Musings · Poetry · Wellness

#metoo

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Cat calls from rooftops and perving from cars, wandering hands, in clubs and in bars. Pawed at on pavements, on holidays walking, harassed in the pub where I sit with friends talking. He gets aggressive when I ask him to go, but I never asked for his company you know.

Groped at on stairs that were empty at work, and he just laughed it off, when I went berserk. ‘I’m playing’ he told me, and ‘I thought you were cool,’ then winked at me every time we passed in the hall.

Friend of a friend says ‘I’ll walk you home.’ Insists it’s not safe now, to walk there alone. I couldn’t have known, though I blamed myself later, that it’s not always strangers who turn out a danger.

He held me too tightly, attempting to kiss, and I pushed him away, a ‘lucky’ near-miss. I was mad at myself for not knowing before, but who expects to get jumped on, outside their front door?

My body is mine, and my choices are too, so I’ll stand with my sisters, and yell, yes #metoo

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Musings · Spiritual · Wellness

Yoga: Finding my Quiet.

A fine drizzle drifts lazily through grey mist, coating the businessmen who hurry by in somber suits. Grim faces pass, dead eyes fixed doggedly ahead. I duck and weave among them, skilfully avoiding a mass assault with the sharp edges of my umbrella.

It’s autumn, but I’m in denial and refuse to dig out my warm winter coat just yet. Instead, I snuggle deeper into my colourful shawl, a gift from a friend in India, whose deep pinks and reds remind me wistfully of a long summer sunset.

I’m heading to yoga; my midweek routine for over three years now. Not for the first time, I wonder where the time has fled to. I’m certainly a different person to the fresh-faced girl I was then. Physically I’m stronger, but it’s so much more than that.

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I have discovered more about myself than I ever knew I wanted to. I’ve brought the best and the worst of myself to that tiny studio, embracing my heartache and my grief, my sins, and my love, listening to the rain bouncing steadily off the low tin roof like a mother’s heartbeat.

My husband has ditched class tonight, his early morning decision throwing my resolve. Now I’ll have to walk alone from the ferry in the dark, battling the driving rain. Suddenly the hour trek each way feels too far, too much effort.

I’m already sore from two days of exercise and a small voice inside encourages me to go home and jump in a hot Radox bath, to drink tea and read. I long to listen, the comforting thought of home almost winning me over.

‘But, you love yoga’ my friend reminds me. ‘You are always so happy once you have been.’ And she’s right.

So, I focus on the gift that the opportunity presents tonight. The chance to slow down, to reflect. The 1.5-hour pause in a life that is constantly abuzz with work, exercise, friends, hobbies and thoughts. Constant ideas about the things I need to do, the people I plan to spend time with, the adventures we are plotting, the things that inspire me. The noise is a dull roar in the back of my mind. Even the creative part of my soul, who reads and writes, draws and dances, finds freedom, but not always quiet, in those treasured moments.

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Yoga is different. The sound of my breath takes me to the ocean, the tidal rhythm a soothing companion. All I think about is connecting with my body, removing the toxins and letting my energy flow with the rise and fall of my chest.

I follow the sun salutations, and the world ceases to exist. There is only now the strength of my arms and the bend of my back. There is only my teacher’s soft voice reminding us of what we should remember when we leave our mat: breathe in, hold, breathe out.

At the end of tonight’s class, my teacher notices I am beginning to cough, and hurries to fetch me her spare cardigan. ‘Wear this darling,‘ she tells me, ‘you must stay warm and look after yourself.’ She hugs me goodbye with genuine affection and I am filled with an overwhelming sense of well-being.

This love, this care, reminds me why I come here, week after week. It’s not for the exercise alone; it has never been just that. I come for the opportunity to sit quietly with my thoughts, for a safe space to be myself. I come for the chance to connect with good people, who care deeply for the community that we have built together. I come to release the negativities and exhaustion of my day. I come to find my quiet.

adventure · Creative Writing · love · Poetry · Travel

For the Women who Lost Themselves. {Poem}

She lost herself in tumbling streets,

beside canals lit with fireflies flickering like stars.

