What I learnt from Nature’s Valley
August 2, 2023

by Jez Harrington-Hayes

I learnt that South Africa is beautiful. I learnt that Nature’s Valley lives up to its name. I learnt that dolphins enjoy surfing. I learnt that octopuses are as amazing as I always expected they would be. I learnt that clawless otters look surprisingly like overweight labradors. I learnt that seals are terribly smelly, but even more fun to swim with. I learnt that outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Groot is pronounced Hru-it. I learnt that no matter how hard I try, I cannot pronounce Xhosa. I learnt that baboons are stealthy, banana-stealing ninjas. I learnt that in Nature’s Valley, I can happily get out of bed earlier than I ever dreamed possible. I learnt to hate hadeda ibises. I learnt that I can see more bird species during a three-month stay in South Africa than I have seen in three decades of life in Europe. I learnt that Hendri can communicate with some of them. And enjoys practical jokes. I learnt that Knysna turacos are unfathomably beautiful. I learnt that chorister robin-chats can mimic just about anything. I learnt not to hang my washing out when there was a flock of red-winged starlings in the tree above the clothesline. I learnt that I am good at identifying birds. But not as good as Lauren. I learnt that I don’t enjoy sitting in front of a computer, even when it involves identifying birds. I learnt that there is no plant Yonela cannot propagate. I learnt that proteas plus ericas plus restios equals beautiful fynbos. I learnt that Brittany can read the faint tracks of a white-fronted plover in the sand better than I can read a book. I learnt that Trigz are life. I learnt that nothing can take the smile from Sky’s face. I learnt that a constant supply of electricity is a luxury worthy of gratitude. I learnt that an inconsistent supply of electricity is conducive to having more fun outdoors, and being in bed by a reasonable time. I learnt that shooting stars have got nothing on fireflies. I learnt that Tiaan has in-built night vision when it comes to spotting chameleons high in the branches of yellowwoods. I learnt that yellowwoods are hard to climb. I learnt that the only light more beautiful than the Milky Way’s is that of a bioluminescent tide. I (eventually) learnt how to find due south using the Southern Cross and the Pointers. I learnt that nature deserves respect. I learnt that tides can change suddenly. I learnt that seawater does not come out of binoculars, no matter how much rice you pack them with. I learnt that encountering a female bushpig, with piglets, alone at night, is a scary prospect. I learnt that I can’t tan. I learnt that I can burn. I learnt that I know almost nothing about almost everything. I learnt that I know more than I think I do. I learnt that a group of people working together on a shared passion is a beautiful thing. I learnt that the many people fighting the flames engulfing our planet, day in, day out, do not make the headlines. I learnt that, just like fynbos, nature can rise from the ashes. I learnt that surprisingly often, conservation involves chopping down things which should never have been planted. I learnt that the best way to discover the treasures of Mother Nature is to sit in her quietly, as often as you can. I learnt that I learn best when I care about what I am learning. I learnt that I care about the natural world. I learnt that people who work in conservation are invariably awesome. I learnt that I will become one of them. I learnt that even at 31, it is not too late to take three months off, surround yourself with the most beautiful people, places, wildlife and experiences, then fly home, quit your desk job and enrol in a forest ecology degree .

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