71 Year Old Apprentice Field Guide Shares Her Journey in the Bush with EcoTraining

At the age of 71, Clare Wilson enrolled in an EcoTraining Career Course, packed her bags, and headed north for the bush.

Although she had been inspired by the EcoTraining Guides on Wild Earth, Clare Wilson had never dreamt of becoming an Apprentice Field Guide herself. Her journey to and in the bush had been far from a holiday with five-star frills. Her recent years had been spent at home caring for her beloved husband Rory through his Alzheimers journey. Halfway through this, she went through cancer, mastectomy, chemo, and radiation journey herself.

“Searching for solace after the death of my husband four months earlier, I trusted in the bush. In our fifty-year marriage we’d always gone to the bush to top up and I now really needed topping up. It was the longest, least expensive (compared to being a guest in a lodge), and closest to-the-ground way of being in the wilderness that I could find. Fifty-five days, living in tents and alongside others who also loved the bush sounded like just the right thing for me to do” said Clare Wilson.

Photograph © Scott Ramsay

Clare was encouraged to find that course organizers were not at all phased that she had a below-knee amputation, requiring only that she could undertake the daily 2 – 3 km trail walks, a distance which she knew was easily within her capabilities.

The course left no time for lying around.

“Awake at 05h30, coffee at 06h00 and in the vehicle for a drive or else on foot for a trail by 06h30, then back for breakfast at 10h30 with tight deadlines after that for lectures, study workbooks to be filled out, and out again for an afternoon drive or walk, supper, some night time studying for the next day’s test on today’s content lecture, then to bed to build up for another long day the next day,” said Clare Wilson.

As the days passed, her sense of adventure grew stronger and with that, she became more confident. She recalls the wonderful moments in nature that reawakened her senses and sense of self.

Photograph © Scott Ramsay

“Walking through fever tree forests, sleeping out under the stars, climbing the incredible Lanner and Mutali Gorges in Makuleke, walking past grazing buffalo, tea breaks next to hippo ponds and sundowners on the sands of the Limpopo River, all in the company of very special people, both fellow students, and instructors. I came through it all knowing that while I’m a 71-year-old, one-legged, one-boobed, and widowed Apprentice Field Guide, I’ll be ok” said Clare Wilson.

For Clare, this seems to only be the start of a new journey into a new version of life. She’s looking forward to adding to what she learned of the Savannah Biome by now deliberately focusing on what she can learn about the Fynbos and Renosterveld Biomes closer to home in Cape Town and meeting people who love the same. She sees herself following up with further EcoTraining add-on courses and has just completed their Online Birding Enthusiast Course. She is living proof that no matter what life throws at you, you can always pick yourself up and move forward.

“Although I’d spent a lifetime of being in the bush before this it astounds me how little I knew about how the whole lot fits together. The geology and the climate affect which plants will grow and this affects which animals will survive. Then there are the issues of conservation and human habitation, let alone the phenomenon of the night sky. After so many decades under it, even with all the camping I have done in my life, I knew close to nothing beyond the four-pointers. I still know relatively so little. This course brought it all together under one umbrella. It was awesome” said Wilson “I’ve made a start now and am so looking forward to learning more. I’ll be watching and learning” said Clare Wilson.

Photograph © Scott Ramsay

As a newly qualified Apprentice Field Guide, Clare says she is pondering how to get herself back into the bush as often as possible. “I’m pretty adaptable and was always the McGyver in our family. Along with doing all the D.I.Y. I even did a bricklaying course decades ago. Perhaps the weird combination of skills and experience will find my new openings. I’m hoping so”

“In the meanwhile, I’m watching out for how I can fulfill the FGASA requirements for practice and at the same time plan little adventures, perhaps with others like myself who find themselves on the other side of a life they knew and loved and now having to find new ways of getting into the bush?”

Inspired by Clare Wilson’s journey? Why not start your own adventurous journey and follow in the footsteps of greatness…

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About the Author: 

Clare Wilson is a past Apprentice Field Guide student of EcoTraining.