She walked among couples, hand in hand,

whispering the secrets of the chosen into ears, and necks, and lips.

 

She lost herself in alleyway bars,

with milk-crate stools, and tumblers of warm amber

that burnt away the memories of another’s touch.

Men’s dark eyes watched her move across the cold stone floor,

longing for the warmth of a pretty girl’s smile.

 

She lost herself, in lakes and rivers and oceans,

drowning in the turquoise caress of water on skin,

fingers tangled in foamy waves.

She danced with mermaids to the bright song of the moon,

stardust in her hair and freedom in her heart.

 

She lost herself, in words,

her own and others.

In worlds where villains never win,

and love conquers all.

She dreams of the places where life goes on,

long after she has left them,

and there is peace in that. 

 

Author: JoJo Rowden
Image: Unsplash
Editor: Lieselle Davidson

 

Originally published at Elephant Journal here.

love · Marriage · Travel

Our Fairytale Chateau Wedding

 

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JoJo & Cam

I met Cam in India ten years ago, on a graduate training program with the company we had both joined; he was from Sydney, and I was from London. Our holiday fling turned into something more serious, and we decided to give long distance a go. After six months apart, I moved to Sydney to be with him, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cam proposed in a photobooth, which he had decorated with balloons, streamers and photos of us. He even remembered the red rose and a princess tiara on the seat. I just thought that it was part of my birthday celebrations, and it wasn’t until he gave me the coins to count out, that I turned back and saw the gorgeous Tiffany & Co. ring he held out to me. The camera flashed just in time to capture my utter shock!

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Our engagement snaps!

I always wanted the fairytale wedding, so getting married in a castle seemed the perfect choice. We knew that our guests would be coming from all over the world, so we decided to pick a beautiful destination, where people could relax and make a real holiday of it. We asked Marry Me In France to find our perfect venue in the land of wine and cheese. The Chateau Cazenac was everything I had dreamed of, and I fell in love with it instantly. It’s nickname is the fairytale chateau – so it was obviously meant to be!

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My dress was a Ronald Joyce design that I found whilst with my mum and sisters in the UK. I knew it was the one when I put on the veil and burst immediately into tears, then turned back to tell my mum, only to find her already crying and nodding in agreement. I wanted something with a dramatic back, and I loved the beautiful beadwork that I attached for a more glamorous look in the evening. As my Mum helped me to step into my dress, ‘Kissing You’ by Des’ree began to play, and I was completely overwhelmed with emotion.

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I left my dress a surprise for my Dad. He waited for me at the bottom of the Chateau’s spiral staircase, and the look of absolute pride on his face is an image I will treasure forever.

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We held the ceremony on the lawn outside, under the trees. It was touch and go as to whether we would be able to as it showered on and off all morning. But we made the call 15 minutes before show time, and the sun shone gloriously throughout.

Our wedding planner Louise (from Marry Me In France) was sensational. Every detail had been covered and executed to perfection. She was the first one on site in the morning, and one of the last standing at the end. I was so grateful because organising a destination wedding is pretty difficult, but she gave us brilliant advice, and answered my millions of questions with the patience of a saint! Everyone commented on how chilled out I was on the morning of the wedding, and it’s really because I knew everything was under control, and all I needed to do was turn up and tell my man how I felt about him.

My little sister did my hair and make-up. I’m so lucky to have such a talented hairdresser in the family, as I trust her implicitly, and knew that she would make sure that I looked perfect for my big day. We did two hair trials prior to the wedding, and I felt like a total princess when she was finished. She also did the hair for the entire bridal party, including an elaborate up-do on herself. She seriously amazes me.

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We wrote our own vows, so there were plenty of tears during the ceremony. I almost lost it a few times. It was important for us to make promises to each other that were heartfelt, and to let our playful side shine through at the same time. Our celebrant Roland was great fun and worked with us to make sure that the ceremony was exactly as we wanted. I walked down the aisle to ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.

