Penny Rees pays tribute to Ian Player who died last week.
Life. It is interesting to look back over the decades and see the route that one’s life journey has taken – the detours, the synchronicities, the people we meet along the way, and how, sometimes, things go full circle.
Way back when a teenager, I was blessed to be accepted to go on a five day wilderness trail, organised by the Wilderness Leadership School, the inspirational brain child of Ian Player. Four days in the wilderness changed my life, and as a result I studied Nature Conservation, serving my internship in Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve outside Howick, and worked in many wild places in SA, often taking school learners on trail. Round 1 to Ian Player.
All good things come to an end. As a single mum I hung up my bush boots and was working in an office in order to put my teenage kids through school, eventually moving to Howick. One day, I swapped my lunch hour with a colleague, and was thus in the office when Ian Player came in looking for assistance. (I’d landed up moving about 15km from where he lived!). Once business was dealt with, we chatted over a cup of tea, and he drew my story from me. Finally, just before leaving, he looked me squarely in the eye and asked me “What are you doing here? Go. Go and follow your heart.” His parting words stayed with me and not long afterwards I dug out those dusty bush boots, and once again followed my heart. Round 2 to Ian Player.
And where did life lead me thereafter? To DUCT. To rivers. To a mad, harebrained idea to walk the length of the uMngeni River.
To a mad dash out to the Karkloof one Saturday afternoon just before we set off on the uMngeni walk, in order to chat to Old Man River, Ian Player, about his early canoe trips down the Duzi and uMngeni Rivers. To recieve his blessing for the walk was so very special to the team, giving us heart that we were doing the right thing. I shyly asked him to sign my copy of his book Zululand Wilderness -Shadow and Soul that I had taken along, and he inscribed it thus:
Inscribed for Penny Rees who is walking the uMngeni River and will take a message to the people of South Africa. Nature rules and if we abuse her she will one day stop giving us water. Rivers are the arteries of the planet, without them we (Homo non-aquatic) are doomed Good luck on your walk. Thank you for your dedication.
To the man who guided and nudged me to where I am today – I salute you and thank you for all that you have given our country, Mother Earth and myself. Your passion and strength will always be an inspiration to all who continue your fight.
May you at last have the Peace you so richly deserve,