Saturday, March 24, 2007

van der Post

To read his work is to dip into dreamland. His love for modern man's ancestors, today living in tiny groups as their ancestor's did 60,000 years ago is unabashed and admiring. Humanity's earliest heartbeat can still be felt in the Kalahari. His writing of the Bushmen and their land was a two edged sword unfortunately, but also part of the driving force that eventually lead into the ecological movement in Africa.

That small pinprick of conscience that belongs purely to the Industrial Age, it demands we preserve a small part of the remaining earth not under servitude to any man with as many of it's original inhabitants as are left to occupy it. And to at least offer a glimpse of this world as it once was, to those who for the most part live life, repaved and re-lit.

In 1973 I went to the Umfolozi Game Reserve, part of a small group of kids from our high school, we went on a walkabout for three days inside the reserve. I had no idea then and only made the connection recently, that it was a direct connection to van der Post and his belief that people who were urbanised needed to feel the primal world as their ancestors did. His hope was that modern man would see the value of land not in servitude to industry or pastoral interests.

His friendships with many influential people in the conservation movement led to the eco-tourist as a neccessary part of conservation. We were amongst the earlier cogs of that wheel but were not aware of it. I am not sure I would even have taken the time to form much of an opinion. I was too consumed by the overwhelming realization that I was a small and vulnerable piece of flesh when taken out of my element

An encounter with two rhinos, four small trees (more accurately, tall shrubs!) and five of us had me considering pulling somebody down in order to survive if need be. We were also required to spend a couple of hours each night as watchman. The stars were vivid in a sky far from any electric light and the roars of lions outside of the thorny protection of our boma raised hairs on my neck I didn't know existed. We swam naked in the Umfolozi to cool off, well aware that we had to keep an out for crocodiles. We covered about ten miles a day walking with our armed ranger, we felt cut off from the world not hearing an engine nor seeing another soul outside of our group. It was exactly what van der Post visualised as an essential experience in the modern age in order that we would re-connect with and then respect a primitive past.

What does this have to do with surfing? I'll try to explain that next ............


Why am I writing of van derPost? I love to surf, for reasons that are essentially primitive and unexplainable to non surfers. Why do bushmen walk all over a desert when an easier life is available to them? Because they have to. Surfing has had that effect on my existence. From swearing an oath with a surf buddy at 14 to travel to Europe in a search for waves, to leaving home at 19 because a 2 year stint in the military seemed absurdly long and an infringement of my desire to surf for the rest of my life.

I think he would have loved surfers for their similarities to his beloved bushmen. The seasonal change of homes (our summer and winter breaks), the small groups unwilling to stay together for very long past a few social gatherings, forever splitting off and going to their own oasis. Utterly tribal in structure and function, these groups while fluid are not easily entered.

Our willingness to travel to some more remote break based on the directions of wind and swell.
Our complete dependence on the weather and the orbit of our satellite the moon and the symbolic importance we often bestow on it's position. Part observation of the natural world and part guesswork, with a strong influence of whim.

It's very easy to make too much of something you love, and I could be guilty of that here, but there on the sand or rock before entering the sea, you leave the known risks on land for the unknown in the ocean. We are not separated from the early 20th century revival of surfing we are still a part of it.

The bushmen placed great importance on certain landmarks, mountains that had strength that were sources of healing even, havens. We have coastlines that we head to for similar reasons, points and reefs that restore us and our faith in the universe at large. All is well when the waves are as good or better than we have imagined. Proof that all is still in alignment. Frustration at the fickleness of nature when our best efforts go unrewarded.

Then as the weather changes our eyes follow the horizon and surface trying to decipher and understand it's latest mood. Ready to move on. On the land but not connected to just one part of it.

1 comment:

Mick said...

Fantastic entry. Thanks Gaz.