As a boy growing up in the 1950s on the edge of a small eastern North Carolina town, I had immense freedom to explore the world of nature around me. Of course it was a different era, one of innocence compared to now, but even still, my parents were tolerant and permissive of my desire to dive into the real world and discover it for myself. Wild animals, plants, birds, and insects were abundant then in bucolic eastern North Carolina. Untamed fields and woods were within easy biking and walking distance for an energetic boy like me.
Not that I had to venture far afield from our house to encounter wildlife. It was then common to come across large Snapping Turtles, along with other turtles and many varieties of snakes, lizards, frogs, and toads, in our back yard. Birds of many species were prevalent, too, and lots of mammals. It was paradise for a boy who loved nature and the outdoors.
My parents never knew what wildlife to expect in the house: snakes, frogs, toads, lizards, turtles, birds, Flying Squirrels, insects of all types. I knew to keep poisonous snakes outside and to be careful handling them. My brother and I once kept a Copperhead in a 55-gallon drum for a week or so, and it was like watching coiled lightning as it sprung over halfway up the sides of the barrel trying to strike us. We came to understand it would never tame, and we soon released it back into the wild, albeit a good ways away from where we lived.
Every type of creature fascinated me. I spent many long hours studying insects in books and in the fields and woods nearby. I loved hunting and fishing as much for the experience of being in the real world as for any fish or game I bagged. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my love of nature and some of the expertise I gathered about it as a youth would stay with me for a lifetime.
When I grew to manhood those experiences became dormant memories. My livelihood from consulting was derived across the globe in many different countries, but almost always in dense urban areas where nature had been eradicated or at least severely minimized. I missed the natural world and often felt I needed to be be back in touch with it.
In 1991 a consulting gig in Johannesburg led me to Africa for the first time. Less than a month after I arrived in South Africa, I found the Kruger National Park (see here). After that I went back to the Kruger–or to similar wildlife national parks in Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana–almost every weekend and holiday until the consulting project concluded. I have returned to these wilderness areas in southern Africa, and especially to the Kruger, again and again in the intervening 24 years. My family and I just returned on January 1 from another two weeks cruising around this marvelous territory.
Why do I endure flying in coach tens of thousands of miles so often? I have written before about returning to the Kruger (see this post from May, 2014), but I could never, until now, completely understand just what was drawing my soul to it. On this most recent journey, it finally hit me: Because the Kruger is magic to me! I never come back without a significant replenishment to my spirit. Experiencing it there is more real and true to me than the urban activities I engage in here in Raleigh every day in the interest of advancing civilization. Oddly, traveling many thousands of miles to spend time in the Kruger National Park is, for me, like a time warp back to my childhood enjoying the simple pleasures and wonders of nature of eastern North Carolina in the 1950s. God bless the South Africans for preserving that significant piece of wilderness for now and future generations. Like I said, magic.