The tyres of our game vehicle pass over collections of stories left behind by the wild creatures of the bush. The round shapes imprinted in the sand by elephants that have walked here before us describe the characters and their plot. They show us how big the herd was, when they passed through and which direction they moved in. The dung left behind and the trees trampled in the herd’s wake; these are all the signs of the wild, and, for the curious at heart, they tell tales that lead us to the reward at the end of this real-life treasure hunt. It’s a message for life: those who seek shall find, but also a lesson in curiosity – in the joy of inquisitiveness.
“Life has become immeasurably better since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously,” said Hunter S Thompson. I could add that I have become immeasurably happier by being more curious. Growing up, my parents fanned the flame of my imagination. We’re not all that lucky.
In an interview I recently came across with an author who had just published his seventeenth book, the interviewer asked the writer where he got his curiosity from. The man put his gift of wonder down to an innate thirst for knowledge and a natural stubbornness and rebellion that thwarted his parents and teachers’ attempts to squash this thirst. Teachers shouted at him to stop putting up his hand in class. But he got the last word.
While much of my personal curiosity in the world may be an innate quality, much of it no doubt comes from the adventures I had as a child, teen, young adult and… well, let’s pretend I’m still a young adult. It comes from my father pointing out every bird and tree on safari when I was an eager fledgling explorer and quizzing me on their Latin names, and from my mother reading me wild stories from books that further set my imagination on fire. It is born from a combination of being exposed to the wild world and shown how to look at it, encouraged to look at it.
On safari with my boys now (still a young adult), our game drives lead us on magical treasure hunts where our mutual curiosity is spurred on by the signs of the wild. Each pointer left behind by the wild things that have passed before us drives us forward, signals that we’re on the right track. The destination is the reward for our seeking – a Panthera pardus (leopard) sprawled over a tree branch so well moulded to his body that it looks as though it was made just for him, or a Coracias caudatus (lilac breasted roller) silhouetted against the setting sun on a perch of its own.
If there’s one thing that I think will set my little ones in good stead as they go about life it is curiosity. To have a child so fascinated in the world that he or she burns to know more is all I can hope for. In the words of Walter Mitty in the film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”