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Our friends are a huge part of our lives, and we wanted them to have a special place in our ceremony too. We had three readings: ‘A Gift From The Sea‘, ‘A Lovely Love Story‘ and my favourite passage from ‘His Dark Materials‘. We also asked our parents to be part of a French wedding tradition, holding out a white ribbon across our path, to be cut before we walked back down the aisle as man and wife. The idea is that the couple cut the ribbon and walk into their new life and show that together they can overcome any problems they may encounter in their married life.

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Lou organised our flowers with a local florist. She was delighted that I wanted to go for something with a real pop of colour, rather than the more traditional pale pinks and whites. We opted for deep fuchsia and purples in peonies, roses, lisianthus and alliums, which stood out against the navy of my bridesmaids’ dresses. There were some very special people missing from our celebrations; my stepdad Colin, Cam’s stepdad John, and our grandparents. I carried them with me, attached to my bouquet, and close to my heart.

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Our photographers were Mckinley-Rodgers, and they were absolutely brilliant. Pen and Cam are a super-fun couple, who made us and our guests laugh constantly on the day. They are based in Newquay, in the UK, but are soon moving back to Australia. We went to meet them for a coffee whilst on a visit home in the year before the wedding. They set us at ease immediately, and we knew that we had found life-long friends in the two of them.

Their style is very candid, and they captured the story of the day so beautifully. Even the afternoon rain showers didn’t faze them, and they managed to get one of the most impressive shots of the day inside, in an impromptu ‘Vanity Fair’ style shot of the bridal party in the Chateau kitchen.

The multi-talented pair also captured a video of our day, which makes me cry every single time I watch it. It really brings alive some of the most precious moments, in a way that stills just can’t. We absolutely love it!

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We didn’t have a specific theme, but we were going for a romantic, rustic vibe. The venue was so beautiful we didn’t need to go overboard with additional decorations. We used vintage keys for our seating plan, and Luminous Event Lighting did an amazing job with candles, fairy lights and uplighting on the chateau itself. I’m a massive literary nerd, so we named the tables after books. As Cam told everyone in his speech, our own story and table name, Mr and Mrs Swords is a tale still in the process of being written.

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We decided to embrace our destination and chose to have a cheese tower, rather than a wedding cake. The catering, including the tower, was prepared by Chez Amis. Everyone told me that I wouldn’t actually get to eat much at my own wedding, but the food was so delicious, so I made absolutely sure that I did.

We had a sweetheart table for the two of us, which gave us a chance to enjoy a few private moments together during dinner, as well as slipping away for some photographs when a beautiful mist rolled in over the hills, and again later, when we were blessed with a truly spectacular sunset.

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Our first dance was to ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ by Frankie Valli. We had thankfully taken lessons with Sydney Dance World, so we felt ready to have some fun with it. I loved the dips and lifts, and the way that my dress swirled out around me as Cam spun around. All of our guests joined in with the chorus and it really set the tone for the night ahead. We danced until 3am, and couldn’t believe how quickly the night had flown by. We didn’t want it to end!

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My favourite memories of the day were the moments that we spent laughing with each other and our loved ones. We took several moments to just stop and soak it all up, and were completely overwhelmed by the amount of joy and love in the room. All these people that we adore were under one roof, smiling and dancing and laughing, and all because of our love story. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect gift on our wedding day.

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Ms Chinoiserie Says: Congratulations JoJo and Cam; your beautifully romantic French chateau wedding was straight out of a fairytale!

