I always enjoy a view. I like getting a wide angle perspective of a landscape or seascape – whatever stretches out before my eyes. Especially of natural surroundings, and ideally all the way to the horizon. My favourite viewing position is parking off at a window or an outdoor outlook.
My idea of a good holiday has always included some gawking at scenic views. As I approach my vacation destination I am eagerly picturing the views that await me. So imagine my disappointment on a recent bush getaway to discover that the chalet we had booked had no view.
Nestled in the Bush
This place where we were to spend a long weekend offered no vista of a distant mountain or lake. There were no notable features to gaze at from afar. The chalet was billed as “nestled in the bush”. Indeed, wherever you looked there was 360 degrees of bush, up close and personal, with no sign of the skyline.
My initial reaction was one of disappointment. I vowed to pay closer attention in booking holiday accommodation in future. Next time I would check that the word “view” featured in the description. I would make sure to preview photos of advertised views.
As I sat there, surrounded by bush, looking at nothing in particular, I reminded myself that there was no benefit in comparing my current holiday experience with what could have been. Such thoughts would clearly interfere with the enjoyment that is the goal of a break in the bush.
I must confess that there have been times in the past when I have let a minor disappointment mar a holiday. So I made an effort to behave differently. I was motivated by recently doing the maths on how many vacations I may have yet to enjoy. In the bush or anywhere else on this earth.
I have learned, sadly late in life, that time is not to be wasted on regret. Especially precious chill-time. I’m with Edith Piaf: the aim is to look back on life and be able to say “I regret nothing.”
My Bush Epiphany
This is when I had my epiphany in the wild. All I did was to shift my focus. There was nothing to see in the distance. So I changed to close-up mode and re-focused my eyes. I began to stare into the bush, rather than past it. It was then that I started to see what I was missing by continually looking into the distance.
I began to see merit in a more intimate look at individual shrubs and trees. It felt like I was in a Nat Geo documentary about competition in nature for optimal sun and soil conditions. My eyes followed the twists and turns of sun-seeking branches up to a tiny patch of blue peeking through the forest canopy. I saw how plants growing on the forest floor compensated in order to compete. Their larger leaves offer greater surface area for photosynthesis, even from the little light that manages to filter down through the trees.
The bark of trees proved equally fascinating. Moss and lichen made patterns on the surface of trunks and branches. The knots and holes in the wood were a reminder that the bush is a living dormitory for the animals of the wild. Next time an owl hoots in the night I will be able to picture where the sound is coming from.
I realise that these are not revelatory insights. They are mundane musings, sparked by my initial frustration at the lack of a picturesque view. I started staring into the bush simply because there was nothing else to stare at. Or so I thought.
After much ado about the non-view I learned that with less to see I saw more. Without a stunning view to distract me, I noticed aspects of the bush that I had never bothered to look at closely before.
Majestic – and ordinary
Sweeping views of national beauty are often extolled in patriotic songs. The South African national anthem invokes blessings and peace in the African language lyrics, while the Afrikaans words of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika are about views of “blue heavens” and “everlasting mountains”.
America the Beautiful praises scenic views as “purple mountain majesties”. Majesty is a word often associated with superlative views. However I have learned, from what I did not see in the bush, that the opposite of majestic – the commonplace – can also be praiseworthy.
My recent experience helped me appreciate the more ordinary aspects of nature. Not everywhere you cast your eyes will you spot a perfect specimen of a plant, shrub or tree. You see bird poop splattered on leaves that are not always shiny green. These blemishes are scars from surviving the elements.
Every imperfection I examined up close was evidence of the challenges of survival in the bush, for plants as well as animals.