Sun filtered through the forest canopy and lit up the tannin stained river to a golden glow as the three boys were energetically boulder hopping upstream.
‘If you don’t give children a smartphone and play station nowadays, they are ostracised by their class mates’ Sabin, the boys mother, mentioned while they were out of hearing range. ‘I even bought a play station and pretended that we had rented it for only three weeks so they had the experience but weren’t addicted to it. Each time a new game came out we’ rented it again’ so that they could be currently conversant with their friends.’ But of course you can only pull the wool over their eyes once or twice. On the third rental Julios, the elder of the three brothers, twigged on that the’ rental’ storey was a scam. Still, Sabin is pleased that all three boys aren’t addicted to the digital world and the love to explore the natural world.
Indeed, on a forest walk in the Garden Route, all three boys were champing at the bit for a 13km hike and the adventure it offered. Everything was exciting and only the requirement to translate between German and English slowed down their questions.
From the mosaic rejuvenation of forests as a result of canopy trees falling over to spider’s spinning webs and newly hatched spider’s ballooning to a new location to pill millipedes contributing to the recycling of leaf litter. They absorbed it all.
They poked bracket fungus, prodded spider webs, touched thorns and stroked different barks.
They flicked each others caps, peered at Knysna Turacos, listened to bird calls and pulled out exotic saplings.
But it was the animal dung along the trail that gained their undivided attention. The first one and a half kilometers of the trail had very little dung, but after the river crossing there was plenty.
At each mound of dung they would squat down and inspect it, break it open to see the contents and ask what had produced it and what it had eaten.
Soon it became a competition as they distinguished between Bushpig, Porcupine and Baboon dung, progressing to determining that a Bushpig had eaten Cheesewood berries and Porcupine were eating Dietes sp.
The only respite from the dung inspection was the detour to the river to top up our water bottles and the distraction of boulder hopping.
Back on the trail amongst the Baboon dung with seeds of Wild Gardenia, a large mound of dung spurned their hopes of evidence of one of the forest elephants. Some of the dung heaps had been scratched open by Red-necked Spurfowl foraging for beetles and insect larvae which revealed the fine material and a few 1cm pieces common to horses.
Though they were disappointed that it was only a horse, they had added to their catalog of dung identification.
To watch their enthusiasm to explore the natural environment around them and the speed at which information was absorbed was inspiring.
That three children were both immersed in and captivated by the minute aspects of the forest for over five hours was impressive.
The simultaneous engagement of inquiry, imagination and exploration was refreshing to witness.
Oblivious of the digital world they connected to the mysterious realm of nature and hopefully ignited, if not a passion for, definitely an understanding and appreciation of the intricacies of the environment.
Maybe when they return to school from this holiday their tales of the Knysna Forest will inspire their friends and peers to rekindle the adventurous spirit of childhood and explore the intricacies of nature.
The world will definitely be better off if they do.
For similar guided nature walks and birding, visit our website at Garden Route Trail.