Photographer: Mckinley Rodgers / Bride’s Dress: ‘Erin’ design by Ronald Joyce. / Hair and Make-Up: Rebecca Cheri / Ceremony and Reception Venue: Chateau Cazenac / Wedding Planner: Marry Me In France / Ceremony Officiant: Celebrants In France / Catering and Cheese Tower: Chez Amis / Dance Lessons: Sydney Dance World / Cinematographer: Story Catchers Films

Originally Published on Polkadot bride.com:

http://www.polkadotbride.com/2016/11/jojo-and-cams-fairytale-chateau-wedding/

http://www.polkadotbride.com/2017/06/in-love-with-my-romantic-venue-jojo/

Musings · Wellness

The Prison of Things

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“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” ~Socrates

It started young. I was a sentimental soul, clinging to the objects that represented memories of people or places. I cherished them, tenderly placing them in their own special ‘homes’ around my room. A museum of tributes.

Hearing my dad’s heart-wrenching sigh as he trudged up the stairs of our childhood home had me reaching for an ornament my nan had given me. She was in hospital and I knew right then before my mums anguished scream that she was gone. I clung to that little bird, tears streaming down my face, believing I could keep her with me, holding her close with this small token of her life. I was wrong, of course.

And yet, over 20 years later- I hold it still. I can’t bear to throw it out with the refuse, unloved, unwanted. It represents the way her face lit up as our tiny feet charged fearlessly into her house, the way she let us destroy her garden patio with our finest chalk art, her soft powdered scent as she kissed me goodbye. It is not a beautiful object in itself, but she was a beautiful soul, and somehow, wired in my brain, it became the same thing.

I justified my treasures to myself. ‘They portray a story about me,’ I told myself. ‘They make my home interesting.’ And they did, to a degree. Souvenirs of travels to exotic places nestled amongst colourful friendships laughing from photo frames. My guests stopped and moved from item to item, learning my history and asking me questions about my adventures. My heart swelled with gratitude reflecting on the life that I had led.

And yet.

There was a niggle in my head. A part that whispered cruelly in the quiet moments. An observer that looked around and saw the clutter for what it was. Too much stuff packed tightly into too little space; shelves and cupboards full to bursting. I began to feel suffocated, closed in. There was too much weight in these tiny trinkets and they were taking gradually their toll on my life.

I found myself exhausted, not sleeping well. I would wake in the night, thinking about to-do lists and the chaos that demanded my attention slithering just outside the safety of my bed. It became hard to concentrate. Clutter created a white noise that stifled my creativity; my drawing and writing dwindling as my attention slowly waned.

A serious cull was needed, but I didn’t know where to start. I began half heartedly, picking each thing up and turning it over fondly in my hands; dusting it down before telling myself I still needed it and putting it back in its place.  A few hours in I realised that I was getting nowhere fast. I had more excuses than willpower and I needed some additional help to get this done.

With some research into decluttering, and taking inspiration from Marie Kondo’s ‘life changing magic of tidying’, I armed myself with some strategies to overcome my resistance. I started small; one room or task at a time, so as not to become overwhelmed by the amount there was to do. I created a vision of what my perfect living space would look and feel like, then asked myself whether a particular item would fit with that vision. William Morris captured it perfectly when he said: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

Even with this mindset, some items were harder to let go of than others. Here are my suggestions for dealing with the pieces that tug on your heartstrings:

  1. Memory Lane

You know the stuff: that cute drawing from when you were five, boxes of old photos and birthday cards, journals full of teenage angst, your grandmother’s doll…The list goes on and on. These were the memories that mapped out my journey from childhood to adult; a record of who I had become. In attempting to declutter, I would become lost for hours down memory lane, slowly reminiscing over every magical piece, running to show my partner each treasure as I re-discovered it.

There were some things that I simply wasn’t willing to part with, and I let that be ok. Decluttering is less about having no stuff at all, and more about not letting your stuff own you. An intentional decision to keep something that brings you joy is an equally good outcome from a sorting session, but you have to keep yourself honest on that potentially slippery slope.

