About five months ago, I was sitting alone on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, somewhere near Los Angeles, California. The rosy winter sun dipped beneath the expansive skyline of a vast, open sea while dolphins gently rode the waves near shore. Although the same salty air that always brings me a sense of calming filled the night’s shadow with midst, this particular evening brought a message that was no longer a whisper, it was a loud, clear instruction for me to take action in my life. I would say it was the infamous ‘call of Mama Africa’ returning to my soul but in truth, that call has never left my side, not since the moment I first stepped foot onto African soil many years ago. The spirit of Africa holds an ancestral chord that is inexplicable, one that tugs your heartstrings with a deeper sense of belonging. The longing to walk the same paths as gentle giants and fall asleep to the sounds of the wild was no longer a faint fantasy, it was something that deep down I knew I absolutely needed to return to myself once more.
It had been a half a year since I left South Africa and I had spent most of that time back in the U.S. searching for work, a secure place to live, and some sort of direction that would lead to a sense of stability and “safety”. At the same time, I was being so bold as to attempt to build my own brand, dreaming of a life in the travel industry that would inspire true connection to nature, wildlife and conservation. Chasing a dream while also attempting to be practical seemed to be at odds for me. No matter how hard I tried to get a ‘big girl job’ or how many applications I submitted, or how many rental properties I attempted to secure, I was hitting more walls than a mouse in a maze. I felt incredibly discouraged, incessantly in angst over next steps, and shattered by feeling as if all my efforts were a waste. I felt lost and lonely and human. The resistance to adapting to a “normal life” eventually became palatable, the city traffic became deafening, and the congestion of buildings, bridges, power lines and disconnection exhausted me. It seemed that there was an inner knowing that I could no longer ignore, one that was pushing me to believe in a bigger calling, to take the leap, even when it seemed impossible or impractical.
Not everyone believes in a higher power, but for me, it felt like divine intervention when I left the beach that night and was compelled to check flights back to South Africa. I knew I didn’t have much of a savings account left, and that it was a far-fetched aspiration to even entertain, but I figured it never hurts to look. My jaw dropped when I did a quick flight search and stumbled upon a round-trip ticket that was far cheaper than any of the monthly rentals I considering in southern California. I realized; it would be cheaper for me to return and stay in bush camps than it would be to stay in the states. I took a breath, I listened to my heart, I surrendered, and I bought the damn ticket. Two weeks later, I was en route to Mama Africa.
Of course, I didn’t know at the time what was about to unfold in the world in the upcoming months. I launched my new brand, secured speaking engagements at global travel shows, and was lined up to lead expeditions in nature…for a minute there, it really did feel as if the puzzle pieces of my life were falling into place. Perhaps they were but with a demented sense of humour…one month later, Covid19 hit the world, all of my work collapsed, and I found myself “stuck” in South Africa.
Who knew that within such a short window of time, the entire global population would soon go into isolation and lock-down? While the rest of the human population would soon be secluded in their homes for months on end, I would be one of the few people who would be “eco-isolating” in the middle of the African bush. Limited access to wifi, camped on a plot of land where lions roar and roam at night.
Today, I share this story while sitting underneath a collection of trees, the Grey go-away birds fill the air with their ubiquitous ‘whaaaa’ sounds, and a family of gorgeous nyala gently walks by with their littlest one in tow. The strong rays of sunlight warm up a chilly morning and my second cup of coffee has been sipped. I have been here for nearly two months and not a day passes that I don’t feel immensely thankful for being in this bubble of sheer beauty and life. Slowing down and immersing in nature presents a million little moments in just one day. Witnessing the diversity and dynamics of birds, listening to the myriad of sounds, or staring into the eyes of a giraffe or an elephant, grounds one’s soul in a way that is almost indescribable. Regardless of global chaos, nature continues doing what she has done since the beginning of time. Yet, here we are during a world pandemic where most people are engulfed with devastating news reports of the skyrocketing spread of illness, political tensions reaching new levels of upset, economic recessions on the rise, hungry families without work… truly an unprecedented time in human history.
Living in the bush presents such a stark contrast to the rest of the world. To start, it perhaps the safest place one could ever be during a time like this. Far away from crowds, you would be hard-pressed to be more ‘socially distanced’ than living in the wilderness. Not a day passes that I don’t fully acknowledge and cherish the privilege I have to be here. I think back to that moment on the beach, that urge to take the leap, to follow my own north star. In retrospect, I realize what an important life lesson that is, to wholeheartedly listen to the call to return to nature…even if (or especially if) you don’t know why.
The national (and global) lock-down has indefinitely extended the bout of time I have in the wilderness. I arrived in the bush in March and it is now approaching June. The emotional roller coaster that the world feels is still felt here, even in this bubble. I worry about my family’s health and mental well-being, as well as my friends who have lost their businesses or have been in lock-down with their children for months. I am heartbroken about the launch of my dream travel brand, and the encompassing hopeful impacts to wildlife and local communities, coming to a crashing halt. As anyone in the travel industry knows far too well, it will be an undetermined amount of time before freedom and exploration returns. As an empath, I also feel for those who are ill, those who are scared, those who are fighting, those who have lost so much. Isolating in the wilderness may not erase the reality of the world right now; after all, we carry our hearts with us, wherever we go. But carrying my heart into nature means I get to bring balance to that intensity of emotions and angst, and instead of doing it alone, I am accompanied by the profound wisdom of the bush, the wildlife, and the land.
There is something infinitely transformative about watching the sunrise and set. Returning to the simplicity of slowing down long enough to witness the wing of a butterfly beat, to be in awe of its specks of colour and design, to feel into its fragility. There is a power that arises inside my spirit when I listen to the loud crack of a tree being broken by an elephant in the distance. There is awe that permeates every breath of clean air as the buzz of life astounds me. There is primal grounding that is found in the bush that transcends time and place. At a moment in history where there is endless chaos swirling around at a pace that is unnerving, unsettling and at times, unbearable…there is a sweet stillness here that embraces you with a renewed sense of trust and knowing. A knowing that there is a divine flow to nature and to life and that we all hold a strong sense of resiliency with untapped potential to connect and grow through uncharted waters with a renewed sense of vulnerability, humility, and kindness.
We may never again return to a pace of life that once was, and I for one think that is actually a good thing. The tragedy that we are enduring is also accompanied by a sense of opportunity to slow down and reconnect to nature, to self and to each another. My past few months in the bush have taught me the value of quiet, the depth of wisdom that wildlife and wilderness have to share if we listen. Perhaps the more powerful lesson that ‘eco-isolation’ has taught me is the infinite amount of love and gentleness that connects us to all living beings.
When the world opens up its arms once more, and we are allowed to spread our wings and fly, my hope is that more of you will listen to the call of nature and venture into the wilderness, and into Africa. Even if for a brief moment, I believe every person’s heart deserves to feel this shared sense of belonging, knowing, calmness and connection.
If you want to keep up with Jen and all her amazing adventure make sure to check out her website: https://www.jenpalmerglobal.com/
We are sure there are going to many more adventures and stories to come with this partnership.