nyala, kudu, hippo, a pod of endangered humpback dolphins and so much more.  I think our leopard count was 5!  The one lion sighting was this lioness up a tree!  For me the rhino sightings were extra special as they are my spirit animal.  I think Cat was okay with our cat count as they are her favourites.  Remke loved the ellies and the monkeys.  And I think Carla and Bella got a kick out of everything wild we saw.  All of us aware of the privilege to encounter this wildlife at all.

A stunning moment with this beauty who took very little notice of us as she went about her day.

I felt so at home travelling with these amazing women from the very beginning.  If I had any trepidation in the lead up to a trip like this it would be how five strangers would get along in such close quarters.  I don’t think that was a problem for us at all.  In fact it was the evening of day 3 and we were sitting round the fire at the end of an incredible day in the bush tracking elephant when I voiced to the group that I felt I was among my tribe.  That evening proved quite profound for me.  A feeling of absolute peace like I haven’t felt since I was a child.  Feeling truly at home and among my tribe.  And all this to the soundtrack of the Fiery-necked Nightjars and the calls of the Black-backed Jackal.  Bliss…

The Tribe from left Remmie, me, Bella, Cat and Carla outside the Elephant Museum, Letaba Camp, Kruger National Park

Valuable

Duomo Firenze
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence, Italy, 2006

I have been privileged enough to stand inside and outside this particular cathedral twice in my life. It is a mind-fumblingly incredible experience – the grandeur, the history, the craftsmanship, the creativity of humankind. And this is just one example. I have had similar thrills in castles in Scotland, exploring the Roman Forum and Colosseum in Rome … and standing outside Notre Dame de Paris.

Over a billion dollars raised for the rebuild after the Notre Dame fire in just two days … I am floored. What does this say about how we place value as a collective? Is it because a rebuild like this is in our control? We can clearly see where the money will go, assured of the outcome?

Morning Light on the Savanna, 2010

My creativity is sparked by Nature. I want Nature, my muse, to stay around for many, many generations to come. Intrinsically valuable and infinitely inspiring just because it is.

I think my concern for the natural world is shared by many other humans including the likes of Sir David Attenborough, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dr Jane Goodall and the delightful Greta Thunberg. It seems even with this calibre of activist we cannot raise $1 billion in two days to put towards restoring Earth?