Enquiring minds

I was reminded the other day as to just how frustrating young enquiring minds are. There is always the child who cannot stop asking “why”? I hold the parents accountable for this, as they encourage us from young to look for the answers. Often its because they are tired of answering, so they tell you to work it out, unfortunately for them, some of us will not except the answer “because daddy or mommy says so”.

I was evidently such a child. I was reminded of a trip I once took as a young 11 or 12 year old from Zimbabwe to South Africa. Each time the car would stop for a toilet break, my brothers and I would dutifully file out and trudge into the bush to take a leak. However in my young minds eye, the world around us was a far more fascinating place. While the others finished their ablutions, I would wander off and collect things; unusual rocks, sticks with small holes in them, giant acacia thorns, strange looking leaves and anything else that caught my eye. Before long they would send out a small search party as I would lose track of time and distance. Upon being found there would be the usual threats and recriminations for wandering off. Then the questions would start, why was this rock smooth or stripy, what made the holes in that stick, what kind of beetle was that, why do ants carry leaves? On and on the questions went to the great irritation of all those who were asked.

This curiosity has never left me. I have been fortunate that for the most part I was raised outdoors, as youngster’s we were allowed to roam and explore. We of course slipped our leash at any opportunity and disappeared far off into the bush, way beyond our parental boundaries. These were fascinating days, days of exploration, of wonder and surprise, curious days for curious minds. I would of course more often then not get caught out, when the questions started and the artefacts were produced, it was apparent to all but me that I had been further afield than I was allowed. I would be duly scolded or punished depending on the level of my infraction. This lead to a passion for nature. During the school holidays I would disappear into the bush at first light. Spend my day exploring and removing snares, following animal trails and climbing mountains. I would drink from the open streams, a habit that lead to more than a few bouts of bilharzia, and pretty much go were I pleased. Only to return at sun down, tired and scratched, the dog slobbering and gasping for water. Care free days. I had little respect for the pesky boundaries and prohibitions, like fences and no entry signs. To this day may mother would die of a heart attack if she new half the things I had done as a child. One year, I came home from boarding school after having been away from home for a year. I picked up my dog (actually my mums dog but I was convinced it was mine), a big German Shepard who had been very well trained, and disappeared up the mountain behind our house. Sometime during the preceding year it seems that the area had been turned into a game sanctuary and I soon came to an electric fence built to keep the elephant’s in. This was outrageous, I had been using this game path for years, so I found a spot where the wild pigs had dug under and crawled through, dog and all. My well behaved dog soon saw the elephant and gave chase, not so well behaved now. Pandemonium ensued, I was scared the elephant would flatten my dog and gave chase. Eventually the dog gave up the game and we quickly exited the park.

There were many more adventures and times I had to dodge the authorities or an irate farmer. Forbidden adventures down to the river to catch fish, always aware of the ever present threat of crocodiles. As I got older my dreams got bigger, I wanted to be a Game ranger, for by now the bush was ingrained in me. Over the years I developed an intense dislike for snaring and the destruction of habitats around me. Places I played in as a child now ploughed under and paved over with housing. Rivers I fished in now devoid of life, choked with plastic pollution and industrial run-off, no longer fit to drink, toxic. As I have gotten older, the privileges I had when I was younger have slowly been eroded away. Game that was once abundant, now scarce. I can remember walking in the bush and seeing rhino, and they were wild, not contained in some tiny park married to an armed escort. Elephant were a pest there were so many as a child. So many places I went where there was game as far as I could see. Now you pay a fee to go to a park that is fraught with rules and regulations. I have seen nearly every species of game in Southern Africa out in the open, wild and free, on open farmland. Now we have to travel to parks and zoos to get the opportunity to see these creatures. There is nothing quite so awe inspiring, as seeing a leopard sunning itself on top of a rocky outcrop, catching the last rays of sun, before it heads out to make the night it’s own. Now, due to pressure we are lucky if we see it at all outside of a park.

In high school I moved to Kwazulu Natal, to Empangeni. Here I continued to go out into the bush and explore the sugar-cane farms. I spent many an hour on the beaches. In those days you could ride up the beaches and camp anywhere you liked. So long as you had your licence and stuck to the seasons you could fish where you liked. Fish were abundant and there were few restrictions on what one could catch. I cannot recall ever seeing heaps of trash washed up on the daily tide. Occasionally you would see some plastic trash, or nets and other flotsam washed up after a storm. The biggest irritation was the empty beer bottles and coke cans idiots left behind after a day at the beach, to lazy to remove there own trash. In the last thirty years, this incessant tide of plastic and trash has rapidly increased. Today we are surprised when we go down to the beach and it is clean of trash.

When you consider how large our oceans are, ask yourself this question. “If we banned all plastic today, how many decades, or even centuries before the ocean manages to chuck all the plastic debris on shore”? If we are dumping plastic in the ocean at our present rate of 15 tons a second, how much plastic have we dumped in the last sixty five years, from when plastics started to overtake our world in the fifties. If we take a really conservative figure and say it averages out to 25 kg a second over sixty five years, that still amounts to 51 246 000 000 kg (51 billion tons). Currently we dump 15 tons a second, in one year that is 473 040 000 000 kg ( nearly half a trillion tons).

Half a TRILLION tons! That’s insane. We seriously need to stop this.

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