Tracks of South Africa
By Nolan Bunting
My experience in South Africa can be summed up in tracks. As I sit in Wits Rural under an out of season Marulla tree, I think of all the tracks we have left behind and all the good and bad experiences we were witness to. As a species, humans tend to dynamically influence the landscape and likewise the landscape dynamically affects us.
Tracks tell stories. When you look at an impala, you see a pointed track for jumping, while a waterbuck has a spread out track to help with aquatic maneuvers. Tracks can be used to determine if the animal had just passed by, or if it was running away. But most importantly tracks can show you what animals utilize the same routes and how they might influence each other. In a similar manner, every individual in our group has left tracks on the others. From the historians’ sarcastic, insightful banter about the state of government, to the extensive knowledge about conservation from our youngest member, everyone’s tracks were different. With every step, we all were shown different perspectives and viewpoints. In my time with everyone, I came to realize that it was not the lectures or bushwalks that taught me the most, but the people I was surrounded with. I learned about earth houses from a running genius. I was educated on the need for clean water from a kind hearted ex-Marine. I was reminded to dream big from a future adventure ranch owner. With each new track, I could feel myself growing more and more fond of my experience.
Now at this point you probably think me a good listener, that cannot be further from the truth. I, much like Alexander Hamilton, spend much of my days talking, often leaving a track similar to a rampaging elephant on my friends and family. Which is why, I must point out, that our group was made up of great listeners. Like expert trackers, they could take the jumble of footprints and give them life. They would spend much of the day listening to the stories of those around them, and in a single instant say what needed to be said. Often these trackers did not realize their help, because they did it so subtly, like a bush hare’s tracks in a deep thicket. Yet they would guide the discussions and interviews through the bushveld. I admired these individuals as highly as the people that left tracks on me. They were truly what I strive to be, and truly taught me to begin listening.
I know that this is probably not what you were expecting when you heard something called tracks in South Africa, but it had to be said. When we all talk about the program and experience, we often leave out the most important aspect. Friendship.
Conservation is not about one thing. If you focus on one aspect, like fire management, you will forget the greater connection, how fire affects soils and migration. Likewise, conservation is a task meant for teamwork, from soil scientists, doctors, vets, community leaders, watershed scientists, engineers, anti-poachers, tourism majors, ecologists to biologists. We have to be able to learn and ask help from our neighbors. This experience is just that. It is the opportunity to leave our tracks on others and observe the tracks left by others. We left tracks on each other, our homestays, the conservationists we visited, and on our instructors, and we observed theirs as well.
To sum it all, our trip was an extensive path of tracks. Ones that we left behind and others that we took with us.
So now I say, FAREWELL SOUTH AFRICA and keep leaving your tracks on those that follow us.
Nolan Bunting from Colorado State University