Today we spent exploring the area around Tatasberg Wilderness Camp, walking along the river, and skimming stones, swimming and taking photographs. At one point, Gareth said something, and we realized that we hadn’t said a word for at least an hour. But it didn’t seem to matter…we both agreed that time seems almost irrelevant here. We had to remind ourselves that it was a Wednesday, not a Tuesday. The Richtersveld does that to you….it’s an ancient place, both socially and geologically, while I also think it’s a wise place…let me explain.
The Richtersveld takes its name from Dr E. Richter, who was a missionary who visited the area in 1830. But he was a bit late in coming, compared to the local people, whose descendants have lived here for far longer. Some experts suggest that San hunter gatherers were here more than 10 000 years ago, while the local Nama people are descended from mostly Khoi pastoralists who moved into the region about 2 000 years ago. So, as always in Southern Africa, the Europeans occupy a very small part of the timescale. (Of course, we all come from Africa originally, so distinguishing between white and black, European and African can be irrelevant sometimes…I sometimes think it would be good if we could all stop thinking of divisive terms, and instead consider each other as fellow earth-people. As John Muir wrote: ”We all travel the Milky Way together”.)
But our human timescale also occupies a very small part of the larger picture. The oldest rocks in the Richtersveld are more than 2 billion years old, which is almost half the age of the earth itself. These are found on the Rosyntiesberg in the southern region of the park. It’s a truly staggering figure that puts our human lives into perspective. Hendrik van Loon, author of The Story of Mankind, puts it this way (quoted in Graham Williamson’s book entitled Richtersveld – The Enchanted Wilderness):
“…there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak. When the rock has been worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.”
The landscape here in the Richtersveld makes one feel very small and very vulnerable. But at the same time, it places our human problems into proper perspective. Here, amongst the ancient rocks, underneath a night sky of brilliant cosmic light, I’m very aware that I won’t be on earth longer than a geological blink of an eye – and it reminds me that I am part of a much larger picture, a tiny piece in the human story, and an even tinier piece in the story of the universe.
It’s a relieving feeling to know that our daily concerns mean nothing in the larger context –this knowledge frees me from my worries, and so I feel like I can let go, and simply surrender to the earth and universe and galaxy…and can use my energies instead to love, care and contribute meaningfully…and to appreciate fully the wonderful privilege of being a healthy human in a wild paradise.
The Richtersveld, to me, is a wise place… And I guess all wilderness areas on earth are inherently “wise” too. One more reason to protect these beautiful, pristine places…
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