Earth Alchemy Brewing in Limpopo
When the rain clouds roll in and the heavens open up, when the air fills with the smell of soaked earth, I take a breath and rejoice, for I am the soil. I am the smallest mushroom pushing up for air, reaching through the thick bed of mulchy leaves towards the light, I am the tallest tree with my roots grown deep. I am the perennial streams gushing once again after months of parched anticipation. I am the mountain with my head in the clouds and the forest with every living creature that calls my canopy home. I am an ancient spirit, a collection of memories. I have been around since the beginning of time….I am Limpopo.
There is such poetry in the landscapes of Limpopo but our disconnection with nature’s spaces has left many of us disorientated as we continue to set ourselves apart from the elements which feed our soul. In the intimate moments when we tune in to the abundant beauty of nature, a deep connection arises and blossoms into an enduring and nourishing relationship, shaping our potential and collective responsibility as humans to be true custodians of our planet.
‘… the story of the Mountain and its surroundings should
be told in all its intriguing richness and given the possibility to
contribute to a better future for humanity.’
President Thabo Mbeki, Leshiba Wilderness, 20.8.2003
With the first cut of a hand-made chisel, the storytelling begins. Following the footprints of the country’s earliest people, the landscapes in Limpopo are a canvas, each telling a unique part of an ancient tale. A sheltered overhang protects the stone pages telling tales of hunters… of shamans disappearing into the cracks of the rock to another dimension. And still, we are only now starting to discover and unravel the hidden threads of these ancient tales. Telescoping out from the stories on stone to the imposing sandstone plateau of the Makgabeng, the story weaves its way along the graceful curves of the Limpopo River, snaking past the ancient trade routes of Mapungubwe and Giyani. Here the rhythm is of gold beaten into the form of a golden rhino, the clicking sound of glass beads and the gentle chorus of women’s hands against wet clay as the beer pot takes shape in the Soutpansberg’s Ribola Art Route.
The Soutpansberg is said to have the highest concentration of biodiversity in South Africa. ‘There is a mountain of hope for the biodiversity and people of South Africa’s Soutpansberg mountain range as a brand-new nature reserve is on its way to being declared – a landmark moment for securing the future of the unique biodiversity and cultural heritage on the mountain. The new Western Soutpansberg Nature Reserve (WSNR), consists of 31 properties spanning more than 22 000 ha of pristine mountain and valley bushveld.’
“The landowners of these properties, including the Endangered Wildlife Trust as the owner of Medike Mountain Reserve, decided to declare their properties under one large Nature Reserve spanning the entire Western Soutpansberg, with one collective vision: To create a connected landscape under formal conservation, including priority species, habitats, hydrologically important areas and cultural heritage, for the benefit of biodiversity, ecosystems and people in perpetuity,” says Cath Wise, Soutpansberg Protected Area manager at the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
The recent declaration of two new nature reserves in the Western Soutpansberg and Mooketsi is good news for Limpopo. Initiatives like these are expanding the conservation footprint of the region by aligning with the vision and resources of existing conservation entities like the UNESCO-declared Kruger 2 Canyons Biosphere Region and the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. Endangered fauna and flora are now being protected on eco-focused private properties and on parcels of land grouped together as conservancies. These entities are taking the lead when it comes to scientific research and finding innovative ways of protecting endangered species through conservation programmes and eco-adventure activities. Human custodianship of these biodiverse nature spaces can only come through a collective consciousness developed from a place of deep connection. Regenerative tourism and immersive experiences can also play a part here when the new Ts and Cs of Travel are not only focused on conservation but also connection, collaboration, community, consciousness and co-creation.
Wiam Haddad, ecologist at ZZ2, describes the Greater Mooketsi Nature Reserve as 13 496 hectares in the Mooketsi Valley, providing a critical connection to surrounding natural habitat and other protected areas nearby – the Tzaneen Sour Bushveld, Woodbush Granite Grassland, Mamabolo Mountain Bushveld and Northern Mistbelt Forest. The beauty, views and vistas of the area and contrasting habitats make an important contribution to the sense of place of the region and the reserve supports and protects a variety of threatened and endemic fauna and flora, including Aloe lettyae, Afroaster nubimontis, Black-fronted Bushshrike and Cape Parrots. This recently-declared biosphere is a model of sustainable land management that integrates agriculture and the conservation of natural landscapes, providing an ecological and economic legacy for future generations.’
If we can become earth custodians who reframe modern environmentalism to reconnect to ancestral practices, we can develop a collective consciousness which values reciprocity and nourishing relationships for every living thing. This is where a full horizon unfolds before us, with endless mountains turning golden in the last light of the day. A buzzard wheels around in ever expanding arcs before disappearing into the valley below. Birdsong erupts through the stillness as the last of the sun’s rays are drawn slowly back into the horizon. The night sounds call from the darkness… the haunting cry of the bushbaby, a coy duet between Wood Owls, porcupines’ rattling and the snuffling of civet and genet on their nocturnal rounds.
Staring into the depths of an endless starry sky is like a meditation for the soul. The noise of all the things we should do fades away as the silence pours in. Connection… to the universe, our purpose on this planet, what our souls yearn for… this is all that occupies our thoughts. At a time where the future of our planet weighs heavily on our hearts, we need to re-connect to each other and our ecosystems to know that we can all make a difference.
Do you not know by now that the earth will heal herself?
Do you not see how she heals you?
To the blank spaces where the drought last drank,
Growing fearlessly where the fire roared,
Ready to grow and grow again on each return.
Mycelia and moss,
Beetles and small blue flies,
Creeping and eating their way into life,
Re-created constantly by death.
Do you not see,
Even as you dig the hole to the centre of the spinning globe,
The small, clear creatures,
Feeling their blind way into crannies in her heart,
Bringing energy to rock,
Heat to lifeless ore,
And movement to our Gorgon‘s frieze of stone?
How can you not feel her?
Freeing up her store of seeds that burst,
Splendid in their bravery,
Joyful in commitment,
To love and love and love again the barren soil,
That holds them in the dark.
Do you not understand,
That though we bring the gift of wakeful praise,
Though we raise a mirror to her face,
She cannot keep on healing, mending,
Stitching up our patches and our pleas,
While all we do is take?
Do you not know by now,
That she is our custodian,
And not that we are hers?
By Bonwyn Egan
Bronwyn is a biologist at the University of Limpopo and a writer who enjoys capturing the beauty of the natural world in words rather than numbers.
We are the lovers of Limpopo, collaborating to co-create and nurture sustainable ecosystems. Through Destination Stewardship, we stimulate transformation within the tourism and conservation landscapes to build an inclusive community of thought-leaders within a dynamic and ever-evolving process. By supporting progressive, innovative and sustainable change to become better, more responsible earth custodians, we can positively influence the collective consciousness to have a meaningful and lasting impact. Love Limpopo is a movement… a way to connect the threads of our ecosystem, live better and ensure a future for us all.