“When all the animals are gone, man will die of a great loneliness of spirit.” Chief Seattle quote taken from my interview with author Boyd Varty. Cathedral of the Wild is Boyd’s newly released memoir about growing up in the African bush- alongside elephants, lions, and hyenas- and his unique connection to the natural world.
I pre-ordered my copy of Cathedral of the Wild with plans to interview Boyd Varty for you, my readers. When I noticed the title he chose for his book I expected to find a like-minded soul in Boyd. I expected to find someone who embodies what this blog, SavingWild.com is all about: the necessity of finding and keeping our connection to wild – of connecting to the Africa inside each of us.
That’s exactly what happened.
Cathedral of the Wild is centered around Boyd’s family’s home and business, Londolozi. Located near Kruger Park, South Africa, Londolozi is Africa’s first luxury safari lodge. Boyd tells the tale of his parents and uncle’s restoration of a parched, over-ranched piece of land. The land was originally purchased by Boyd’s great grandfather and was transformed by Boyd’s parents and uncle into a haven for wildlife and tourists. They discovered that through restoring the land they also restored themselves; one leads to and reinforces the other no matter which way the regeneration begins.
“Going to the land and being in nature restores us…. the gift I want to give the world [by writing this book] is that which nature gave me,” Boyd Varty says.
Excerpt: “We are ultimately no different from the other creatures. Our survival and welfare depend on theirs, economically as well as spiritually.”
Londolozi is famous for it’s leopards who are notoriously more numerous and less timid than those in other areas of Africa.
“Your destiny sings to you”, an Aboriginal Australian once told Boyd. After a series of devastating blows that knocked Boyd off his path, it was nature and a special “shaman” leopard that helped him find his way back to happiness. The leopard reminded Boyd of his life’s true song.
Excerpt: “I believe you find your way to your right life, your mission, the same way you find an animal. First, quiet your heart and be still. Then find the fresh track and be willing to follow it. You don’t need to see the whole picture; you only need to see where to take the next step. Life isn’t about staying on track; it’s about constantly rediscovering the track.”
Read what other wonderful things Boyd Varty had to say when he answered Lori Robinson’s questions early one morning from Londolozi about his writing process, life in the African bush, why he is hopeful, and who he wants to date.
Lori: I loved your book and have added it to my list of favorites on my blogs Favorite Book’s page. How did you come up with the wonderful title, Cathedral of the Wild ?
Boyd: I was trying to depict the deep sanctity and holiness that I experience when I am in a wild place or amidst the animals. I feel the natural world work on me in deep and intangible ways that I guess could best be described as spiritual. The wild is my cathedral. It is where I go to be with the creator.
Lori: You talk about your great grandfather, who originally bought the land you grew up on to hunt lions. Through the generations of men in your family, the hunters have turned into avid conservationists. What does it take to turn trophy hunters into conservationists? (We need to make that happen more often.)
Boyd: I think that in many cases time in nature will begin to turn even the most ardent hunter into a conservationist. I also think we need to begin to generate a mentality of kinship with animals. For years we have thought of ourselves as separate from nature as science has promoted this idea. We need to re-establish a deep sense of belonging and home in the wilderness as a cure to the innate loneliness so many of us struggle with in modern life.
Lori: I am sure my readers here at SavingWild.org agree with that completely. Your homeschooling with your teacher Kate, in the bush and thru travel, is the opposite of what kids get today. I truly believe that is a fundamental problem with our planet today. We are so disconnected from the natural world. You say in your book, “My youth was a giant meditation on the perfection and layers of nature.” You give an example of hiking the mountain before you learn about how the mountain was formed. “First we would feel them, then think them.” In that way, you say you were “educated in the mind but also in the spirit.”
There has been an acceleration in the destruction of wild places and wild animals in recent years, especially in Africa. Are you hopeful about the future of wildlife and wild places? If so, why, and how do you stay hopeful?
Boyd: I remain hopeful. I think that more and more people are beginning to realize the value of the natural world and the importance to becoming a part of protecting it. I also believe that the age of restoration will be built on the back of the age of information. All over the world people are beginning to try and change course. I also know that we do not need to save the planet. The planet will be fine, it will regenerate. The question is will we commit an act of destruction against ourselves?
Lori: Your father and Uncle also imparted on you and your sister an almost mystical sense of the animals as your ancestors and family. What is your most memorable encounter with an animal?
Boyd: The chapter in the book “The Flaming Shaman” describes an encounter with a large male leopard in the midst of a wild bushfire. It was an encounter that set me on a journey back to the peace that I believe resides deep in the core of all of us. I won’t say more because I hope you will enjoy reading about it in the book!
Lori: How does nature heal you and others?
Boyd: Nature takes us back into a wordless state. It takes us out of the verbal mind and it is from that place of wordlessness that we are able to experience oneness or a sense of our place in the great unfolding of life. Nature reconnects us with presence and this is a place where healing naturally begins to occur.
Excerpt: “To seek the wellness in the soul we’ve lost, we return to what we know best. For me, that place was nature. Nature as a physical space that reframes and recasts one’s inner space. Nature as an outer world that, like no other force, facilitates the journey to the inner world. Nature as healer.”
Lori: Why do we need to care if the world no longer has wild elephants, rhino, tigers and condors?
Boyd: I quote Chief Seattle in my book: “When all the animals are gone man will die of a great loneliness of spirit.” Our connection to animals and the natural world has a deep effect on our well being as a society. I often think that the prevalence of depression we see in society nowadays is a kind of undiagnosed homesickness for natural connection.
Lori: Was it the leopard, or just being in nature again, or something else that got you back on track to your life mission?
Boyd: I think it was a combination of many things. All the way I felt like certain encounters with animals were tracks to my own sense of purpose, it was like the animals were carrying messages. I also saw how we need to find a way to peace before we can find purpose. It is out of peace that the desires of the heart are born.
Lori: Being in nature is my church, and after reading Cathedral of the Wild I know it is a spiritual connection for you as well. What about nature makes it spiritual for you?
Boyd: Nature for me is where the creator speaks through his creation.
Lori: What was your writing process? How long did it take to write it, where did you write, and did you consult journals or rely only on memories of you and others?
Boyd: The book took about four years to write and the process of writing was a mixture of interviews, looking at journals, old pictures and sitting around fires telling stories and at times just realizing the wonder of the nature that was all around us. I wrote it mostly at Londolozi but large sections were also done at my friend Betsy Rapoport’s kitchen table in White Plains New York as I spent some time traveling around the States.
Lori: Your friends mention (jokingly) in your book that you want to date every supermodel now living. Have you found a girlfriend to share your love of wild?
Boyd: I have not. But I feel very fulfilled and I’m sure the right woman will show herself when the time is right. Hold thumbs. Hahaha.
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