In this book, the author traces lessons learnt directly from contact with wild nature, seen against a background of urban life, travel, apartheid and national liberation politics in South Africa. The devious messiness of human creations, including politics and finance, contrasts with the compelling freshness and brutal authenticity of the wild natural environment.
The book also contains a patchwork of anecdotes on encounters with African wildlife, within and outside the province of KwaZulu-Natal on the east coast of South Africa. The function of animal behaviour is occasionally analysed, with the behaviour speaking for itself as an integral part of what the animal is. Animal behaviour nevertheless provides pause for deeper reflection on our own origins as a species as well as the problems inherent in the survival of our most beautiful wild creatures and pristine natural environment. We, who seem to be a faltering experiment, are setting ourselves up for an inevitable, disastrous future, if one exists at all. To add substance to the narrative, the books dips into ecology, biology, conservation, biodiversity, palaeontology, anthropology and other sciences.
The author explores some of the many frailties of human nature and traces them largely to their origins in the natural world of Africa, the cradle of humankind. They are always with us, ever-present and constantly threatening to direct our actions in a demanding technological and even virtual world.
There seems to be little hard evidence coming from the natural world, of deeper meanings behind creation. Exploring these is beyond the realms of science. The dilemma implies for the writer that one has to base religion on faith alone, since the tools for research of the natural world are clearly inadequate to explain belief. Always, there is the background presence of an infinitely powerful First Cause, shrouded in mystery and with only occasional glimpses of intrinsic power, majesty and perfect example.
The process of analysis leads inevitably to a major theme of the book, namely the extraordinary diversity and fragility of the natural environment itself, so richly evident in South Africa yet increasingly relegated to the status of a resource to pillage. The process of destruction exemplifies the limited intelligence of the self-proclaimed pinnacle of natural creation, and the ‘illusion of central position’ that motivates it. The book concludes with contemplation of the greatest threat to biological diversity, which comes from humanity itself; the superior apes that have originated in nature and will return to it, yet engage so fiercely with destroying it.