Nature’s lessons not just for the birds
Two years ago, after a bushwhack through our local nature trails, we ordered milkshakes and fries at a laid-back coffee shop to round off a morning of freedom from the mind.
Doing this — extricating yourself from your mind — isn’t as easy as it looks.
But if you work your muscles, your mind goes limp, taking with it a repetitive hamster wheel of worries.
Because we were in the right state of non-mind, we were ready for more wisdom, which we found in the form of Thobela.
His words were valuable then but even more critical now.
Just above our table, the birds were knocking through lime-coloured bits of grass at a rate of knots.
Nests, some complete, others threadbare or under construction, dangled from the elastic spines of a palm tree.
Thobela, waitron and keeper of Cape weaver wisdom, explained that the shape and location of the nests deterred snakes and other cunning predators.
“The baby birds, once inside, are protected by a little stoep, so that they can’t fall out,” he said.
“You can tell from the noise which nests have babies, and which are not yet ready.”
We discussed the ingenuity of nature and whether or not humans were inspired specifically by the superb dexterity of these feathered crafters many thousands of years ago.
Thobela explained that he was an artist and made his own music, using digital ingenuity and raw talent.
It didn’t matter when his big break came, as the point was to keep on keeping on, and to network and talk to people who were interested in art, he said.
Much like the birds, we agreed, watching them flit between the lush rural pockets across the road and back, covering kilometres to tear bits of building material from lawns and bushveld.
Sometimes, precious cargo was accidentally dropped en route.
One bit fell into a milkshake, and another was snatched by a rival builder.
It was all part of the process, Thobela said, and we’d notice that missed opportunities, stolen goods and in-flight accidents hardly gave the birds cause for pause.
Those nests were sturdy and hard to prise open — a real engineering feat, he said.
Foreign tourists found the whole process quite incredible, which was one of the reasons Thobela had brushed up on his research.
The birds had fascinated him for a long time, and now he could pass on a few facts to diners, giving them temporary respite from the mundane coffee-and-cake routine.
What fascinated us both, and the children at the table, was how much people could learn from each other, and nature, if they stretched the gap between this and that, coming and going, getting and fetching.
A stop for coffee can be so much more than a coffee stop; you never know what you’re going to find, if you’re looking.
Also, Thobela, said, the wisdom of elders goes a long way towards living a happy life, especially when you’re young, and full of dreams — or older and have forgotten.
His father had reminded him, a long time ago, and often, that the way we present our faces to the world, when we step outside our front doors, will determine what the day brings to us.