My tips for sentimental sorting:

  • Take photos of bulkier items as a digital reminder, then sell, donate or chuck the physical object
  • Save a virtual copy of any paper based items (photos/ letters/ cards) and create a dedicated Dropbox folder for safe storage.
  • Create a physical memory box for the really precious items that you know you will treasure.
  1. Gift Guilt

Gifts, I discovered, were particularly hard to part with. The fact that someone had taken the time to think about what I might like, and spent their own money on making me smile, tore at my conscience. This was particularly true when the giver was no longer with us, and I perceived the gift as a precious link to our relationship.

After he passed away, I held onto a spice rack that my stepdad had given me for many years, despite the fact that I no longer had use for it. I felt that I was betraying him by giving it away, that it meant I wouldn’t have anything to remind me of him. Reflecting on this thought-process logically, I knew this to be untrue, but I couldn’t shake the guilt. My love for my stepdad went way beyond anything he could have given me, our memories together filling much more space than a spice rack ever could. Talking it through with my mum, I realized that I had other, more treasured items from him; handwritten cards and my favorite red shirt, and I didn’t need to keep every single thing he had ever given me, just because he wasn’t with us anymore.

My tips for present purging:

  • Don’t let the gift become a burden, it’s not what the giver intended. Remind yourself that the joy of the gift was in the process of both giving and receiving, in the love and thought that went into choosing it, and the way you felt, rather than the importance of keeping the physical object itself.
  • Keep one representative gift to remind you a special person or connection, rather than feeling obligated to keep all of things they ever gave you.
  • Re-gift- (without pretending that you bought it)- to someone that you know would get more joy from it than you.
  1. ‘I might need it someday’ syndrome

A relic of my childhood is the mantra from the generations before me: ‘Waste not, Want not.’ I remember our cupboards: ice-cream tubs full of spare batteries, light-bulbs and the disembodied plugs from discarded appliances. Imagine the scene from the little mermaid where she is looking around at her treasure trove, and you’ll get a feel for my old home.

I get it, of course. There is a certain security in holding on to things ‘just in case’ you need them in the future. No one likes declutter regret. But if the item has sat untouched for years, how likely is it that you will need it anytime soon? And even if you do need it, chances are you’ve forgotten that you have it, or wouldn’t even be able to find it hidden amongst all the other stuff.

My tips for jolting the ‘just-in-cases.’

  • Use a ‘Maybe box’. Put your item(s) in a box, put it away, and if you haven’t missed or needed it by a specified date- chances are that you won’t and it’s time to get rid.
  • Look up how much it would cost to replace the item, should you need it in the future. If the financial cost and time-effort is low enough for you not to have to worry- then there is no real need to hold onto the item.
  • If the cost is prohibitive, or the item hard to procure, allocate a certain amount of space for it in your home, and don’t let it creep beyond that boundary.
  1. Sunk Cost

Rows and rows of clothes, shoes, and handbags line my wardrobes. Some of them still have the labels attached, much to my great shame. Throwing these items out unused feels so wasteful, yet I know, deep down, that if I haven’t worn or used them by now, I likely never will. Part of the reason it is so difficult for me to remove them, is that they represent money spent, an investment I have made. I cling to the idea that I WILL wear that perfect dress if the right occasion comes along, and I’d much rather keep that expensive top that looks terrible on me, than admit that I made a big purchasing mistake.

My tips for unleashing the unused

  • Remind yourself that the money is spent the moment you bought the item, so the loss happened back then, not now, regardless of what you choose do with it.
  • It can help to think of the happiness you felt when you bought the item as your return on the investment you made.
  • If someone else can make better use of it, why not sell or donate it, where it can bring joy to it’s new owner, rather than rotting away in your cupboard.
  • Be honest about whether the pieces reflects who you are today and where you are headed- if you are rooted in the past, or saving it for the future, it shouldn’t be taking up space in your present. If you were at the store, would you buy it today?

Today my home is my peaceful place. I feel a sense of calm as soon as I walk in the front door and into the energy that flows throughout the rooms. It’s still not perfect of course, and there’s always more that could be done. Every small step moves me closer to my vision, and if I’m honest, the imperfections give it a character that I love. Home really is where the heart is, so I’ll keep striving to make it one I am proud of.

