Five lessons I’ve learned from game drives
AFTER sunset on New Year’s Day, while driving back from sundowners on the Timbavati, we spotted a pride of 12 lions, including two of the reserve’s famous white residents.
They sat quietly a couple of metres from the road before hauling themselves to their feet and stalking off into the dark. We drove off, congratulating ourselves on our luck. Anyone travelling that road even two minutes later would have seen nothing; the lions might as well never have been there.
It was a salutary reminder of the importance of luck and timing.
Thanks to our abundance of national parks and game reserves, the game drive is familiar to many South Africans. They all have one thing in common: the purpose is to see as much wildlife as possible. If you’re in a big-five area, you’ll want the big five. When you see what you were looking for, you’re thrilled. When you don’t, you’re deeply disappointed. So you need to be philosophical.
Viewed from that perspective, the game drive offers some lessons that are useful in all aspects of life, including the business of creativity:
1. It’s all in the timing. Thirty seconds either side of a cheetah stalking through the undergrowth, and you see grass and bushes, not a big cat. Opportunities are much the same.
2. Know what to look for. It might be eyeshine, a tail, the shape of the ears: knowing whether what you’re looking at is a duiker or a leopard is a useful skill. The more trained your eyes, the more likely you are to spot something. The same applies to spotting a gap in the market.
3. Sometimes, it’s good to be still. When you’re always on the move, you’re not fully appreciating where you are, and the noise from the engine obscures many of the sounds. Stopping to listen to the woodland kingfishers and watching the sun slip toward the horizon is a way of being present in a beautiful environment instead of just ticking off a list of what you’ve seen. Ditto with taking time out to enjoy life even when you’re chasing success.
4. Watch, wait and see what happens. Most of the best sightings of unusual behaviour happen when you stop, switch off the engine and wait to see what happens. When you’re in a hurry to be on your way, you miss out. The same goes for many situations — the most productive conversations I’ve had at work are the ones that resulted from hanging around and shooting the breeze instead of rushing home.
5. Enjoy the experience even when you don’t see anything. This is the most important lesson of all, and the one I find the hardest — for game drives, and for life in general. I’ve been on some terrible drives and you dread those, because they’re boring and you return to camp feeling oddly deflated, as though you’ve somehow failed. The only way to get around this is to take the focus off ticking off lists and the pressure to see everything, and just enjoy being in nature. The trick is to find a way to take pleasure in the experience, despite the fact that it’s not what you were hoping for. That’s my challenge in work and life — finding a way to extract enjoyment out of something I’ve done, even if it didn’t quite succeed.
6. Ultimately, much of it comes down to luck. This one scares me — but the truth is that some people are just luckier. My uncle can see five leopards in one trip to the same farm where I spend time, while I’m ecstatic if I see one every five years. There’s no good reason for it; it just is, and all I can do is accept it and enjoy the experience anyway. Acceptance isn’t something that comes easily when our society and culture tell us at every opportunity that we’re supposed to be successful, but it’s necessary to maintain a certain level of sanity.
So, happy leopard spotting. And if you miss the cat in the long grass, you can still enjoy the drive.