My favourite poet Mary Oliver sums it up beautifully.
"You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.
I don’t mean it’s easy or assured; there are the stubborn stumps of shame, grief that remains unsolvable after all the years, a bag of stones that goes with one wherever one goes and however the hour may call for dancing and for light feet. But there is, also, the summoning world, the admirable energies of the world, better than anger, better than bitterness and, because more interesting, more alleviating. And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe — that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of work and love, a handsome life.”
To that I would add that for me, creativity and energy comes from awe. Practising awe is like uttering a little prayer of thanks; it’s noticing and loving and paying homage to things beyond you. Dust motes in a sun beam, the smell of wild sage, the taste of salt licked from fingers. The smallest of things which make up the large, helping a little to slow the time that flows like oil through fingers. Quieten the white noise. Make room for all the marvellous pieces of your life.
Being in Africa has helped me in my practise. But you don’t have to move countries to pick up its gold flecked strings. (However, it might help!)
Recently we drove north up the delta to Nxamaseri Island & Fishing Lodge – a camp that was originally built by PJ and Barney, and is now carried on by PJ’s son Brad. It’s one hell of a place to be whimsical, and I think Mary Oliver would approve. The following is an extract from my diary.
We arrive at Nxamaseri Lodge as the sun is being dragged, fighting, behind the horizon. It’s a four-hour drive from Maun, and I feel relieved to leave the town’s bustling streets behind. Once you’ve become used to the bush and its silence, where you can hear the earth breathing beneath a night sky lit with the cool intent of a billion stars, a town is hard to bear. Sure, there is coffee and doctors and the hot palm of civilisation but the stink of humanity is a tough comparison to the coiled labyrinth of the wilderness.
From Maun we drive through the dusty villages of Toteng and Sehithwa, Tsau and Gumare, subsistence farmers eking out an existence behind their primitive goat corrals, round huts roofed with thatch. Turning off the main road the going gets rougher, skirting around deep ravaging potholes like bites from an apple, thin donkeys wandering its periphery, the tar’s edges slowly being reclaimed by the desert. The landscape either side is flat, muted and dry, the colours sucked by a relentless sun. Kalahari Sand Acacias pay a twisted tribute to their keeper, amid thorn bushes and the small-leafed Leadwood, known locally as the Motswiri. The acacia’s rooftop is like an eagle with spread wings, waiting to take flight, wide and domed. Here and there the unmistakable Moporota stands with its canopy of lime, long sausage fruit dangling, its fibrous coating a delicacy for horse and giraffe. Finally, we turn right again, away from the desert sands and back towards the fringed fingers of the Delta, where savanna plains stretch like lawn. We pass a man striding along with four dogs who give a short, cheerful chase to our ute as we bump along scanning for vague tyre marks in the grass, an indication we’re on the right path. Pot-bellied cattle graze here and there and beneath a copse of trees their owners camp out, a remote cattle post. Children wave at the car, barefoot and dusty, their tents cobbled together with coloured bits of grubby material, stitched and hung by a string from a branch. By the time we get to the boat the silken surface of the water is painted pink, as if the sky itself has fallen to earth and lies beneath its skin. Clouds smudge the shallows like a shoal of fairy floss fish. The boat’s motor breaks the evening quiet and we set off, speeding along a path clean of sedge reeds and hippo grass, snaking its way through the water like a toboggan track.
There is more jungle here, far denser than the open panorama of the south. The air is soupy with humidity, Mokolowane palms towering above the thick brush which huddles together atop islands. All around the wetlands gleam rosy, rampant thickets of papyrus growing; cities of stalks topped with a fluffy head like an exploding firework, or an overgrown dandelion. They oscillate in the wind, their stout rooting systems forming huge floating mats which the hippopotamus snooze under in the day, resting their behemoth heads on top like a pillow. It’s a joy to watch the papyrus sway as the wind claps its hands over their heads in a breezy waltz. The water is alive, currents pulsing below, mosquitos dancing on the liquid membrane in tiny rippled steps. Long wreaths of lily pads tangle, coloured like rust, streaming like auburn hair in the water’s flow. Fish dart silver quick, their greedy mouths plucking the water’s skin for skimming insects, sending creamy ripples across the surface like a baby’s frown in its sleep; the sharp toothed Catfish and the iridescent Tigerfish.
Nxameseri Island Lodge is fabulous; thatch roofed, with a wooden jetty crying out for sundowners and sunset sessions casting the rod into the water. The trees are intertwined with the architecture, a Common Wild Fig twisting through the walls so you wonder which came first. Here on the Pan Handle of the Delta, the birds reign supreme. The coos and warbles, hoots and sighs, tweets, twitters, humming, squawking, whistling, whining, lisping, trilling, gasping songs of the feathered fiends, jewel breasted and horn billed, long legged or stumpy tailed, flitting and flapping and soaring high like small black dots on warm fuelled thermals. The soaring cry of the fish eagle, the sound of Africa, hanging haunted in the air like a ghost. To watch it fly, white helmet shining bright atop dark enormous wings, is enough to snatch your breath and make you marvel.
The crimson flash of the common bee eater swoops low, his policeman’s whistle skimming through the hour, coming to share a papyrus stalk with a Pied Kingfisher who calls to a friend with a chik-chik, sitting regally in his black and white coat and carrying his elongated beak like an elegant cigar. Black Cormorants rise like a sooty cloud from the reeded banks. The goliath form of a Grey Heron, dagger billed, long legged, wearing spectacles with his black streak over his eyes ending in a wispy crest. Cattle wade in the briny water up to their chests, eager for the sweetest grass, and among them sit the Cattle Egrets white and clean, eating ticks from the bovines’ backs. The rapid, metallic ‘tink tink’ comes from the Blacksmith Plover, running alarmed along the damp wetland edge, while the short-tailed eagle, the Bateleur, cants from side to side as it flies, barking ‘kow-wah’ from its hooked beak. There’s an energy to this place, a cosmic feeling like a great big blanket of peace that has been flung in a practised shake, settling into every corner and tucked beneath the trees’ roots. A type of paradise, clean aired, where the coloured birds sing and the winds sigh over the molapos. Sitting in the mokoro, the traditional dug-out canoe, is a marvellous way to see it. The reeds whisper on the belly of the boat as you glide, low-slung to the water, requiring very little depth to move along. The guides pole you with practised ease, passing fisherman shaking silver fish from their nets and donkeys wading in the shallows.