Originally published on DirtyandThirty

love

He Brings Her Flowers.

 

 He picks her flowers on his way to work.

Pink confetti rains down on his head, a secret smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

‘Who is she?’ I wonder as I pass him. Our eyes meet and a million stories swim in his topaz depths.

I imagine her joy as he presents her with the plucked embodiment of his love. That beautiful bunch of ‘I saw these and thought only of you.’

Perhaps she is a new lover, dark hair tumbling over a crisp white pillow. He leaves her sleeping, admiring the way her ruby lips curve deliciously, pouting through vivid dreams. He longs to wake her with kisses, but resists. She needs her rest. She wakes to find the blooms laid beside her, the heavenly scent a promise for the night ahead. She must wait the whole day to thank him with her satin touch.

Maybe she is his wife. He has picked the same flowers that he presented to her with shaking hands on their first date. He creeps up behind her at the kitchen bench and spins her round, close to his chest. The years have seen them grow together, through heartache and tears, through triumphs and exhilaration. The small betrayals of everyday life melt away into their story. He strokes her face as he passes the bouquet to her and she smiles at the secrets they share. She smiles because the flowers, like their relationship, are full of promise, returning year after year to radiate their beauty to the world.

I wonder if she is an elderly neighbour;  alone these days, her once-bustling home echoing the ghostly laughter of days gone by. He visits her on his morning walk, delighting in the way her world lights up at the sight of him. The flowers are a lifeline for her. They are a reminder that to someone, she is still somebody; a somebody worth a riot of colour and beauty, even as her own is slowly dulled by the passing of time. She glances at them throughout the day- a canvas of tenderness, a reason to keep going. They are hope.

Does he collect them for a love from his past? He is a pilgrim on a sacred journey to pay tribute to her. He visits her grave, silent with moss and memories, and lays his precious bundle at her feet. Does he tell her she is remembered, always? The flowers are ethereal against a stark reality: she is gone, and will never rejoice in their soft morning scent. They aren’t enough, and can never be, but they are all the comfort he has in this moment.

As I watch him stretching up to find the perfect addition to his beautiful bunch, I realise that perhaps it doesn’t matter who she is after all. She is me, and you. She is him. She is anyone who needs a moment of kindness in a world that isn’t always kind. She is all of us, and we all deserve flowers, once in a while.

First Published on Elephant Journal here.

adventure · Travel

From Mist to Memories: Tracking Gorillas in Uganda

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It’s dark when we wake, and hard to leave our snug nest of blankets to step into the early morning chill pervading our cottage.

Peering outside we can see the mist has rolled in overnight, an eerie ghost, disguising the mountain peaks in smoke-like cloud.

We dress quickly, with nervous anticipation. We have no idea what to expect today, but our fingers are firmly crossed for a sighting of the mountain gorillas we have travelled so far to see. We know that this may be a once in a lifetime experience to see these beautiful primates in their natural habitat.

After a quick breakfast, our guide drives us to the starting point, where we are briefed about the day ahead. There are only around 880 Mountain Gorillas left in the world, with half of that number found in the Uganda and Rwanda National Park areas. The gesticulation period for a gorilla is 9 months and each mother will only birth one baby every 4 years or so, in order to breastfeed them throughout that time. Increasing their numbers therefore, is a slow process.

Conservation is a massive deal here. If you are sick, you are asked to show the true heart of conservation-and give up your place on the trek you have dreamed of and planned so carefully for. Devastating, but necessary: gorillas are susceptible to our human diseases, and it would be horribly unfair to put them at risk.

We are only permitted to spend an hour with the family, once we find them. This ensures that they get enough space from humans, without us overstepping their boundaries. They are not aggressive animals by nature, unless you threaten or agitate them, and we certainly don’t plan on doing either.

The cost of our permit (though fairly high at $600 USD each) is plowed back into conservation and the local community. The Ranger explains that the pygmies that lived in the forest have now been displaced by the Government’s conservation policies, due to their tendency to hunt the gorillas for meat. I am torn between conflicting feelings: sadness for a culture forced out of their homes, and relief that the gorilla’s only predator is no longer a threat to them. It’s a hard contradiction for me to balance.

The track is long and winding. The hills are pretty brutal and we are each given a walking stick to make the hike more manageable. We are put into a group with others of a similar age and fitness level, because each route has different terrain and lengths, and we will hike until we find the gorillas, even if it takes us 12 hours.

The trackers are out ahead of us, communicating back to the ranger which way the gorillas are headed. It’s impressive to hear about the signs they use to understand the gorillas movements: droppings, flattened grass direction, broken branches, leftover food. Our group is flanked front and back by armed soldiers. The sight of the guns makes me feel uneasy, but the ranger assures us that the guns are only used to fire a scare shot in to the air if animals turn aggressive. There are more than just gorillas in this area, and wild animals are, of course, unpredictable.

We push on, over tree branches and through deep sucking mud. We slip and stumble all over the place, mirroring the footsteps of the person in front. The cicadas sing and their steady hum is punctuated only by birdsong and our laboured breathing. The ranger tells us to watch out for the elephant footprint ahead, which has already filled with muddy water, and would have us knee deep in muck if we stepped into it. I can’t stop staring as I pass it.

After 3 hours we are told that the gorillas are now close. It’s time to leave our backpacks behind and scramble deeper into the rainforest. The trackers go ahead, cutting through vines and branches with machetes. It’s not called the Impenetrable National Park for nothing.

There are several moments where I am massively grateful to be young and fit. As I literally haul myself up and down escarpments, with only mulch underfoot to support my weight, I wonder how many people are forced to give up at this point. A thorn in my socks distracts me, and I look down to free myself, before realising two giant safari ants are caught in the cotton and are biting me ferociously. The tracker bends and plucks them off me with his bare hands, and I smile my thanks gratefully.

The ranger halts our procession and indicates to his right with a nod of his head. I look up and time stands still. Meters away, sits the majestic silverback looking out across his domain. There is nothing between us, and if he wanted, he could reach our group in one minute flat. I am in awe of his colossal size. Muscles ripple across his dark shoulders and chest. He almost doesn’t look real. He turns his huge head and looks directly at us. Those solemn eyes look straight into my soul and I am instantly mesmerised.

He pays us no heed and we whisper and shuffle to get a better view. I snap a few pictures and remember the advice I read earlier in the trip- to just be there in the moment, watching through my own eyes, rather than the lens of a camera.

The big guy is calm. The literal translation of his African name is ‘Peace’ and in the cool dark canopy of his forest, it is easy to see why. This is his kingdom, and he permits us to pay our respects to him.

The trackers cut more branches so that we can all see properly, making gorilla grunting noises as they work, to let the silverback know that we are friends. Now and again he thrills us with a response to them. When he has had enough he hulks himself upright and ambles on massive knuckles into the undergrowth.

We sit stunned, grinning at one another. But our encounter isn’t over yet. The trackers lead us deeper into the foliage, pointing out the baby gorillas that now clamber and swing from branch to branch. We are instructed to stay as one group. If we split up and surround the family, they will think we are trying to capture them. They have long memories, and the fear of poachers is deeply ingrained.

I can’t explain the way I felt in that moment, watching them. The way their age-old faces looked intelligently back at me, wise and all-knowing. The way they played, tumbling and somersaulting for our attention. It was poetry in motion, a natural magic, and I know that my re-telling will never do the memory justice. And that’s ok. Some experiences were never meant to be bound by words or photographs anyway.

The hour passes in wonderment. I’m literally sat on the forest floor; filthy, sweaty and being feasted on by bugs, but I don’t care. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone in the world right now. As we turn to leave, one of the family clambers up into a high tree- a sentinel watching over their lands.

We wave a final goodbye, and head off, back into the mists.

Image: Author’s Own

First Published on Elephant Journal here.